Linda Glick, who appears for four evenings at Pangea, recalls New York’s cabaret scene back in the day. | ANTHONY GRASSO
This month and next, cabaret fans will have a rare chance to catch up with a New York cabaret star of the 1970s and ‘80s, Linda Glick, when she plays Pangea with her new show “Teach Me Tonight.”
Back in the day, Glick was a mainstay of such venues as Les Mouches, the Duplex, Triad, Reno Sweeney’s, Judy’s, and many others, when she wasn’t playing the big rooms like the Rainbow Grill or touring internationally. Her fan base was and is largely gay; she sang in bathhouses, too, and she’s been a headliner at several national Pride gatherings in Washington. She’s also shared bills and stages with Harvey Fierstein, Sid Caesar, Shecky Greene, and Rita Rudner, understudied for Eartha Kitt, and workshopped a show with Kander and Ebb. In her heyday, her appearances got mentions and plugs in Variety, Page Six, and Earl Wilson’s syndicated column.
Born and raised in Forest Hills, Glick initially taught French and Spanish in city public middle schools, performing in cabarets at night. Because she was proficient at singing in foreign languages, she was hired as a replacement for Rita Dmitri at La Chansonsette supper club. Two European agents saw her perform there and she was immediately booked on an international tour, launching her career. She’s sung everywhere from Thailand to the Catskills, but she claims, “I don’t like any other type of venue as much as I like New York cabarets.”
Linda Glick takes us down New York cabaret’s Memory Lane
Glick recently took me on a trip down Memory Lane to some of her old haunts to talk about the cabaret scene in days gone by and how things have changed. Along the way, she shared anecdotes about many adventures from her long career.
Reno Sweeney’s (126 West 13th Street, now a pasta restaurant called Gradisca): “A lot of big names played here: Diane Keaton, Manhattan Transfer, Cybill Shepherd, Holly Woodlawn, Barbara Cook, Janis Ian, Geraldine Fitzgerald, and Peter Allen, whom I later opened for at a club called Waaay Off-Broadway in Washington, DC. Reno Sweeney’s was wonderful. They made a point of always displaying these beautiful flower arrangements. It was run very professionally by a man named Lewis Friedman, a great manager.
This was the first place I ever worked with my own string section. And this is where we premiered a song I cowrote called “Weekend Lady.” One time I’d forgotten my costume, I left it in the cab, and my girlfriend came to the show so we literally switched clothes so I could perform. And then at the last possible second, the cab driver burst into the club with my costume. I remember the man’s name to this day. He was a hero.”
The VIP Room (120 Madison Avenue at 30th Street): “The house band was a bunch of Greek guys. I sang there three to four times a week, for several weeks. Because I sang in several different languages, one time an important patron requested I sing a song in Russian. I had heard that there were some guys doing a Russian version of “Those Were the Days” down at one of the Ukrainian places on Second Avenue, so I sent someone there for the sheet music. I stuck the music into a book, and invented some patter and put on a shawl and sang the song from the book. The owner wanted me to ditch the book, but I said, ‘No, this has all been carefully rehearsed. I need my props!’
Then, when I did my encore on that show, a medley of Édith Piaf songs, the audience actually threw money. I gathered it all up and split it five ways with the band.”
Les Mouches (559 West 26th Street): “You got upstairs in an elevator, and it was a whole complex with dining rooms, a cabaret, and a dance space with mirrored disco ball. My director was Bill Hennessy, he had been Bette Midler’s hair stylist and mentor. He was the one who gave her the funny onstage walk that she does. It was a festive, free place, with a gay clientele. I sang a song called ‘Knights in Black Leather,’ and threw ball gags and other sex toys out to the audience.”
The Bushes of Central Park West (158 West 73rd Street): “This location had previously been a spot called the Pearl. The Bushes was where I got my first shot at developing a following, I played these Sunday night shows and napped in the boiler room between sets. The crowd here was mostly gay, too.”
Danny’s Skylight Room (346 West 46th Street, now a New Orleans-themed restaurant called Bourbon Street): “This place was run by Danny Apolinar, a songwriter who sang and played piano. Danny was responsible for getting me a gig at the Central Plaza Hotel in Bangkok.”
Bike Stop West (230 West 75th Street): “The manager was a man known as the Emerald Queen. This venue was very small. I actually performed on the bar and the audience spilled out onto the sidewalk.”
Gypsy’s (1065 First Avenue at East 58th Street, now Fusha Asian Cuisine): “It was packed to the rafters when I performed there. Gypsy was the emcee, but the owner was [Hollywood dancer and impresario] Ted Hook. There was so much freedom then. I wore this cocoa-colored gown with black feathers as breastplates. Marilyn Sokol showed up wearing a boa made of rubber chickens.”
Many another name came up during Glick’s reminiscences: Brothers and Sisters, Grand Finale, Steve McGraw’s (which is now the Triad), Eighty Eights (now a restaurant called L’Artusi), Trude Heller’s (now Lenwich, Greenwich Village), Tramps (now an Irish bar called Shades of Green), and of course the legendary Duplex, which is one of the few places from the old days that is still going.
As to why the landscape in New York changed so much over the past few decades, Glick speculated, “You can’t make a living in cabaret now. There got to be fewer and fewer rooms and different types of venues. The rents got higher, the economics changed, and AIDS hit the gay community hard.”
As that happened, Glick transitioned into acting in theater, film, and television. Notable credits include stints as Mrs. Brice in two touring productions of “Funny Girl,” the role of Nancy Pelosi in the HBO movie “Too Big to Fail” about the 2008 financial meltdown, and several shows at 54 Below in 2015.
But, she said, “I really love the atmosphere at Pangea, it reminds me of the classy old supper clubs from the old days. I can’t wait to perform there.”
LINDA GLICK | “Teach Me Tonight” | Pangea, 178 Second Ave. at E. 11th St. | Oct. 18 & 25; Nov. 1 & 10 at 7:30 p.m. | $20 at pangeanyc.com; $25, cash only, at door | $20 food & drink minimum