|Bill Saxton, King of Harlem|
Luckily for me, I live in New York City, where it's not as difficult as it would be if I lived in, say, Cleveland or something. (No offense to those of you in Cleveland; I have family there which is why I picked it.) Yes, I've been to the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor's Island. Yes, I've been to a few speakeasy-style bars, and I even have a favourite. (The Red Room, if you're wondering. The Back Room also has a cool aesthetic - it was used in the episode of "Broad City" where Abbi's alter ego "Val" performs - but it tends to be too overcrowded, at least the times I've been.)
And a couple weeks ago, Sarah and I went to one of the most authentic jazz experiences in the whole city, up in Harlem. I have a couple other upcoming posts that touch on this a little more (one in my LGBT history series, one in more conventional listicle form) but in 20s New York City, Harlem was one of the places to be. (Greenwich Village was another place to be.) Clubs in this area from this time are iconic, legendary performers like Cab Calloway and Josephine Baker were entertaining the masses, and 133rd Street in particular had so many speakeasies that private homes on the street actually had to put signs on their doors stating that they weren't speakeasies.
Of course, it wasn't some perfect ideal. Even in Harlem, which had a primarily black population, society was deeply segregated. The Cotton Club was themed after a slave plantation (isn't that just awful) and while black people - who had invented jazz music and many of the popular 20s dances, mind you - could perform there, they could not go as club patrons. (Those of you who've seen "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" are inevitably gonna draw comparisons to the Ink and Paint Club where Jessica Rabbit performed - that allegory was intentional in that movie.) That's not an aspect of the 1920s I'm looking to bring back, I just like the fashion and the music and the overall irreverent attitude of the time.
So Sarah and I wanted to theme our night out as follows:
- Dress in jazz age inspired looks. (I would have loved to go out in full flapper dress but it was raining so I had to wear rain boots. Thus my look actually skewed more 1930s.)
- Eat at a black-owned establishment with retro inspired vibes
- Finish out our night at a real Harlem jazz establishment