Saturday night my husband and I packed up a bottle of red wine and four glasses and made the short walk to the end of our street. We crossed behind the FedEx/Kinko’s parking lot, then over Whitney Street and into Japanalia, a clothing store featuring original designs by Hartford residents, Eiko Sakai and Dan Blow. A sign on the door said “Sold Out. No Tickets Available,” but disregarding the note, we left the cold sidewalk and stepped into the kaleidescope of this unusual boutique.
We were among the 50 or so other curious souls who had reserved tickets for the evening’s performance by jazz singer Dianne Mower. Some had sprung extra for reserved table seating near the “stage.” We had to make do with folding chairs at the rear of the room, but it gave us a ringside seat for some of the behind-the-scenes antics of the store’s employees and Mower fans. A photographer in a black turtleneck lurked without much apparent purpose; a rail-thin woman in leggings, boots, and a black-feathered chapeau grooved to the music once it began; and extra chairs were hastily pulled out and set up as more and more people straggled in, making an already cozy venue downright intimate. By the end of the night, I could have picked out the stranger next to me in a dark room by the faint scent of his cologne alone!
Despite, or perhaps because of, the unconventional set up, we had a wonderful time. Ms. Mower is an enormously talented singer, and the simple accompaniment of a single piano never got between us and her voice. She was relaxed and funny in between songs. Who could be otherwise when surrounded by Japanalia’s voluminous shirts, skirts, and funky pants?
We had brought extra wine glasses in case we met someone who had forgotten the BYOB instructions on the tickets. We thought it might also be a good way to strike up a conversation with other concert-goers. The ice-breaker wasn’t necessary; no one in this crowd was shy or sans a bottle of wine!
A few hours later, we were drowsy from wine and mellow jazz ballads. It was time to fold up our chairs, collect our coats from the over-stuffed rack by the cash register, and head back home through the cold winter night. Luckily for us, there was no long drive ahead. A five minute walk and we were there!
Cafe Eiko is just one example of the wonderful, but frequently hidden, entertainments Hartford offers. The success of Cafe Eiko just might inspire other impresarios to try something similar elsewhere, so it’s important to support these experiments and give them a chance to take root. Baby Jane Dexter is the next performer in this cabaret series. I encourage you to check it out.