The news this week that beloved jazz club Cafe Stritch will not be reopening – after being closed for nearly two years during the COVID-19 pandemic – is a blow to not only its longtime fans, but also for downtown San Jose itself.
Cafe Stritch was opened by the Borkenhagen family in 2013, occupying the same physical space as their previous restaurant, Eulipia, but with an entirely different atmosphere. Where Eulipia had evolved into a white-tablecloth fine-dining establishment over its 35-year existence, Stritch felt laid-back and lived-in – ironically a throwback to Eulipia’s early vibe, I was told. -one says.
Once Cafe Stritch found its footing, it became a hub of downtown activity, hosting jazz performances and open-mic nights on South First Street. It was where people met for a bite and a drink before heading to City Lights, San Jose Stage or Opera San Jose. You can count on a queue to hear artists perform on Saturday nights during the San Jose Jazz SummerFest. A raucous audience gathered on the normally quiet Monday nights for ShakesBEERience, watching a cavalcade of Bay Area actors perform staged readings from the bard, leaping around tables and giving soliloquies from the balcony — often with a pint of beer or a glass of wine in hand.
And then there was Rahsaanathon, the annual tribute each August to Rahsaan Roland Kirk – whose music inspired the creation of Eulipia and Cafe Stritch – featuring artists such as Steve Turre, James Carter and Betty Neals. Every performance was magical.
Beyond that, Cafe Stritch has hosted nonprofits and other groups in need of event space and provided catering service to countless others. (My wife, Amy, hosted an event there for several years to collect donations of pads and tampons that HomeFirst would distribute to homeless women and girls. Cafe Stritch donated the space, appetizers and wine every year.)
Given all of this, the closure of Cafe Stritch should be a wake-up call for downtown San Jose. Not everything is going back to how it was before COVID. For Downtown to survive – let alone thrive – it needs more spaces like Cafe Stritch, gathering places that build community (and if they serve a burger, that’s a bonus).
Former Stritch GM Andrew Saman is opening a new venture in space called Mama Kin, a name that also has musical lineage if you know the Aerosmith song. I don’t expect this to be all Cafe Stritch was, but I can’t wait to go. And I hope this and other new places opening up in a post-COVID world can help keep the spirit of Cafe Stritch alive in downtown San Jose.
BEST OPEN DOOR EVER: CMT San Jose held a fun, day-long event last Saturday for hundreds of supporters with “Studio 54,” a fundraising gala that also served as a showcase for the theater company’s new Creative Arts Center for young people on Parkmoor Avenue.
Artistic director Kevin Hauge told me it was a lot of fun — but also a lot of work — putting together what amounted to four events, two daytime and two evening. Each progressive event brought a group of 60 guests through two rehearsal studios and the stage/costume shop. Each stop featured a separate show with cast and CMT alumni performing numbers from shows such as “Rent,” “American Idiot,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Chicago,” and “Les Miserables.” Incidentally, the latter will be produced at the Montgomery Theater in March as part of CMT’s 54th season. You can check out what they are doing at www.cmtsj.org.
BEHIND ‘THE HOLLOW’: If you’ve seen “The Hollow,” which opened at the City Lights Theater Company in downtown San Jose this weekend, you’ve probably been blown away by the impressive set and props used to recreate a home 1940s English countryside film with a cast of 12 in and out. Well, you can peek behind the curtain thanks to City Lights’ streaming series The Next Stage, which will feature director Doll Piccotto and props designer Karen Leonard offering a deeper look at the show. Leonard will even explain how she made the definitely inedible chocolate treats used on stage.
“Tales and Treats from ‘The Hollow'” will air on Zoom at 7 p.m. on February 9. Viewing is free, but you must register for a link at www.cltc.org/tickets.