The Happiest of All Hours: Paris Blues

26 Oct

I was taking pictures of the scaffold-shrouded exterior of Paris Blues when a man’s head popped out of the door.

“Come on in,” the man said to me.

“I plan to,” I responded.

And after taking a few more pictures, I walked into the dark bar.

I took a seat and noticed a third person hunched at the end of the bar near the door sleeping comfortably.

It had been several years since I’d been to Paris Blues, but not much had changed inside except for the small stage where, at the time I walked in, another man was fiddling with a drum set.

The stage at Paris Blues

Live music was new—at least to me. The man who had gestured me inside was now behind the bar. He mumbled something about the other man up on the stage with the drum set.

“Taught him everything he knows about drums,” the bartender, who told me his name was Jer, short for Jerry, said.

“You play?” I asked.

“Used to,” he said.

Live music at Paris Blues

The younger man up on the stage snorted and soon their conversation turned to the Jets.

“They lost because they were playing scared,” the younger man said.

“No, they weren’t scared,” Jer said, ‘They lost, that’s all.” And that effectively ended the conversation.

A super-sized television set behind the stage that I knew had not been there when I visited last was on to a late afternoon rerun of  Bonanza.

The beer options, according to Jer, included Budweiser, Corona, “Heiny,” and Sugar Hill. I was in Harlem. I thought it only fitting to choose the latter.

The beer of choice in Harlem

After serving me the beer, Jer moved around the bar and roused the sleeping man who silently got up and went outside.

Paris Blues, Jer told me, had been open for 43 years.

“How many of those have you been working here?” I asked.

“’bout 30 or so,” he answered.

African American icons proudly on display.

I really didn’t know why it had taken me so long to return to Paris Blues. Trombonist Frank Lacey, who I once saw perform with trumpet player, Roy Hargrove on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, was scheduled to perform later that evening.

“You get lots of tourists here?” I asked as I sipped more of my beer.

Jer nodded. “Japanese, Germans, busloads of ‘em. They’ll be in here tonight.”

On the television, a rainmaker had brought rain to the Ponderosa and a little girl was healed of a television sickness. The Cartwright men all smiled at the end and then the familiar theme song played.

Happy hour entertainment.

I finished my beer and thanked Jer.

“Come on back,” he said as I was leaving.

I told him I would.

The man who had been sleeping inside was sitting on a bench outside the bar. I nodded at him and headed down the street. It was beginning to rain in Harlem. After about a block, I turned around.  I could see the man on the bench slowly get up from his seat. I watched for a moment as he walked back into Paris Blues.

Paris Blues
2021 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd
Harlem

One Response to “The Happiest of All Hours: Paris Blues”

  1. coldtones November 14, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    Never been here, I may have to check it out.

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