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Author performs with Scott Wilson's band at the Grisly Pear.
Raquy on dumbek, Scott on oud over Sarah's right shoulder and George plays clarinet

photo by Sal Romano

Gilded Serpent presents...
When Two Doors Close Two Doors Open
New Venues in New York City

by Sarah Skinner

Change is an inevitable flow of nature. With the ying and yang of destruction comes rebirth. And so the same happens in the landscape of New York City's night life. Hot spots with live Middle Eastern music and a belly dance show has become fewer and fewer over the years with only a few golden nuggets left. A weekly show you made sure you saw were Avram Pangas' s band The Noga Group and Scott Wilson's band. In the last few months both bands got up-routed from their historic locations but thankfully landed elsewhere.

The Cupping Room opened in 1977 serving coffee in the artist haven of SOHO. The Noga group started playing there on Wednesday nights seven years ago. Over time the waves of gentrification set in. Affordable artist lofts became bought out for high-end apartments and so changed the temperament of the upstairs neighbors. The Noga Group looked else where to play their lively Mediterranean notes.

Sharif a successful restauranteur and avid supporter of Middle Eastern live music opened up another restaurant a few years back. Sharif was thrilled to snap up the band on Wednesday evenings. The Woolworth Tower Kitchen is located in the historic Woolworth building.

The Woolworth Building, at 57 stories, is one of the oldest—and one of the most famous—skyscrapers in New York City. The Woolworth Building is unusual among skyscrapers for having been financed in cash. Its owner was five and dime king, Frank W. Woolworth, who in 1910 commissioned architect Cass Gilbert to design a Gothic-style skyscraper. Gilbert covered most of the building in a skin of ornamental cream-colored terra cotta instead of masonry to stress the beauty of the walls. The lobby of the Woolworth Building was an important tourist attraction but access to view it has been limited since 911, for security reasons. Designed as a grand arcade, the public areas are warm marble, sculpted relief, vaulted mosaic ceilings and painted decoration all contribute to an awe-inspiring environment. The Woolworth Kitchen continues the feeling of sophistication with its high vaulted ceilings: sleek decor and delicious menu. The restaurant has its own entrance located on Barclay Street.

Kevin Aquini gives author a preshow massage
photo by Kevin Fox

I was thrilled to have the honor of getting called to dance the second week of the band being there. I decided to do it right and pamper myself before hand. I called up Kevin Aquino, my massage therapist, for a massage. I set up the room for ultimate relaxation, putting the massage table in front of the salt-water reef tank, aromatic room scents and soothing music.During the massage I tell Kevin that I am excited to perform in this new venue with one of my favorite bands. Kevin reminds me that since we are loosening my stabilizer muscles that I should be very careful that my muscle memory will be looking for a certain tension and it will not be there to support me. I dismiss this since I had had been doing shimmy drills that day; I felt solid.

As I am putting on my make up and my red tapestry costume, I reminisce about how when I first came to New York City, Avram Pengas was working at the Lafayette Grill and gave me my first NYC live music dance gig. I feel lucky to still have the opportunity to be dancing to his music. I hop on my two wheeler and motor down to the City Hall Park area. I walk into the glass front restaurant to be greeted by Sharifs smiling face. He shows me to the ample changing space and gets me a glass of water. The acoustics of the space are exquisite for the sound. I can hear the music with perfect clarity from where I am getting ready.

I become filled with excitement and nerves. I decide to warm up by doing some more shimmy drills and to my alarm my shimmies felt completely wonky. Terror shot threw me, Kevin was right! I can't shimmy! Oh no!

I took some deep breaths and reminded myself I had a bit of time before I was going on. I kept working out my shimmy until they came back. I heard the band quiet down and introduce each member one by one-   Samir Shukry, Nick Mandoukos, Elysa Sunshine, Eran Asias, Farouk, Avram Pengas- and then I was introduced. My supportive crowd clapped loudly. The music was even better out on stage then it was from where I had been listening. I was in heaven. Before I knew it the show was over and just a joyful memory. I was beaming as I gulped down another glass of water. I felt relieved that The Noga Group had found a new happy home.

I knew that Cafe Figaro had closed its doors. Cafe Figaro was located in the Village. The location and place itself had been steeped in bohemian history in the early 60s. The four corners had cafes with out door seating that lent itself to people watching. Sunday nights became the home of belly dancers and live music. It started out with belly dance teacher Stella bringing in a boom box and giving students a place to perform. It developed into having the live music band lead by Scott Wilson. Recently, two of the four corner restaurants including Le Figaro Cafe closed shop after over 50 years in business.

Author performs with the Noga group at the Woolworth Tower Kitchen. Band L-R Farouk on dombek, Elysa Sunshine on bass guitar, Samir Shukry on violin, Avram Pengas on guitar. Members not in photo-
Nick Mandoukos on guitar and Eran Asias on drum kit
photo by Kevin Fox

Scott Wilson picked up his three headed guitar and walked a half a block up the street and set up at the newly opened The Grisly Pear to give that spot a try. The Wilson's contacted me and asked if I would be the headliner for this venues opening night. I was immensely happy that they had found a spot so quickly. I packed up my latest favorite chocolate costume and trotted on down to Greenwich Village. As I walked in I wasn't sure what to make of the all-wood bar front room. It wasn't the feel that I expected.

But in the back of the place there was this cozy black box room with a raised platform for the band and the side tables around the room are raised.

At first I was unsure how people would do navigating the step ups but as I sat and watched other performers that night, I realized that it made it so that every single chair in the room had a good vantage point of the show. The family that now owns the Grisly Pair were very accommodating and kindly set up a dedicated room for the three dancers to change and get ready. They gave us a big pitcher of water. Valerie, Aimee and I giggled as we shared glitter getting ready. The band this night was Scott Wilson, George, Raquy and Rami. The night was filled with good wishes and a supportive environment that the Wilson's are so good at creating.

Scott was thrilled with the new place and said it reminds him of the late night clubs in Istanbul, Turkey. At the end of the night I walked out into the hot summer air feeling invigorated and inspired.

Even though it was sad to see the old haunts go, the new venues breathe life and excitement as the baton has been passed to a new era of entertainment delights.

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