A Sit-Down Discotheque, with Seat Belts?
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
November 18, 1965, Vol. XI, No. 5
Sit-Down Disc: Fasten Your Seat Belts & Dance
By J.R. Goddard
"We installed seat belts on the chairs so the kids could dance sitting down.
"We were letting them dance to the Rock, but the cops stopped it. You know, the old cabaret law routine. Then we installed the seat belts, but the kids cut the buckles off. Now we just boot 'em out if they dance off their chairs. That's why we call this Sit Down Au Go Go. Sit down, little babies -- or go!"
Hud, a reedy young man, yet somehow impressive beyond his years with his close-cropped hair and steel spectacles, manages Cafe Figaro's basement sit-down-or-else teenage discotheque. On a recent Sunday evening he was posted at a table near the espresso steam valves, looking over that low-ceilinged room with its 1930s movie posters and supervising the between-shifts clearance of rubble.
Between-shifts clearance takes place every evening at 8 o'clock. Buttressed by his loyal staff -- a doorman, a bouncer, a disk jockey, and a clatch of pretty, long-haired young MacDougally waitresses -- he herds the kids up on the street to allow a changeover of crowds. "Okay children," he'd just menaced at them, "out now, out -- pay your four bits if you want back in -- hey man, I said out."
Now, after a four-hour stretch of kids with long hair and antique shades -- girls in pea jackets or wild furs, (mostly) unbearded boys in high heeled Spanish boots -- Sit Down Au Go Go was quiet as an abandoned algebra class. The disk jockey behind the soda pop bar began sorting his 45 rpm ammo for the next four hour siege. Waitresses were sweeping up so many cigarette butts, napkins, stray lipsticks, and sandwich bits it reminded you of Yankee Stadium after a doubleheader. And from every chair, seat belts castrated of their buckles by the teeny-time rebels hung sad down, so many abject ribbons to tangle with the brooms.
"I used to be a customer here myself," Hud went on between giving orders, moving his feet as a broom pried under the table. "I used to dance to the Rock here all the time. Then when they cut that out I came to listen, like all the others. Pretty soon I started working here. Then the original manager quit. The Figaro I guess figured I was older than the kids and could handle 'em, so they gave me the job. Man, I live it!"
Now they were pouring back in again, many familiar faces from the late afternoon shift. Hud explained that quite a few doubled shifts, some even showing up seven nights a week. "The place gets more popular all the time," he said. "The choice of records is one big reason. I check Cash Box every week to see what new records I should get. The good sounds, the new Rock sounds -- that's what keeps you ahead of the other joints."
Five or six minutes and Sit Down was jammed again. Many of the downy-cheeked patrons were scanning the National Enquirer, learning the facts of how "27 Die in Acid" -- or "Police Say He Strangled Pregnant Wife. Then Set Apartment on Fire and Returned as a Fireman to Help Fight Fire." But does everybody in the Sit Down really read the Enquirer? No. A sweet-faced, moppy haired young waitress explained, "Only the young kids read it. The college crowd prefers comic books."
Whooomp! On went the sound system. "Fever," Sonny and Cher, Bobby, the Stones, "I Can't Get No -- Satis -- facshun --". Kids began to wiggle in their seats, some of them twisting so energetically their torsoes looked ready to uncork from their lower halves. Others waved their arms about, fighting against drowning from rhythm. One couple popped up for a spontaneous monkey happening, right there before your eyes. A yell from the management grounded them. "Once more and you're 86," Hud's bellow punctuated the other warning outburst, his long thumb indicating the door.
But already a new scene distracted the wandering, bright-eyed attention of the teenies. A young sugar plum folk singer had momentarily left her new guitar alone on a table. When somebody picked it up to hit a few licks the whole bridge pulled off, strings dangling like sea weed off the cheap, lacquered guitar face. "You'll have to have it fixed right now," she kept saying over and over. The crowd at the table hovered over the mangled guitar, giggling and apologizing. "I didn't mean it," one had answered. "But hey, it woulda happened anyway. I mean, what kinna Toonerville guitar is it busts loose soon as you play on it? The girl suddenly grasped it to her and made for the door, on the verge of tears.
The music got louder. An organ melody line screamed out across the basement, working hard against drums and electric guitars. "We gotta get outta this place, if it's the last thing we...." A subteen Juliette Greco in black, tight, flat chested sweater (the non-curving girl does not generally obtain in Sit Down) had tied herself into her chair and was off. Eyes closed, mouth hard drawn, she wriggled and jolted up and down and around as if strapped into one of your low-voltage, gradual-jazz-death electric chairs.
"We don't have much trouble with them," Hud shouted above the blast. "This is about the only place they can go before they're old enough to graduate to the real coffee houses. They know that, so they keep in line. Once in awhile I get a glue sniffer. OUT! Or maybe an occasional fight. OUT! Two or three kids dance off their chairs every night too, and that's the end of them. But mostly they're cool. All I do is keep the discipline up, that's my job -- and not get hung up on any girls here. I mean, they're mostly under 18 you know --"
The music howled now. Kids listened to it, nodded heads, waved arms. Over in the corner Miss Black Sweater had momentarily spent her energy and now looked quite bored. Louder. Faster. More napkins, Enquirers, food, and other teeny paraphernalia trickled to the floor -- "Bison Falls Into Man's Basement, Stays Two Days" -- "We gotta get outta this place, better life, for me and -- you."
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956. Go here to see this article as it originally appeared in print.]