Mar 22, 1982: Lulu White’s Quietly Closes
March 22 wasn’t the actual day the jazz club Lulu White’s closed. That was the day the premises reopened as a Greek restaurant. There was no fire or padlock on the door to mark the closing of Lulu White’s, at 3 Appleton Street in the South End. It just closed its doors for a short time for a makeover, and then hung out a new sign.
That address had been lively for decades before the jazz arrived in January 1978. For over 20 years the place housed the Club Khiam, one of Boston’s better baklava bistros, known for its broadcasts of Middle Eastern music over WVOM-AM in the fifties.
Chester English was Lulu’s first owner, and the club name, bordello decor, and Chef Willard Chandler’s southern kitchen were presumably his idea. In early 1978, Tony Texeira’s Creole Seven played Dixieland-style music there, with such notable local Creoles as Jeff Stout, Alex Ulanowsky, and Andy McGhee passing through the band. By the fall of 1978, though, a mostly mainstream format was in place. There were local groups like those of James Williams and Mae Arnette, but the club turned increasingly to name performers. Among them were Dorothy Donegan, Cleanhead Vinson, the Heath Brothers, Pepper Adams, and Dizzy Gillespie. Anita O’Day and Phil Woods visited annually. I haven’t found the dates yet, but there was apparently one week where Bill Evans and Dave McKenna shared the bill and took turns knocking each other out.
Rumors of the club being in distress started in April 1981, when then-owners Dennis Palmisciano and Mario Carnavale denied the club had been purchased by nightclub operator Henry Vara, but did admit they were listening to offers. By then the club was closed Sundays and Mondays, and in ensuing months it booked some rock, without success.
The club was not advertising in 1981, so it isn’t clear when the music stopped. Nor was it clear when the club closed. But it was clear when Boston knew that Lulu White’s wasn’t coming back: when the sign went up in mid-March 1982 proclaiming the new name to be Athens by Nite, a Greek supper club, with no jazz men or women, Creole or otherwise, to be heard.
Losing Lulu’s as a jazz room was a blow to Boston, and one who remembers the place is the writer Stu Vandermark, a club regular, who writes warmly about it here.
Here’s the late summer schedule for 1979, at the club’s peak.