For this week’s Throwback Thursday, Giant Step President/CEO Maurice Bernstein takes us back to Joey Arias’ mind-blowing channeling of Billie Holiday at Metropolis Cafe on April 25, 1991. Were you there with us? Let us know what you remember, and be sure to catch a video of Joey performing “Strange Fruit” earlier this year after the jump!
After starting Giant Step the party in September 1990 on Mondays at SOBs, in January 1991, we moved the night up to Tuesdays at AKA on Houston. However, that was around the time of the first Iraq war starting, and the night wasn’t very successful.
Prior to starting Giant Step, I was working in restaurants; A year prior, a coworker told me that a friend of his worked at a restaurant called Metropolis Cafe on Union Square. Apparently, they had a basement where they were looking to do parties.
It was a pretty raw basement, but in wanting to move the club to a better night in the week, I re-approached the people at Metropolis about doing a Thursday party. I met the manager Dennis Cicero and we made it happen. We started on the new night and location around the end of March or beginning of April in 1991.
We’d open the doors at 11, so in order to for us to try to get people in earlier, we decided to have some live performances beforehand. For this particular night, we chose Joey Arias – a very famous downtown performance artist who has been around a number of years and comes from a history a vibrant NYC performers from the 1980s; Joey had an act where he would channel Billie Holiday.
I’d seen him do it at Bar d’O, which was a club in the West Village. He’d dress up as Billie Holiday and initially just stand there on stage in total silence, only to then begin singing exactly like Billie Holiday. It was amazing. It was a pretty incredible moment to see someone channel Billie Holiday like that and sound so similar.
Joey is a legend in and of himself and since then has gone on to become even more famous with stints in Vegas, etcetera. So, this was a nice treat and way to shake things up for our Giant Step crowd back then.