Endeavoring to serve an exemplary dinner while simultaneously minimizing table time, ambitious restaurateurs meticulously choose a musical soundtrack that can have either the adrenal effect of a starting pistol or the sultry character of a velvet cushion. At least, this is what University of Strathclyde Scotland researchers Clare Caldwell and Sally Hibbert thought when they hypothesized on the notion. Inclined to believe that the perception of time differed between those visiting eateries where a heavy percussive bass pushed diners along, as opposed to others where pace was kept to a moderato, they patronized a well-frequented Italian restaurant in Glasgow between the hours of 7:00 and 10:00 over a series of weeks, limiting observation dates to Thursdays and Sundays. Procedurally, the two researchers recorded the durations of clued-in diners’ experiences and had all fill out a questionnaire, as well. Once the weeks passed and the timers were put away, the two noted that, on average, not only did customers dining in an atmospherically moderato dining room remained seated for approximately 15 minutes longer, but that these guests actually under-estimated their time frame. Conversely, those influenced by an allegretto-paced environment lingered less, yet believed that they had remained longer. The experiment concluded, the ladies theoretically deduced what driven owners already knew subconsciously: musical tempo is the sly motivator of the restaurant industry.
Truly, the fraternity of music and hospitality is a dual relationship. As theorized by Caldwell and Hibbert, the team works conjunctively to either increase or decrease the heartbeat of a dinner out. On the other hand, those working on avenues where music fills the air regularly can attest to the sly way that music brings people indoors, and not to escape the beat on the street necessarily.
“I’ll tell you about Geja’s,” began owner John Davis. “We started out in 1965 as a little wine and cheese café on Wells Street in Old Town. It used to be an artists’ colony, but the rents had recently gone up, so most of the artists who lived there had moved out. The Vietnam War was there, which people were against. The Beatles were coming out with a new song every week. And,” John interrupted himself with a lilt,” revolution was in the air. So Wells Street [became] a real Bohemian enclave, and like other parts of the country- Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco and The Village in New York- it was a magnet for all types of people, creative people, rebels, what-have-you. People would come from all over the country to watch the hippies walk the streets.”
A recognizable subset of the American population of the era, hippies rejected the well-established conservatism and values instilled by preceding generations, challenging these institutions with personally aware expressions of free love, oftentimes accompanied by the music.
“On the north end of the street on North Avenue was a great, great club called Big John’s,” John continued.” You never knew who you’d run into a Big John’s. You could be sitting at the bar, and a judge could be on one side of you, while a syndicate hit man, dope pusher, narc, nurse, or teacher could be on the other. It was a great collection. But they had great blues. It was all white guys at first, the Siegel-Schwall Band, the Paul Butterfield Band, Mike Bloomfield (who was a great guitarist)… These guys were so good that eventually the black musicians on the south side wanted to play there. So Muddy Waters, Harland Wolf, Otis Spann, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy came in. It only lasted about a year-and-a-half, but what a year it was!”
Equally as popular was a folk club across the street from the original Geja’s Café. It was called Mother Blues, and on Monday nights, it held a hootenenanny that rivaled Big John’s with headliners of its own.
“Everybody in the folk world played there. I don’t know if Joan Baez did. But the Kingston Trio certainly played there, and George Carlin. In fact, George Carlin used to come over to my place for a little wine and cheese between sets, and [we] used to talk. Jose Feliciano used to play there, too, and I knew him and he knew me! I used to go to Mother Blues, and he’d say, ‘Hi, John!’ He could just tell by my pace! Another performer was Elaine McFarland, who eventually went on to replace Mama Cass in The Mamas and The Papas as ‘Spanky McFarland.’ She was supposed to be my first waitress, actually, but couldn’t make it. [She] was a character! The last group to perform was a great bluegrass group called the Naublich Upper Ten Thousand, and everybody couldn’t wait to see them.”
A final noteworthy nightclub was The Plugged Nickel, just across the way from Mother Blues, which featured much of Chicago’s finest jazz artists.
“Everybody who played good, solid, traditional jazz played The Plugged Nickel. Miles Davis played there, just to give you an idea. In fact, one of the best records he ever made, ‘Miles Davis at The Plugged Nickel’, was recorded there. But it was an interesting club. For example, when you walked into the bar, there was a tree growing in the middle. A real live tree! But what made it most interesting was that it was owned by white guys and had a mostly black clientele. So there was a lot of racial tension there, as you might expect. We would close Geja’s, go across the street to this club, watch all of the ID checking, and the confrontations at the door. The guys that ran it were very, very tough characters and didn’t take any guff from anybody.”
Eventually, Old Town’s voluminous music scene would fade to a pianissimo as the population of Old Town shifted away from its bohemian lifestyle, the music replaced by the screams of police sirens. Still, John maintained, “It was a grand, grand experience. I would open up every weekend and just not know what to expect.” And as one who witnessed firsthand Wells Street’s switch from an avenue cue to a road filled with tense silence, perhaps John sentimentally wished the songs had been a touch slower, so that he, like a diner in an allegretto-paced dining room, could have had another moment to linger.