Friday, October 26, 2007

Let's swim to the moon, uh-huh...

I promised myself I'd crank out a post before leaving for Cavestomp! so here 'tis.

By the way--check out the Bowery Boys' wonderful blog on NYC history every Friday for a wicked wayback trip through all eras of New York nightlife. They're pros, so Lord knows they'll get to some of the more rockin' joints I've been meaning to cover way before I will! Actually, you'll wanna read it on a daily basis if you're any sort of an NYC history geek.

ONDINE--308 E. 59th Street. Arguably the hippest of the posh mid-'60s East Side discotheques that sprang up in Arthur's wake, this frequent Warhol-crowd hangout is best known for hosting the Doors' first New York gig. According to most sources it opened in 1965 and was co-owned by Jerry Schatzberg and Olivier Coquelin. However, the club's sound engineer and DJ Jim Reeves cites Howard Pratt, Claude Bell and Geist Ely as the owners. Reeves explains some of Ondine's internal workings far better than I can on his site:

"Ondine was an exclusive private discotheque club, pretty much a celebrity-based restaurant and dance club which pioneered a new trend in "happenings" of the era and after a year or so of its existence to the public, the then manager, Brad Pierce, had some connection with industry types, and somehow began to book the current acts. There weren't that may venues then so I guess it was a logical step for all involved in entertainment to take.

Around '64, as a recording engineer at Skitch Henderson's Studio 3 during the daytime, my mentor, Dave Sarser, who had set up private discotheques like Le Club (almost "speak easy"-ish) in the '50's and '60's, assigned me to a new club called Ondine. It was named after an Olympic winning sailboat. I was to install their sound system...I had become the head Discaire (now known as "DJ") as a result and played back to back pop records at night and weekends, stirring up a frenzy of go-go dancers. I also handled the sound for the house band, The Losers, and eventually for transient bands like the Pilgrims, who wore tunics styled after the knickers look of the Young Rascals who started out at the Barge, a sister discotheque in the Hampton's on Long Island. There was Arthur's, another New York disco owned by Sybil Burton, whose house band was the Fuzzy Bunnies. Many clubs followed as the trend caught on like Harlowe's and The Coney Island Pub and Nepenthe and many others.

At Ondine, The Doors, The Druids of Stonehenge, Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix, The Denims were among the list of performers. Live PA sound systems were just in their infancy then. It was new and exciting. Lots of real action. Bikers outside, mingled with the limousines. Jackie Gleason and Jackie Kennedy and Faye Dunaway would be mingling with Monti Rock III and Eric Burdon and Hilton Valentine of the Animals, while Jimi bit his guitar strings on the 8'x12'x18" stage. What can I say? Sonny and Cher would pop in. We'd hang out together with Steve Stills in the kitchen snacking on staff dinners together. Hendrix and I would go out after the club closed to the Brasserie for late night dinners. That's how it was. Nothing to compare it to then. Eventually it all led to The Cheetah and Studio 54, along with the Fillmore East and the Electric Circus and so on. It was all new to all of us."

The Olympian yacht Ondine was surely named after the water-sprite. And accordingly, the club was decked out in a nautical motif--an "undersea discotheque heavily draped in fisherman's nets," according to Michael and Ariane Batterberrys' On the Town in New York (New York: Routledge, 1999; orig. 1973). (Hmmm...wonder if it looked anything like T.O.'s The Boat?) Some suggestion of this can be seen in these photos of Curtis Knight and the Squires, found on (note porthole beside the head of the guy dancing in front of Jimi).

Reeves offers some details about the club's layout on the Hendrix page: "After the new management (with Brad Pierce) took over, they moved the stage to the south wall. You can see the arched, ship-like rafters above on ceiling and the porthole near the guitar on the stand....Ondine was not at all a large venue. There was a 18' to 22' foot bar at the front and a coat check room across from it. Continuing on to the rear was a 25' x 35'x 9'h room with a stage, dance floor, and beyond that, a fairly large kitchen. There were booths around the perimeter of the room. "The Losers" was the house band. They were a funky blues rock pop band. Joe Nessor (bass and vocal), Tony Sal (Guitar and vocal), Brian Keenan (drums) and Russell ??? (guitar) I think."

