Cafe Nine’s Encore

S ome long term loungers at the New Haven nightspot renowned as “The Musician’s Living Room” are still reeling deliriously from last year’s major renovations to the intimate club space.

The bar counter got cut down so it no longer runs the length of the room. Posts and other obstructions were removed. The size of the dance floor was grandly increased. These alterations resulted in another welcome and unmissable change: better acoustics.

But the new openness at Café Nine hardly ended with the room’s physical makeover. Paul Mayer, who bought the place eight years ago from its founder Mike Reichbart, is constantly on the look-out for new bands, new sounds and new genres which Café Nine can get behind.

Take the new Sunday Night Jam series, formerly the Blues Jam. It’s now hosted by self-proclaimed “New York Blues Queen” Roxy Perry, who switches up the musicians in the band each week to accommodate such revered locals as Rocky Lawrence. Perry makes the night “more like a variety show,” Mayer says. “There’s a featured band every week, and she’s doing all styles—rock, jazz, not just blues.”

The club has also enlivened its jazz

Café Nine
250 State St., New Haven.
(203) 789-8281 

bookings by partnering with the internet broadcasters Blue Plate Radio to present a variety of progressive jazz acts, including Steve Clark (Feb. 23), The Doug Jones Group (March 22), Will Donato (June 21). On the indie rock side, “Manic Mark” Nussbaum of Manic Productions is bringing more bands back to Café Nine following the demise of the Daniel Street club in Milford. The Brass City Boss Sounds promotion team is delivering fresh punk acts.

Café Nine is also adding comedy to its schedule, building on its current monthly “Fistful of Jokes” local stand-up showcase. Nationally known comedian Mike Finoia will be recording his first DVD live at Café Nine on April 21. The club has already burnished its Burlesque offerings with the saucy drawing-class antics of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, the holiday frolics of Lipgloss Crisis and the drag delight of Robin Banks.

There’ll even be changes to the venerable Beatnik 2000 music and spoken-word revue which has been helmed by Ed Leonard for over 600 Mondays. Some

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major acts been booked for a few future Mondays, giving Beatnik a chance to scale back and regroup. Beatnik has already begun sharing the night with belly dancers, the reggae DJ See Love and the aforementioned Fistful of Jokes.

“I always thought it should be all-inclusive here,” Mayer smiles. “As diverse as possible.” Interestingly, his own tastes tend to run to the historic: rockabilly and traditional punk rock. Under the alias “Nervous Chet Purvis,” Mayer was the bassist for the local roots-rock trio Gone Native, which later morphed into the Big Band Johns and The Swaggerts. Both Gone Native and Big Bad Johns had reunion gigs at Café Nine just last year. Gone Native frontman Gary Mezzi reminisced from the stage about Mayer exhorting him, 20 years ago, to make sure their then-nascent band got a Café Nine gig. It was the music scene’s proving ground from its very beginnings in 1991, and maintains that standard today.

Upcoming shows include Dex Romweber of the 1990s cult act Flat Duo Jets (March 8), blues guitar legend Duke Robillard (March 23), the New Orleans-seasoned Joe Krown Trio (March 25), Grant Hart of midwestern hardcore punk pioneers Husker Du (April 4) and folk-pop icon Steve Forbert April 13.

Don’t forget such revered locals as Milksop (with its monthly Tuesday night “Unsung” shows), an experimental rock double bill of 1974 (from Newington) and Ghost of a Chance (from New Haven) on Feb. 29 and post-punk provocateurs Estrogen Highs (opening for the Australain pop band Twerps on March 27)

Mayer’s particularly looking forward to the March 17 Manitoba show, featuring three original members of New York muscle-rockers The Dictators. It’s not the St. Patrick’s Day show you might expect. At Café Nine, where every night crowds march to the beats of different drummers, that’s the whole point.

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites and New Haven Theater Jerk (

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