Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Gentlemen’s Club

My dad ran a ‘Gentlemen’s Club’. He wasn’t the owner or on the board of directors, but the manager. He just got hired to keep it all together.
The clubhouse was across the street from the austere capital building Thomas Jefferson designed that survived the civil war. Attached to a hotel, the club was ‘private’. Members only. Restricted to the male gender. No women allowed (except in the cooking staff, but they was colored).
I always thought of ‘the club’ as a place where prestigious movers and shakers of the power brokers went to relax in a secluded atmosphere where they could make deals and drink brandy. The Declaration of Independence was writ in places like this, fueled with emotions and alcohol and away from feminine distractions.
The surroundings were very posh. I know because our house was filled with their leftovers. Thanks dad.
The ‘club’ had a bar area and a lounge area with stuffed chairs and heavy tables and private meeting rooms. The walls were covered in paintings of horses and historical figures. The rooms were dark and almost foreboding. Soft muzak played while colored waiters in black slacks and white waistcoats brought trays of alcoholic refreshments (before liquor by the drink) and were subjected to servitude treatment not unfamiliar with the Jim Crow south.
My dad’s job was to keep each and every member who entered the private men’s-only haven well fed, well entertained, and well lubed with as much alcohol as the member’s bottle allowed the bartender to pour (unless there was a little something special the manager had to stoke the fire as it was). He would cover phone calls from worried wives and make sure the member got to the next destination in proper fashion.
Dad had the ear of the governor, assemblymen, bankers, lawyers, tobacco magnates, the media moguls, and even some rich and famous locals and nationwide celebrities. His ‘club’ was the first in the area other than the country clubs. It was the place for the high and mighty to go and revel in their personal wealth and power to flaunt.
Then the gals wanted to be part of the party. The women’s movement broke the code of silence and members started bringing their wives. My father always had a line like “I see you are here with your daughter” if the lady on the members arm was much younger and not familiar, or my dad would recognize the member’s wife and say, “It is so good to see you brought your bride, can I get you a drink?”
Then when the government declared that the people who could only work in the kitchen were allowed to join as members. The ‘private’ club started to fold.
Other establishments offered dining and wine and dancing as the youth moved away from the stuffy old-fashioned gentlemen’s club downtown to the suburbs. That is history.

But suddenly I wondered? Why was it a ‘Men’s Only Club’?
When I was introduced to members my father kept a pretty tight grip so I wouldn’t linger. I just figured we were not worthy to be in the member’s company any longer than the staff. My dad was only hired help.

Since LGBTXY&Z… was never talked about in the 50’s, I’d never thought that these drunk old white haired men stuffed into their vest and herringbone suits puffing on their cigars were just a bunch of screaming queens. Why would a bunch of guys want to just sit around drinking together if it doesn’t involve girls in tight outfits and football on the screen?

My father died before disco took off and the whole gay/straight movement evolved and it was probably a blessing.
I always thought of my dad as a John Wayne - Henry Fonda - James Arness (yes, I met him at ‘the club’) kind of guy but even now there are rumors. What is a guy to believe?
I still like the whip.

1 comment:

TripleG said...

It appears he was the right person for the job: not a colorful character like a Toots Shor, but a smooth operator and producer. It's good he lived in the era when his talents could be so well employed. A lot of people are born too early or too late to be the best at what they do.