HOW IT BEGAN.
In the early summer of l987 The Stephen Talkhouse had been closed because the current owners were in litigation with each other. Since it opened as a nightspot in l970 The Talkhouse always exemplified a hip, wild, but unpretentious place. I had always loved the Talkhouse. It was the best place to drink and the best place to meet women, especially if you weren’t looking for someone who was born on third base but thought they hit a triple (not my line).
In early February I wrote a letter to Billy Joel, inviting him and then wife Christy Brinkley to come to a show and saying how we’d love it if he’d come in and play. My friends thought that was silly. Billy & Christy showed up at a Loudon Wainwright III show in early February of l988. Richie Havens played his first show in February, the only time he would ever perform with a band.
I had just given up on making it as a novelist, a quest I had pursued for about 7 years and l,700 pages. I hated the job I had. One night when I was feeling especially low the writer Clifford Irving asked me if there was ever anything else I wanted to do. I mentioned owning a bar and he suggested buying The Talkhouse. In that moment I decided to do it. It took about five days to raise the money from the original investors. They were Jerome Schneir, my father-in-law at the time, Adrienne Schwartz, my aunt-in-law at the time, her friend Robert Pinto and my new wife Marcie Schneir and I. We opened in about two weeks on or about August l, l987.
The first and smartest thing I ever did in business was to drive up to the Sea Wolf where Larry Wagner was working the door. He had done the same in my years going to the Talkhouse. He was the most consistently personable bartender I had ever met and there was no one I was more hopeful would come on board. He did, teaming up with Michael Gochenour, aka Frampton, who possessed ample amounts of southern charm and humor as well as good looks. Phillip Vega, the unflappable, ever-friendly and ever-oblivious Puerto Rican was one of my next important free agency acquisitions. I got him from the Sea Wolf, the other great bar of that era that was run by the ever distracted, but always good humored, Wolf Reiter. It was from Wolf that I briefly snagged Kevin Finnigan who had worked at the Talkhouse since the 1970s.
In the ever-changing world of the too-often snobbish Hamptons nightlife we were to become a welcome institution.
The first musicians to grace the Talkhouse were Cliff Schwartz (aka Klyph Black) and Eddie MacNeil (aka Eddie Mac), with Klyph on guitar and Eddie blowing the harp. They played together one night in September of l987. Their band, Rumor Has It, was to follow sometime that fall and that band was to become a fixture, the ultimate house band, for the next ten years. It featured Jeff (aka Pepto) Silverman on drums, Peter Michne (aka Bosco) on guitar, and John Baker on bass.
Shortly after Klyph and Eddie started playing weekly two friends of mine, George-Anne Roberts and Ali Cole put me in touch with the bluesman John Hammond. John had lived out in East Hampton for years. I had met him at Georgie’s earlier that year and he agreed to play that October for $750. We charged $10 and the place was mobbed. John became a fixture at the Talkhouse in the early years. With his show the concept of bringing national talent to the tiny Talkhouse was born.
Other acts that fall included bluesman Mose Allison, folk singer Eliza Gilkyson, folk trio Uncle Bonsai (with the classic “Boys Like Sex In The Morning”), and many others coming to play. Late night bands followed the national acts on weekends. Taj Mahal played on a Wenesday night in January, our first $20 ticket and it seemed like everyone in town was there. The crowd was totally silent and mesmerized. Taj played three more times that year and was one of the most beloved and best attended performances of the early years. In August the proceeds of one of those shows went to The Retreat, an organization that helps victims of domestic violence. That was the first of a long line of charity benefits we've held over the years. We're honored to be in a position to help people who need help in our community.
This was back before the Stephen Talkhouse expanded. We had a stage that was about six feet deep by eight feet long at the time. The soundboard was a six channel board that Klyph operated from the side of the stage, squeezed in by the patrons around him. But, remarkably in retrospect, it worked. People were able to see great talent, close up, and if the prices were steeper than in New York City you were still seeing them in a venue no bigger than someone's living room. And you didn’t have to drive to NYC and pay parking. Perhaps most importantly, you could go into a show and know a significant number of people in the audience. You were watching a great show with your friends. I believe that’s one reason the audience vibe (and hence the artist’s response) is as good as it is here.