We noticed a few snazzy clutch purses among the clientele at the Cotton Club -- they were held by men. Those Louis Vuitton oversize wallets hint at what the Cotton Club is all about: being well-to-do and standing out.
It's the most talked-about club in the city because of its name, which harks back to the romance of the Harlem renaissance, and because its patrons constitute a black who's who in sports, entertainment, business, politics, and journalism.
Limousines are double-parked out front at 1710 S. Michigan Ave. The Mercedeses, Rolls-Royces, and occasional beaters are parked by tuxedoed valets. You don't have to be black to get in, but you have to look sharp.
"People get very, very fancy," said maitre d' Gary Kimbrough. "Everybody's getting more into clothes and cars and they need a place to go." Kimbrough, owner Haynes Thompson, and floor manager Herman Baggett watch their crowd with hawks' eyes; they check to make sure the right people get in, and once in that they're satisfied. "We're polite. We're aggressively polite," smiled Thompson. The Pointer Sisters made it in, as did their manager, whom we were told with a raised eyebrow was wearing gym shoes.
A Cab Calloway picture hangs above the white baby grand in front, where the Cotton Club Orchestra performs with chanteuse Rhonda Capriece. In back is a fancy disco. "It's like night and day," said Baggett. "I like to walk in this room from that room and walk from this room to that room! You get the best of both worlds. A lot of the people had stopped going out. They had no nice place to go without running into the teenyboppers."
"We want to keep a mature clientele," said Thompson. "We've invested a lot of money and the younger ones may not appreciate what we've done."
Alderman Bill Henry called the Cotton Club "part of the rebirth of the inner city. I'm excited about it. This is the newest thing, a supper club atmosphere -- without the supper!"
The club has been going through two cases of Dom Perignon champagne per week since it opened April 3. The club is now into its third bottle of Louis XIII cognac, at $45 a shot.
We chatted with some of the regulars. Two auditors from First Chicago bank, Darryl Hennington and Floyd Townsend, were having a pleasant time in the jazz room, standing in a group of men and talking excitedly. All the men look like they read Gentlemen's Quarterly religiously. "We're buppies," Hennington told us. "Buppies?" we asked. "Black urban professionals. You do a lot of networking here," he explained.
Townsend chimed in. "We've been networking. Virgil's here from Los Angeles. He's from Xerox."
We asked Virgil L. Fludd what he thought of the joint. "I wouldn't call it a joint. I've been in joints. The age group here is conducive to making money. And we all share the same work ethics, habits, and/or frustrations . . . "
"It's a good meeting place," said Paul Brown, a product marketing manager for Xerox. "My wife comes with her sorority girlfriends."
A lot of the ladies come in pairs and threesomes. Their entrances are marked by a swiveling of heads. But it seemed to us the ladies were being checked out for fashion rather than sexual attraction. We saw a few, plain-faced, well-dressed ladies get heaps of attention from men, more so than pretty faces who weren't as elegantly dressed.
"It's stylishly noisy. You get a good drink," said Corkye Wills, legal administrator for the Board of Education. "They don't have a real young crowd. And I like it."
Wills also called it a buppie place. We told Wills we'd never heard the word "buppie" before. She looked us square in the eyes, to see if we were fooling. We weren't. Then she asked us, "Where you been?"
Sibling Rivalry: Life at the Trib With Ann & Abby
What could be better than to be between two wonderful women! --Tribune editor Jim Squires, February 1987.
What indeed? "Ann was on the front every day. Abby got her nose out of joint. So they had to alternate 'em," explained one Tribunite, analyzing the promotional "refers" on the front page of Tempo. Now Abby is promoted on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; and Ann is promoted on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.
Ann was in Tempo seven days a week, Abby six. So Abby whipped together a seventh column. Now she's in Tempo six days, plus the Sunday magazine.
Ann is on page three of Tempo. Don't you worry, Squires told Abby, who is next to Blondie, the comics are one of the best-read pages in the paper.
"There's been a lot of grief in the design and layout. I had to do 16 damn things to accommodate the two columns," said a staffer.
"There was all this background music," said another insider about the sisters. "She wants this, she's unhappy about that . . . "
Meanwhile, Ann struggled to choose just the right photograph to enhance her new, blonder hairdo. Different photographs kept appearing above her column. "Oh, I don't know how many hours it took to shoot the right picture until she was happy. She's very vain," said a colleague.
Well now, who wouldn't be vain about a picture in the newspaper? Should we face our readers directly like Roger Ebert and Zay Smith? Tilt our head a bit like Lynda Gorov? Ponder off in the distance like Kup? Be wry and quizzical like Mike Royko? Smirk like Bob Greene and Roger Simon?
Anyway, Ann now has a lovely picture that shows off her coiffure, and it's a couple picas (or about a third of an inch) larger than her sister's. The top of Dear Abby's head is chopped off, so we don't see all of her hair. (The top of Royko's head is chopped off, too, but he's bald.)
Ann also, has a bigger logo -- 18.9 picas wide to Abby's 11.6 picas.
We are not alone in following, in minute detail, the travails of Eppie, Popo, and the Tribune. We hear Sun-Times publisher Robert Page xeroxed the Tribune ads heralding Ann Landers and flew out to California with his wife to wave them under Abby's nose. "See how they're neglecting you!" was the message. "Come over to us!"
"I think that probably happened, yeah," said a Sun-Times chieftain.
We hear the Sun-Times even dreamed for one giddy moment of making Popo the winner of its celebrated contest for a new advice columnist. Over my dead body! swears editor Matt Storin.
But imagine this: Dear Abby jumps to the Sun-Times alongside the soon-to-be-unveiled young star. Who is -- Abby Jr! Oh, never mind . . . Popo's daughter did apply for the job, but her entry arrived a month past the deadline.
Whatever happens next, we were glad to hear that "Abby is quite happy now." So Squires can go back to running his newspaper.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.