Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the September
19, 2001 edition
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Blues & Jazz: Alive in Doy
Though they’ve been in business for less than two
booking agents around the country know about Cafe Classics Blues Club
and Restaurant in Doylestown, just over the Lambertville and New Hope
Eileen Schembri, her daughter Deborah Millman, and club managers Brad
Millman and Bryan McLean are fast carving a reputation at Cafe
for serving good food in a music-loving atmosphere. Music-loving
there are clear sight lines to the stage from just about everywhere
in the club; a pair of ceiling speakers deliver good sound to all
corners, without obstructing stage views; the stage and walls are
color-coordinated, expertly designed by Deborah Millman, and, various
vintage photographs and R.L. Smith paintings of famous jazz and blues
musicians adorn the walls.
Nationally-known blues musicians who played at the club in August
included Sam Taylor, Little Ed and the Blues Imperials, Lonnie
and the former Shemekia Copeland Band’s organist Dona Oxford. Acts
coming in the month of September include former Albert Collins Band
guitarist Debbie Davies, Eddie King and the Swamp Bees, violinist
Heather Hardy, vocalist Shemekia Copeland, who will be part of the
club’s two-year anniversary weekend, a weekend capped off by a
by legendary jazz balladeer Jimmy Scott. Others slated for October
include Charlie Sayles, former Sheryl Crow Band guitarist Todd Wolfe,
guitarist Kenny Neal and Texas guitarist Anson Funderburgh and the
Rockets with harmonica player Sam Myers.
Cafe Classics began as a coffee house with music and has evolved in
short order into a full service restaurant, bar and music club. The
club’s staff has recently completed a final set of renovations, which
include an expanded kitchen and bar area.
"The whole idea of what you see now was never really
explains Schembri in her office in the back of the club.
"It came about when we realized we were going from cappuccino
to serving bagels, which was getting into the food business, which
I never really wanted to do."
"As soon as I realized we were in the food business, I said, `I’m
gonna do music,’ because in this area and sometimes even in
great music isn’t always around."
"The renovations around here started very early," she says,
"and hopefully this will be a final renovation," she adds,
gesturing at the big kitchen in the back of the club.
Schembri and her daughter initially opened an antiques store a few
units down in the shopping center where the club is located at 816
North Easton Road in Doylestown.
"We thought it would be nice to have a cappuccino area for the
customers in back," she explains, "and after about six months
of doing that, we realized the intensity of what we were doing with
the food as well, and then decided to shut the antiques part down
and focus on the music and the food," she explains.
After opening as a coffeehouse with music, light food fare and a
Schembri got a liquor license last August, and the club is now —
with a new chef and new kitchen — completing what she hopes will
be its final metamorphosis into Cafe Classics Blues Club and
"When I started doing the music, we were just serving sandwiches
and light fare, but when I hired my new chef, he insisted we expand
the menu," she says. "It proved to us that people wanted to
go and see a show, but before the show they wanted to have quality
food. Once we realized that’s what people wanted, we took the next
step — which was premature ’cause we weren’t making money —
and that was to invest in the expanded kitchen we have now."
The club business can be a dicey business, as any club owner (and
even more former club owners) will tell you. Booking agents sometimes
demand exorbitant fees for artists who don’t draw fans, liquor
insurance is a necessity, and there are a whole host of other
issues and licenses associated with running a club.
Schembri, raised in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and now
living in Hatfield in Montgomery County, says she’s always been
about blues and bluegrass music. Her father owned a bar attached to
the family home in Lansdale, and he stocked the place with jukeboxes,
which was how he segued into the coin-operated amusement business,
a business Schembri and her son continue to run.
"I’ve always been real passionate about blues, although I’ve
been really diverse in my music likings," she says. She loves
Jimmy Scott, and has ever since she first heard him sing some years
ago. "I always liked bluegrass music a lot, but I also always
wanted to be true to what I started, so for now, I want to keep Friday
and Saturday primarily for blues musicians," she says. Schembri
hopes to add a jazz night on Sunday evenings, and that may take off
this fall with an inaugural performance by Scott and his group, the
Schembri says she didn’t hang out in her father’s short-lived bar,
but she always heard the jukeboxes going. After getting married to
someone who had a real passion for music, she learned even more.
now divorced, says, "I didn’t want a relationship, I just wanted
a place where I could hear music. Now that I have this, I can’t always
enjoy the music, because I’m always working!"
The bookings at Cafe Classics are ambitious and the club regularly
draws praise from longtime WXPN-FM blues DJ Johnny Meister and other
nationally known arbiters of taste.
"Because we sell tickets, what I want people to understand is
that this is no bar-bar. I hate it when you go out to the bar and
people aren’t there for the music. That’s not what Cafe Classics
"It’s like, would you go to the Keswick Theatre in Philadelphia
and get drunk and talk all night? I don’t think so! Also, I will not
sell these blues artists cheap," she says, "they make so
money for what they do, so I try to arrange ticket prices that are
fair to the artist."
"I figure, whatever they can get, they’re due, and if people don’t
want to pay for the ticket and think I should give them food for the
night or drinks for the night, than I really don’t want them
she adds. Schembri has 135 seats in the club, but additional standing
room is available in the bar area.
Asked to comment about how Cafe Classics fits in to the scheme of
clubs in Doylestown, some of which may have been prompted to open
by New Hope’s vibrant club scene, Schembri says she really doesn’t
follow what the other clubs are doing, but she knows Cafe Classics
offers a different atmosphere. "This is definitely different from
anything else that’s available in Doylestown," she says.
"I can’t do what these other clubs do," she says, and "at
the same time, I don’t worry about what somebody else is doing."
Although Cafe Classics doesn’t have the advantage of being on State
Street, the main shopping district in Doylestown where there’s a lot
of walking traffic, Schembri does have the advantage of plenty of
For now, at least, blues, jazz and the entrepreneurial spirit are
alive and well in Doylestown. After all, Schembri says, "I’m a
person with a lot of feelings. There’s a lot of passion in good blues
and a lot of emotion in the music. We love the musicians that come
in here and we’re told they love us because we treat them with respect
and dignity, and feed them really well. They get recognized and
— Richard J. Skelly
Road (Route 611), Cross Keys Plaza, Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
and reservations: 215-489-3535. Www.cafeclassics.org.
Doylestown. Turn right onto Route 313 west (Swamp Pike). Follow Route
313 to Route 611 north, Easton Road. Turn right onto 611 north. Cafe
Classics is about 1/4 mile on left hand side.
diners get preferred seating. Calendar is subject to change. Shows
are 8 and 10:30 p.m.
$11. September 28 and 29, Shemekia Copeland, $25. September 30,
Jimmy Scott, $30.
Project, $11. October 12, Kenny Neal, $21. October 13, BC & The Blues
Crew, $13. October 19, Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets with Sam Myers,
$21. October 20, Steve Guyger, $13. October 26 and 27, Larry Garner,
Sam McClain, $21. November 9, Craig Thatcher, $11. November 10, Jimmy
Thackery, $21. November 16, The Fins, $11. November 17, Chris Beard,
$16. November 23, Randy Lippincott, $11. November 24, Popa Chubby.
November 30, The Nighthawks, $21.
& Teardrops, $21. December 8, Alberta Adams, $16. December 15,
Kinsey Report, $21. December 21, Georgie Bonds, $11. December 22,
Steve Guyger, $13.
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