Kate O'Toole had thought about opening a bar since she was thirteen and saw The Color Purple. "There's this scene in the juke joint where Shug Avery sang this song called 'Sister' to Celie, and she was just getting down and then everyone was getting down," she remembers. "It was super soulful, and I got goosebumps over my whole body, and I was like, 'I wanna make that happen one day.'"
And at the beginning of January, O'Toole finally got her bar. She took over the 120-year-old building at 3862 High Street that's been home to numerous saloons since 1902, including Marco's Place and the High Street Speakeasy, and dubbed her place Jezebel's Juke Joint & Brothel. O'Toole thinks the building was originally a whorehouse; the second floor is divided into sixteen small rooms, and some tenants and customers have insisted that spirits lurk around upstairs and occasionally make their way downstairs. (Sadly, the ghosts did not cooperate when Westword sent a team to spend the night at the Speakeasy ["Ghost Story," October 30, 2003].) Eventually, O'Toole would like to renovate the upstairs and rent out rooms to creative types like photographers and tattoo artists.
Right now, though, she's concentrating on getting the downstairs bar up and running, bringing in blues and jazz acts on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as the Rowdy Shadehouse Funk Band on Sundays. In March, the Belles of Jezebel's, a Roaring Twenties-themed cabaret troupe, will start performing on Thursdays — which is also ladies' night, appropriately enough. The Belles, along with Vivienne VaVoom and bluesman Sammy Dee, will make their debut during Jezebel's grand opening, a masquerade Mardi Gras party on Fat Tuesday, February 16.
Should be a hell of a shindig — especially considering that O'Toole only decided to open the place on Christmas Eve.
A real-estate agent, O'Toole had been trying to sell the building for Frank Blea, who's owned it since 1963. After the High Street Speakeasy made a brief, and valiant, attempt to turn the Victorian building into a hipster bar, Blea's son ran it as Marco's Place. But Blea had been working with O'Toole to sell the building, and in October, he started lobbying O'Toole to buy it herself. Finally, in December, she gave in. She lives in the neighborhood and recognized that the market is coming around. Down the block, a warehouse was turned into high-end lofts, there's talk of light rail going nearby, and people are flipping houses in the area. "That only means it's going to turn," O'Toole says.
The Jezebel's building already is. O'Toole and manager Kevin Candelaria have added a fresh coat of paint inside, upgraded the patio and installed some red-light-district-style lights outside. Come summer, they may put a sand pit volleyball court in the vacant lot next door.
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In the meantime, everyone's welcome at Jezebel's. Even the ghosts.
Club scout: On Sunday, February 14, City Hall (1144 Broadway) will host the Hearts for Haiti benefit with reggae bands Lion Souljahs, Irie Still and Nuby Dan & the Roots and Fire Band, as well DJs Bushy Bush, Kaz and Brooklyn. While each of these acts is based here, they all have roots in the Caribbean. Doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets are $10; VIP passes, which include an open bar, entrance to the VIP lounge and two gift balloon raffle tickets, are $100 per person. All proceeds will go to the Lambi Fund to benefit victims of the Haiti earthquake.
Also on the reggae beat, the Dubwise Collective has kicked off Selecta's Choice: A Riddim Showcase, Wednesdays at the Funky Buddha (776 Lincoln Street). Hosted by DJ Uplifter, the night features reggae and dancehall tunes spun by DJs Nikka T, Bushy Bush, Segue, Blood Preshah and more; it starts at 9 p.m., and there's no cover. And Bender's Tavern (314 East 13th Avenue) recently started Rain Dog Wednesdays for fans of Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and the like, with $4 Salty Dogs, Hot Toddies, Sidecars and Rusty Nails from 9 p.m. to close.
Finally, starting on Tuesday, February 16, Jazzmatazz Lounge (1612 East 17th Avenue), which has offered live jazz on the weekends since it opened in November, will begin featuring live music Tuesdays through Saturdays. Piano-jazz happy hours will run from 6 to 8 p.m., and bands will play from 8:30 to midnight.