Did the superstars in Warhol's firmament dig the place because one of their own was named Ondine? Andy doesn't say, but he does give some of the best available evocations of the club's ambiance in Popism: The Warhol Sixties (New York: Harper & Row, 1980; Pat Hackett, co-author).

"A discotheque called Ondine (just a name coincidence...) the very beginning of '65, and that was where you started seeing lots of beautiful girls in mini-skirts (they weren't even called that yet, though), short and pleated with stripes and dots and big colors and stretchy knits. Everyone started going to Ondine right away, all the celebs in town. The girls there were beautiful--Gerard picked Marisa Berenson there one night on her very first modeling trip to New York and brought her to the Factory for a screen test. Edie went there all the time, throwing a lot of money around in the beginning when she still had it, picking up the check for as many as twenty people every night..." [p. 99]

"[A]fter working all day at the Factory, we'd usually go out to Il Mio and then to Ondine and wind up at Arthur. A band called the Druids had been playing at Ondine for a couple of months. Jimi Hendrix--this was before he was Jimi Hendrix, he was still Jimmy James--would sit there in the audience with his guitar and ask them if he could play with them and they'd say sure. He had short hair and really beautiful clothes--black pants and white silk shirts...before the bandanna and the twangy guitar and all that. But he was already playing with his feet. [p. 189. Probably misheard in the transcribing; I'm sure he meant teeth. --Ed.]

"In November [1966] the Doors came to New York for the first time and they played at Ondine. When we walked in, Gerard took one look at Jim Morrison in leather pants just like his and he flipped. 'He stole my look!' he screamed, outraged. It was true enough--Jim had, I guess, picked it up from seeing Gerard at the Trip...The Doors were at Ondine because, according to Ronnie Cutrone, who should know--he hung out there enough--the girl who played the records, Billie, knew them from L.A. (She also knew the Buffalo Springfield from the Coast and she got them a gig there, too, right after the Doors...)...After [that], the image of the place went from chic to rocking, and groupies started hanging out there, beautiful girls like Devon and Kathy Starf***er...When you walked into Ondine, on the right was the coat check, on the left was a red leather couch, then there was the bar, and then a narrow strip with tables in it, and then the back room that was the dance floor, with the record booth at the end of it. Jim Morrison got to be a regular there, and the Doors played there again a few times the following spring. Jim would stand at the bar drinking screwdrivers all night long, taking downs with them, and he'd get really far gone--he'd be totally oblivious--and the girls would go over and jerk him off while he was standing there." [p. 189-90]

The Doors had three residency gigs at Ondine--November 1 to 30, 1966, January 19 to 29, 1967, and March 13 to April 2, 1967. Here are some more pics, and here are some of Richard Meltzer's reminiscenses (he refers to Ondine as a "plush clip joint...under the 59th St. Bridge").

[UPDATE 5/16/2010: Just found a fantastic "Pop Eye" column by Richard Goldstein in the March 23, 1967 issue of the Village Voice, covering several cool topics: Zal Yanovsky's rep as an informant; the growing use of psychedelics among musicians; the Toronto scene ("the influx of draft dodgers has given that city's hip community the status of an international mecca"); Joe Tex; the Monkees; the Fugs; a review of an attempted series of happenings called "Rock Flows" at the Broadway Central Hotel; and a fabulously evocative account of the atmosphere at Ondine during the Doors' stand that month.]

Following a one-night Night Owl stand on December 30, 1966, the Buffalo Springfield did a residency at Ondine's from New Year's Eve '66 through to January 9, 1967, as a support act for Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. According to this Springfield chronology, during one set Otis Redding sang "In the Midnight Hour" with them; during another, a fight broke out between Stephen Stills and Bruce Palmer after Palmer refused to turn down his bass amp.

Unknown gal sharing a confidence with Bob Dylan at Ondine.

Other bands known to have played there include the Daily Flash, Peck's Bad Boys, the Graypes, and the Remains--who recorded their audition for Capitol Records the morning after one of their very late Ondine nights (immortalized on Sundazed's A Session with the Remains).

