Donna S. is retired and lives in Indianapolis. She was an investigative reporter, columnist, and record reviewer for the Indianapolis Times newspaper in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. The Indianapolis Times was an evening newspaper that served the city from the late 1800s until 1965 when the paper ceased publishing.
OK Nelson & Molly–let’s not overlook all the other “bar experts”===Keys was originally conceived by 2 court house-connected sisters–1 of whom Married Well–one remained. I know before I received one of the first VIP “Keys”–numbered actually required to open front door to enter (until ruled illegal) It was indeed exclusive but also when open got overflow from just south favorite piano bar Sandy’s I think (name Bolen rings a bell) where great Flo Garvin reigned as female Bobby Short–replaced later by town favorite cocktail pianist-vocalist Andre. (Andre Amorez rings a bell even tho’ improbable but I think I do remember he took it too himself when he became grand. Sandy’s more gathering for drinks–Keys famous for its “your table isn’t ready yet will you take a bar seat?”–because more profit on booze than food 2-4 hr wait not unusual–likewise others poured out at closing who never DID eat.
We finally found the cure–a party of 8 or so, with reservations–when bar seating offered we all chimed in–”NO we will just wait here at the desk–and have our drinks at the table.” It worked. Ruse was in this era adopted by equally “in” 2 story bar and dining room==Greylynn Blue Room–much better food than Keys and in such a great location that entrepeneur Harley Horton turned a grand mansion just north of Greylynn (9th & Penn I thinik-southeast corner–maybe the Fletcher mansion?–and turned it into THE most lavish nightclub of the city LaRue’s–upstairs dance are featured greats like Jack Teagarten, Louis A—so many others. First place to feature a player baby grand piano. Harley was famous for his lavish homes and lifestyle–post war real estate millionaire with “mysterious” death of wife intriguing.
But back to N. Meridian area: Staid old Marott Hotel–housing wealthy dowagers, their dogs and staff, somehow caught fire and the early cocktail crowd dominated the BlueBird Room, lower level–(much later went through a revolving door series of upscale “new” restaurants including the 1st all lady corner-LaPetite as I remember. I have the belted velvet bar stools from the Napoleon bar which replaced LaP–(couldn’t keep bartenders who griped that if 4 women came in–all of them would want drinks had to be made in the blender–grasshopper etc.
Periodically, great short-lived bars like The Jaguuar, owned by guy who owned most of 52nd Keystone area named Jack Endsley–it was then grass and trees, golf course and miniature golf course etc. He took over a flower shop, former garage on E. Side Meridian in the commercial area just before you reach Fall Creek–turned it into a fabulous bar competing with the across-the-street Embers, created by Ball family bad boy Bill Ball. He is still alive incidentally–as is Jim Gerard–latter actually “created” aura around Embers, Marrott various venues–when he repeatedly did “Sound Of The City” short interviews around the town–these were his favorite spots, he spotlighted the likes of Kreskin–many other top performers at Embers. Likewise, Mel Torme crowded the Jaguar Room—sometimes performing hours after legal closing both singing, playing drums.
These were the “fanciest” from mid-40s thru 50s before area went to seedy.╩ But the real jazz joints (other than Indiana Ave) where Jimmy Coe, Hugh Watts, McDaniel and the like drew the real jazz buffs were across Corners on E. 10th St–Tropics Club on one side, cant remember the one on opposite corner. Later, for a short time The Rail Club in equally seedy Mass Ave. actually drew gridlock traffic when “the Twist” took over–Rolls, Caddies, Jags overflowing out to the street.
Rail Club, like famous Stein’s on l0th and Meridian–were considered “slumming” by the affluent Smart Set–Stein’s so bad they had female Police Matrons on the dance floor to maintain –well, not decorum exactly but minimal decency. One night there were jitterbuggers undulating so suggestively they should have booked a hotel room–when the burly matron strode out, tapped one girl on the shoulder to tell her her slip was showing and to leave the floor! This was great hangout of Tuffy Mitchell, other “gang” figures 40′s 50′s–it was mid-block on E. Side Meridian around l0th–otherwise site of those huge old Meridian mansions and one all-male Glen Martin hotel (for me), which got some traffic. Likewise the Sheffield Inn–nearby 10th & Penn.
Only West side venue people flocked to was out on l6th—The Horizon Room, whose decor was tropical and whose Schtick that awed newcomers were timed periodic “rain storms” when the lighted walls flashed pseudo-lightning, thunder and actual “rain” fell. (Some other bars with gimmicks–one isolated bar The Merry Go Round out on E. New York–decorated carousel style which confused initiates because the bar area slowly rotated like a merry go round–so that you might take a table to the left of the men’s room, later get up and walk into a wall because unknowingly your table was moving!
