Tag Archives: Douglass Hotel

Showboat

The legendary Showboat was located in the basement of the Douglass Hotel, a favorite hangout of jazz musicians and their fans. The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday “often lived here.”

Douglass Hotel - 2.23.15

In 1964, Herb Spivak bought the basement taproom and renamed it the “Showboat Jazz Theatr” (purposely leaving the “e” out). Spivak increased the seating capacity from 100 to 200. The small bandstand was behind the bar. The Showboat played host to jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderly, Bootsie Barnes, Philly Joe Jones, Thelonius Monk, Dinah Washington and Ramsey Lewis.

Showboat Marque

On June 17, 1963, John Coltrane recorded “Live at the Showboat” featuring Coltrane (sax) McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).

Rendezvous Room

The Rendezvous Room was located on the first floor of the Hotel Senator. It was operated by Irvin Wolf from 1947 to 1955.

RendezVous Room - Featured Image

In a piece for the Tri-state Jazz Society, Rabbi Lou Kaplan wrote:

Located at 915 Walnut Street in the Hotel Senator, the Rendezvous was owned by jazz enthusiast Lee Guber. It opened January 22, 1947. After entering, one saw a long U-shaped bar on the right, behind which the bandstand was situated. To the left were tables for customers. More tables were available in the back of the room than in the narrow front section. A large photomural blowup of Pablo Picasso’s Three Musicians painting dominated a corner wall.

Many singers who later became big names made their first or an early start in the Rendezvous: Rosemary Clooney, Eydie Gorme, Joni James, Patti Page, to list a few. Later came such well-known vocalists as Thelma Carpenter, Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Mae Morse, Maxine Sullivan, Sarah Vaughan, and Lee Wiley. (I recall marveling one night at how Billie Holiday’s relaxed, syncopated phrasing reshaped each number.) Booked, too, were folk singers Harry Belafonte, Burl Ives, and Josh White; actor John Carradine; musicians Earl Hines, Gene Krupa, Meade Lux Lewis, Charlie Parker, and Artie Shaw; and many other “greats.”

While the Rendezvous engaged various types of entertainment, most prominent was Dixieland jazz. The number one jazz attraction was Bechet, who, for instance, was featured four times in one 12- month period, each for a minimum of two weeks. Actress Tallulah Bankhead, a Bechet devotee and friend, came to the club whenever possible if he was playing. One night she asked Guber, “Would you like to sell twice as much whiskey?” After the owner’s obvious reply, Bankhead, in her husky baritone voice, laughingly advised, “Well, try filling up the glasses!”

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Douglass Hotel

In Jimmy Heath’s autobiography “I Walked with Giants,” drummer Roy Haynes recounted:

I met Jimmy around 1946 when I was with Luis Russell and we played the Earle Theater in Philadelphia. A lot of the big bands would come through the Earle. We stayed at the Douglas Hotel, which was in South Philly. That was the hotel where a lot of the big black bands stayed.

Douglass Hotel Guests

The building is still there. The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday lived there when she was in town.

Douglass Hotel - 4.7.15

But the Douglass Hotel was not just a place to lay one’s head. The legendary Showboat was located in the basement. John Coltrane recorded live from the Showboat in 1963.
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John Coltrane Live at the Showboat

After the Showboat, the space became the Bijou Café. Grover Washington, Jr. recorded live from the Bijou Café in 1977.

Bijou - Grover Washington Live at the Bijou

The basement of the Douglass Hotel was a magical space.