[UPDATE 5/6/2010: I can't believe I missed any references to the Bobby Fuller Four's engagement, which started on May 2, 1966! The Barbarians apparently played there also. What can I say, the Billboard Google Archives didn't exist at the time I first wrote this. Must do a more thorough Ondine search there soon.]

I'm not sure how long Ondine was open, but I haven't come across any references to it dating later than 1967. Under new ownership it briefly operated as a disco called Together. Both incarnations of the club were frequently shook down by mobsters, including a certain Sopranos cast member.

Not sure if the same building still stands at 308, but apparently the address is currently used by Danny Alessandro, Ltd., a fireplace specialist.

The fabulous has a scan of a terrific article on the mid-'60s discotheque scene. There's no direct link, so click on "music," then "dances," and you'll come across it. One of the "discaires" pictured in it, Annette of L'Interdit, was on What's My Line once; it was hilarious to hear Bennett Cerf ask her about the "watutsi" and "frug" (which he incorrectly rhymed with rug).

[UPDATE 5/6/2010: A while back I actually uploaded the WML clip--here 'tis.]

Lastly--the CBGB gallery space is set to become a designer clothing store. No word yet on the fate of the club itself.

If you happen to be in T.O. tomorrow night--BOO!


Anonymous said...

My friend Carole and I went to Ondine's when the Spoonful recommended we go there. "Dress up", John told us. Carole got the brainy idea that we were going to dress up as Cher (her) and Marianne Faithfull (me). People were always telling us we looked like them and she thought we could impersonate them to get in. Yeah, right.

Carole wore a fringe vest (nothing underneath) and hip hugger bell bottoms in the middle of winter. I raided my employee store (worked as a receptionist/secretary at Clairol) and ligthened my blonde/brown hair and wore a black velvet mini dress with fish net pantyhose. I found a big black velvet netted hat at a vintage store. I could have been an ad for "Painted Black".

They let us in and never even asked for Proof (good). I remember the place being very, very small. The coat check was right where you entered. I was shivering (fear?) and didn't want to check my coat or hat which covered my face with a veil. We were seated directly in front the stage (eeck!). I was frozen to my seat. My knees were shaking and I could not get up. The fibers from my thick mascara were getting in my eyes under my hard contact lenses and I was tearing up. Great. Marianne cries at a wake!

The Spoonful told us they were going that night but never showed up. The Doors were playing that night. I had never heard of them. Morrison terrified me even more, slinking onstage sweating profusely(???) in his tight leather black pants and looking right at us. I just wanted to craw under the table, or run from the place.

I don't remember much else about that night; other than I did make it HOME somehow.

Signed D.C. said...

A splendid tale...thanks a million!!!

Anonymous said...

Hey what a great tale to be able to tell, I hope you don't mind but I have a question you may be able to answer for me, do you recall what the door staff, coat check girl and bar staff wore?
It's a long shot I know but if you could be of help my email address is

Anonymous said...

Many great times and memories of Ondines...those were the good times !!!


I recall Arthur's, around 1966, dancing there with my first wife, and Jacqui Kennedy was there dancing with Nurejev or Barishnikov, and Bobby Kennedy and his wife Rose within hand's reach. A small place, The Jerk was one of the songs I associate with the one or two tines I went Always had to work, both of us, not much time to play. I did not know until now that Sybgi Burton owned the place, I was under the impression that Arthur's had been started by a Steve Aaron who had interest in theater at the time.

Anonymous said...

How is "Ondine" pronounced?

Thank you,

John Harrold

Signed D.C. said...

I've always heard it as On-deen.

Jason Odd said...

The April 16, 1966 issue of Billboard Magazine ran an article ‘Rocksteria’ Grips New York as Clubs Sprout Up With Teen Acts.’
Billboard writer Mike Gross reports on the boom of discotheques and their policy of playing “canned music” and now the new demand for “in-person renditions of the Big Beat.”
On new clubs, he focuses on the venues “opening this week,” including Ondine, “which begins a new policy of top group bookings.” Later in the article he writes that Ondine opens April 16th with the Remains headlining.

Anonymous said...

I remember those fun times, that Soprano wanna be gangster was Tony Sirico known then as Jr Sirico and his partner in crime Howie Tannibauum who later committed suicide. After Ondines's Tne manager Bradley opened another great club called Salvation on Sheridan Square.