Truly the end of an era
On June 16th...well, early in the morning of the 17th, actually, the last performer took the stage during an impromptu final set because nobody wanted to leave, and since the beer had run out earlier in the night, we ordered whatever booze was left behind the bar, and then the Slipper Room closed its doors for the last time. The original Slipper Room, that is. It will reopen next year, on the same corner of Orchard and Stanton after a complete renovation, including the building of a full second story and a re-imagining as a more theatrical space. Better sightlines. More seating. A full backstage and a performers' entrance. It will be great. But it will never be the same.
That picture is Clams Casino on her last night at the Slipper Room, after her last performance, all packed up but reluctant to leave the dressing room for the last time. She missed the last night it was open because she was in Baltimore, on the last stop of her coast-to-coast tour. Getting to this point in her career has plenty to do with the Slipper Room.
This post has been a long time coming, since we saw the place off over two weeks ago, but it's been on my mind a lot and I want to write about it. Since the first burlesque show we ever saw at the Slipper Room, over six years ago (of which my biggest memory, along with seeing a typically amazing lineup of performers, was being terrified that Scotty the Blue Bunny was going to yell at me from stage), it became our second home in the city and one of the most important places in our lives. Clams performed there many nights every month, we produced shows there, and any given night, it was the place most likely for us to end up, eventually. We knew our friends would always be there.
There are more memories, more amazing nights, more important moments then I could ever list or frankly, remember...Pinkie Special's goodbye show, before she moved to France. The random Thursday night that happened to be my birthday, when Nasty Canasta did a gameshow-themed tribute number for me. Tigger and Julie Atlas Muz, on the anniversary of September 11th, walking hand in hand from the stage, through the audience and out onto Orchard Street, naked except for a white dusting of powder. Producing shows there, and hosting on that stage: Smells Like Tease Spirit, Lake Clothes Be Gone. The night in August 2007, the first anniversary of the Gameshow Speakeasy when we were still producing it at the Parkside Lounge on East Houston Street; hottest night of the summer, and the Parkside's air conditioner breaks down; Clams calls the owner with about four hours notice and asks if we can move the show to the Slipper Room, and he immediately says yes, and we have one of the best shows there we ever did; we moved the show there permanently a few months later. Countless nights volunteering to run the lights and work the curtain, getting out of the packed, sweaty audience and having the best seat in the house. Viva's rock & roll burlesque shows, Seth Herzog's Sweet, where you could see the best comics in the country up close for 5 bucks. the epic nights of Bunny Love's Nude, the all-nude rock band with dozens of my friends packed on the stage. The all-December birthday shows that Clams and co-conspirators would produce there; her 30th birthday, and last year's 40th for Albert Cadabra, that ended in the most epic naked piefight in history. I've posted so many times right here about the Slipper Room, and I've got more pictures taken there then anywhere else...I daresay I've spent more time there than anywhere except the apartment we live in.
On any given night at the Slipper Room, you were likely to see the best lineup of internationally acclaimed burlesque talent that you'd see anywhere, for 5 bucks. I experienced dozens of performers there for the first time, for the last time, and some for the only time. Some of the greatest numbers ever, and sometimes, some of the worst. You'd see amazing hosts like The Zog, like Matt Mohr as Jesus Christ, like Bradford Scobie as the amazing Doctor Donut. Kenball or James Kenny at the door; James ending countless shows as his character Uncle Earl, getting everyone to sing along to Sweet Caroline. Z, Scotty, Matty behind the bar, pouring drinks that I'm pretty sure I stopped paying for around 2007. Scott Ewalt and Momotaro spinning the world's most perfect go-go music, tailored to the performer on the go-go box, sweating it out for crumpled dollar bills.
It was the perpetual after-party, the default place to celebrate, to go after a show somewhere else in town, they always let us in, I greeted the dawn outside the Slipper Room door more times than I should probably try to remember. The private debauchery of the kickboxing lounge in the basement. When the curtain was closed, the stage and the world's tiniest dressing room became a private enclave, just for performers and those lucky enough to be allowed in.
The place was not perfect. There were plenty of hassles to be had. There were canceled gigs, doublebooked shows. But the owners, James and Camille Habacher, genuinely love burlesque. They've been part of the avant garde New York downtown art and theater community for years and the Slipper Room has been producing burlesque shows for over a decade, longer than just about anywhere else in the city that's still doing it (Coney Island has them beat; the Great Fredini and Bambi the Mermaid have been presenting Burlesque at the Beach for 15 years this summer.). And James and Camille are a bastion of true New York burlesque weirdness, they want the craziest, nakedest shit on that stage that anyone will ever do anywhere. It was a place to try new things and see things you've never seen before. It was also a regular, well-paying gig for a lot of performers and the transition, frankly, is going to be very tough, not to mention for the long-time staff. But they absolutely must be commended for being committed to that spot, to staying on the Lower East Side, and for planning a grand reopening of the Slipper Room in a whole new form. But I really, really miss the old one. Not sure what I'm going to do with myself all of those Saturdays. Or Fridays. Or Thursdays. Or Wednesdays....