By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Two faux-tiger-skin coats, one beehive hairdo and ten pairs of uncomfortable pumps have already passed beneath the giant cat-face sign and tiki torches of the Kit Kat Club. "We told them to please look nice," says Darryl Stubbs. "Well, and they do look nice. But I'm all nerves. There should be a rush by now."
Stubbs takes a few steps out into the alley between Market and Larimer streets. Just north, on 21st Street, a drunken denizen of the neighborhood does a brief double take, as if unused to the sight of a young man in a black-and-gold silk bathrobe and tuxedo slacks holding a pipe. And what's a Jaguar doing in this alley? Meanwhile, a vintage Plymouth pulls up and disgorges two men in their early twenties sporting Butch-Waxed pompadours and the sharkskin sport coats of a bygone age. Stubbs collects two dollars from each of them.
"Nice look, Darryl," one says.
"I'm trying to be Hefneresque," Stubbs explains. "I carry this pipe around, but I don't light it."
"I think it's pretentious," says a young Dorothy Parker look-alike with a sleek black shingle. From time to time she performs a sweeping gesture with her cigarette holder.
"And the jacket's not? Pretentious is the whole point."
"Oh," says Dorothy Parker. "Right, right."
She heads back into the Kit Kat Club for her second martini of the night, brushing past a confused couple in their fifties.
"Last time I came here, the lights were red, it was called Herb's Hideout and you entered through the front," the man tells the woman. "Now the lights are blue and you enter through the back."
Where the sign says "Kit Kat Club"--but only on Thursday nights. Then, and only then, Darryl Stubbs, self-styled promoter for the early-twenties set, takes over the place and makes it his own. Stubbs is known for his gimmicks--mariachi bands in hardcore clubs, theme birthday parties and cheesy Las Vegas nights--but even for him, the Kit Kat concept is on the edge. Here like-minded and -aged people can partake of such revolutionary activities as listening to the classics as played by a live pianist, getting lit enough to sing a Sinatra song or two, dressing in the grownup clothing of any pre-hippie decade and engaging in polite conversation. Tonight is Stubbs's seventh Kit Kat Club and, though his advertising efforts consisted of nothing more than a few fliers, the room is filling up.
"Either you know about it or you don't," Stubbs says. "I came because I was bored with the usual nightclubs. I figured, if I'm bored, anyone else would be, too. I loved Herb's the minute I saw it, and I thought, Why not turn it into, you know, a swingin' lounge?"
Inside the lounge Stubbs hopes will soon begin to swing, pianist John Pike--who also plays here Friday and Saturday nights for a clientele twice as old and half as psyched--styles lazily. From 9:30 to 10 p.m., the only straight standard he plays is the Carpenters' "Close to You." Recognizing it, an elderly woman dressed for the office begins to sing into her drink.
The seats around her are occupied by two more business types in business suits; a blond, crew-cutted woman all in black leather, who munches her Chee-tos on the downbeat; and James Sharp, who is 24 and snaps his fingers Dean Martin-ly.
Being suave is of supreme importance to Sharp, but his facial expression is all wrong tonight. Too excited. Too smiley. This, however, could be because his 21-year-old sister, Julie, is making her debut as the Kit Kat cigarette girl. She's struck the exact right note, Sharp thinks: little kitty ears on her head, thigh-high stockings and a demure, slightly self-conscious look on her face. Already, she's doing a brisk business in unfiltered cigarettes.
"You can see that these kids are trying to flash back to the Thirties and Forties," says Larry Wright, who did some flashing back himself when he and a partner bought Herb's almost two years ago. The bar had been open for business four decades by then, and the new owners took what Wright charitably refers to as "your basic blue-collar, working-class place" and turned it into a minimalist piano bar. In February, Stubbs stopped by. "He asked if he could spruce up one of my slow nights," Wright recalls. "He said he wanted to make it kind of a fancy affair for 21- to 28-year-olds, make it more like a speakeasy."
Wright had nothing to lose. Although the revamped Herb's was crowded on weekends, few people ventured down to this part of Larimer Street on weeknights. He wasn't averse to attacting a new clientele, and he knew Stubbs had enjoyed some success putting on parties at other clubs. "So we gave it a try, and it was a kick," Wright recalls. "My regulars were skeptical in the beginning, but here's what they tell me now: It looks good, it feels good and these kids are even singing some of the right songs."
"I thought about the name for a long time," Stubbs remembers. "Then I remembered a cartoon where Jack Benny is a mouse and he takes his mouse girlfriend to a Kit Kat Club, and it's where all the hip mice hang out. They wear little mouse ears, and there's a cigarette girl and a floor show. And that's what I wanted."