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Karen Miller's Last Night at Eighty-Eights - Cont'd

May 29, 1999

by John Kenrick

(The photos below are thumbnail images – click on them to see larger versions.)

Luis VillabonKaren then resumed her seat at the piano with a special request to play Kander and Ebb's "All That Jazz." From out of the capacity crowd came Luis Villabon, who had rushed over from a family gathering to make a surprise appearance. He delighted everyone once again with the Fosse-Reinking choreography, and as always stopped the show. Who says a piano bar is just a place to sing?

Karen and her 
    farewell sign (32831 bytes)The upbeat tone continued through the remaining hour or so. The regulars, the much lauded "Miller Lites," took another stab at the title tune to On The Twentieth Century, with all the train whistles and fancy footwork falling seamlessly (?) into place.

Leslie Anderson (12364 bytes)Throughout the evening, staff members somehow found time to perform while keeping the drinks flowing for the capacity crowd. Bartender Leslie Anderson (at left) whipped out her trombone for "These Boots Are Made for Walking," and later donned a choir robe for a soaring legit version of Shubert's "Ave Maria" (not showtunes, but the audience roared its approval for both). Harry (7367 bytes)Bar-back Harry McEwan donned his Dr. Frankenfurter drag for Rocky Horror Picture Show's "Sweet Transvestite." Putting the "out" in "outrageous," he took an unexpected dare from Karen to remove his bustiere, and you can see the results in the photo at left. Few of us would have the courage to be so underdressed in public – it was a sight we won't soon forget.

Karen Dream Finale (16079 bytes)Waitress Gentry Clausen and bartender Mark ("Hazel") Lindquist took warmly received turns at the mike. The last sing-along of the night was the Irving Berlin counterpoint medley of "Old Fashioned Wedding" and "You're Just in Love," which Karen climaxed with, "If you know your part, sing – if you don't know you're part, too late!" Some had hoped the music would run overtime, but it was not to be. At 3:30 on the dot, without a word of warning, Karen began to play "Dream a Little Dream of Me." The lady caught us all completely off guard! For decades this has been her sign-off song, and those decades came rushing back in a flood of memories. As upbeat as the evening had been, Karen's friends and co-workers could not face this moment without a tremendous sense of loss. Tears flowed freely, and the photo at left shows that Karen shed a few too.

Auld Lang 
    Syne (20748 bytes)As Karen stepped away from the piano, Dennis slipped in to lead us in "Auld Lang Syne," followed by a final standing ovation for Karen. At right, you can see yours truly and Karen looking tearstained but relieved that it was over. The gang closed the doors and trotted out a buffet that had everything from bagels to muffins to pizza. (Hey, when New Yorkers grieve, they do it with food!) The sadness of the occasion was replaced by a sense of satisfaction the night had gone so well – the perfect finale for our years at Eighty-Eights.

Karen Miler and 
    John Kenrick (28532 bytes)The following night, I attended the official closing party for the club. Bobby Peaco held forth at the piano as a parade of cabaret stars and friends came up to perform – including Annie Hughes, Jay Rodgers and the incomparable Ruby Rims. Dear Roby knew just how to twist our heartstrings. After tearfully gathering the staff around the piano, he asked them to join in singing the absent Rochelle's "favorite song" . . . and then broke into his bawdy version of "Baby Face." (Baby face -- I'd like to stick it in your baby face! It was a much needed laugh! The final Sunday crowd was less packed, but emotions ran deep all evening long as both Karen and Irv received accolades. Peaco finished with the Dawn Hampton's signature tune, "Life Is What You Make It," and the cheering and crying went on into the night – or, more accurately, into the morning.

This author sends his love to all the Eighty-Eights family and most especially to Karen, Rochelle and Irv. This was not a goodbye. It's like we sang during the "Mame" parody:

This chapter's done; who's story goes on? (Karen!)
Second star to the right, and straight on till dawn! (Karen!)
She played, we sang, she conquered!
The fun we've had before we'll have again.
From day one, she's who made this bar.
This crowd has come from near and far
Because we love the things you are – Karen!

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