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August 15, 1963, Vol. VIII, No. 43
Changing Times Down Dixie’s Last Bastion
By Diane Fisher
The awning still says he will, but Sol Yaged will no longer appear nightly at Nick’s. “In Greenwich Village since 1922,” read the stained glass windows. “Closed in August, 1963,” is the unwritten legend and a sharp reminder of the waning interest in Dixieland jazz, the coming end of an era.
Through the rise and fall of big bands and bop, swing and 52nd Street and soul jazz, more recently in the face of fads of folk music and “the new thing” (whatever that may be) in jazz, Nick’s survived, but it suffered. In the early days, jazz meant Dixieland. More recently, as new forms have developed, Nick’s has become somewhat of a museum for a certain sound. It has been for Dixie buffs a mecca of an old, slowly dying form, for others a place to recapture one’s youth briefly, for out-of-town collegians the only familiar name on a first tour of Greenwich Village. But it has been perhaps merely a matter of time until Nick’s would succumb. Commercially, it was an anachronism.
Nick was Nick Rongetti; his widow has owned and operated the business since his death in 1946. Rongetti’s first club was at 15 Christopher Street, and subsequent locations were on Cornelia Street, Grove Street, and at Sixth Avenue and 4th Street. The original Nick’s Tavern was at 140 Seventh Avenue South (now the Page 3). The final Nick’s opened at Seventh Avenue South and 10th Street in 1936 and closed the first Saturday in August, 1963.
Nick was devoted to Dixie, and the musicians he and “Mrs. Nick” featured over the years compose an impressive roster. Some of them were George Wettling, Max Kaminsky, Vic Dickinson, Pee Wee Russell, Jack Teagarden, Wild Bill Davison, Sidney Bechet, Ray MacKinley, Meade (Lux) Lewis, Bobby Hackett, Bill Butterfield, Miff Mole, Edmond Hall, Bud Freeman, Muggsy Spanier, Phil Napoleon, and Peanuts Hucko. Another was Eddie Condon, who has had his own Dixie emporiums since.
Mrs. Rongetti has lost the lease, and nobody knows, or is saying, just what business will occupy the building. For the unaware, a warning of U.S. Government seizure decorates the door “This property seized for nonpayment of internal revenue taxes,” it says, “by virtue of levy issued by the District Director of Internal Revenue.
“All persons are warned not to remove or tamper with in any manner under severe penalty of laws.” But the tax collector didn’t close Nick’s, he is just the first wolf at the door — the creditor with priority.
The only sure thing is that there are some more musicians on the street, and that, following a nation-wide pattern one of the last few bastions of Dixie is gone.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]