One equally gimmicky “destination” was the Melody Inn (couple spots but last in “country” outside today’s Broad Ripple on Westfield.) Carl Henn’s father was legendary singing bartender but like Melody on Illinois–they showed “songs” with bouncing ball and crowds sang along.
There were two feuding Irish-pubs╤N. Side Danny Coyle–around 46th & Keystone–jock hangout with no entertainment other than Toots Shor-type owner Danny who would insult customers to their delight. The other Danny was Danny O’Neill’s I think–on S. Illinois St.–which also had “gimmicks” but real claim to fame was nightly vocalist 2-ton Ophelia–shook like Jello knocking out double entrendre songs like “If I Can’t Sell It I’ll Keep a-Sitting On It–I Ain’t a-gonna give it away…” (No not what you think–last line revealed she was referring to a chair.” Other standard was paroldy to Love in Bloom–which, had I ever hung out in such a low class joint often, I might remember lyrics–like:
Sam Katz had a wife, a lovely wife, they wedded one day in June
And who do you think was best man–twas Rosenbloom.
Same Katz had a house, a lovely house, the air was filled with perfume
Who moved right in the spare room? Twas Ros=en-bloom
Sam Katz was a salesman, he travelled away, and you know that saying:
“While the Katz away–Mrs. Katz Will Play!”
Sam Katz had’a child, a lovely child, the air was heavy with gloom
It didn’t look like Sam Katz it looked like
But bars did naughty, silly gimmicks that made regular customers flock to take “new” customer there 1st time–Danny O’s was a bar phone setup. You took a friend there for the 1st time–drank, listened to Ophelia, then arranged with the bartender to break in to page by name your unwitting friend –suddenly loudspeaker would call out “Price, Nelson PRice–telephone call at the bar…”Amazed–because you thought nobody would be paging YOU there–you walked up, bartender handed phone over and as you were saying, over noise, “Hello, Hello-who is this..” bartender squeezed the bulb hooked up to the mouthpiece–and spray of water sprayed forth!
There was a Jap Jones “in” restaurant also on S. Illinois–greatest dish planked steak with mashed potatoes–and he had equally in spot at Wawasee.
Other “seedy” jazz area everyone flocked to was on Mass Ave…Charlie Bowman’s Charleys then added Blue Note on opposite corner==just booxe and in crowd loving mixing with derelict regulars. Back to practical joking of era–Claude and a Annie Collins introd Cantonese good cooking into Mass Ave area–almost but cannot quite remember name but I have photo of me there with singer Frankie Laine–maybe I will think of it.
Regulars who sat at the bar (all male then due to WWII state law barring females from bar) had a “favorite” trick to play on unsuspecting ladies who went into the ladies room–of course, the do not touch fig over a nude male’s certain area. If they “peeked” a siren went off and many a blushing lady sat there ashamed to emerge! But the very worst I remember–because I set up a sweet country girl friend and she still remembers 50 years later==and still blushes.
It was the late 40′s when suddenly poodle skirts bloomed out fuller into actual “crinoline” petticoat stiffened Southern Belle style–the well dressed young thing would “show” multiple petticoats when she walked, danced etc–with touches of pastel net. My friend Eloise was always in style–my friend Bob Murray was always at the nearby bar–and we conspired. I signaled when we two (as girls do) made the trip to the rest room together–there was a little makeup station–and a nearby toilet–(which secretly had a 2-way walkie-talkie hookup to the jokers at the bar. The regulars could hear –well, you know–when there was a tinkle, tinkle sound and they had a series of practical joke standards–so:
Nice girls seldom “sit” in this situation–so there was Eloise, her puffy crinolines balanced high over her head, hoisted to “tinkle” but just as she did a loud Male voice came out of the bowl beneath her saying “Lady–could you hold it just a minute–we’re painting down here!” Well, her scream did not NEED a p/a–you could hear it through closed doors–and she was so mortified it took minutes of coaxing for her to leave red-faced to face the laughing crowd. Wintergarden–that was the name!
So Nelson, if you REALLY want local bar memories–ask the one who’s been there. But seriously Jim Gerard who documented most of those clubs in the 50s would be great–he almost lived at the Embers. Keys, Jag room, Bluebird Room, the other area hot spots–well, I doubt if there are very many who still remember all of them–present company excluded! AND–SOME NAMES ON THIS CC LIST PERHAPS BY ERAS!