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

years,

booking agents around the country know about Cafe Classics Blues Club

and Restaurant in Doylestown, just over the Lambertville and New Hope

border.

Eileen Schembri, her daughter Deborah Millman, and club managers Brad

Millman and Bryan McLean are fast carving a reputation at Cafe

Classics

for serving good food in a music-loving atmosphere. Music-loving

because

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

Shields,

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

performance

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

intended,"

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

Philadelphia,

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

stage,

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

Restaurant.

"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

liability

insurance is a necessity, and there are a whole host of other

regulatory

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

passionate

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

always

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

Jazz Expressions.

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.

Schembri,

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

is,"

she explains.

"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

little

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

here,"

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

other

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

free parking.

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

they’re

respected."

— Richard J. Skelly

Cafe Classics Blues Club & Restaurant , 816 North Easton

Road (Route 611), Cross Keys Plaza, Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Information

and reservations: 215-489-3535. Www.cafeclassics.org.

Directions from New Hope: Take Route 202 south towards

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.

Schedule: Due to capacity, advance tickets are

recommended;

diners get preferred seating. Calendar is subject to change. Shows

are 8 and 10:30 p.m.

September 21 , Heather Hardy, $15. September 22, Dean

Scala,

$11. September 28 and 29, Shemekia Copeland, $25. September 30,

"Little"

Jimmy Scott, $30.

October 5 , Charlie Sayles, $16. October 6, Todd Wolf Blues

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,

$15.

November 2 , Dukes of Destiny, $11. November 3,

"Mighty"

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.

December 1 , Terraplane Blues, $11. December 7, Magic Slim

& 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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