Pictured: Sue Berry and Donna Kirchman.
There aren't many cabaret venues in Chicago. Fortunately for the Windy City, we have one of the best anywhere right here in Wicker Park.
This month, Davenport's celebrates five years of entertaining Chicago audiences with some of the best musical acts around, in a venue that's stylish, yet comfortable. It's part piano bar, part cabaret. The atmosphere is warm and laid-back, with soft wood panels, delicate lighting, and blue velvet curtains that line the walls, and it's also quite modern —no posing as Sinatra in here. The crowd is a mix of young and old that appreciates good music, good drinks, and good conversation.
Legendary jazz singer Ann Hampton Callaway will be on hand from Nov. 19-23 to help celebrate the fifth anniversary milestone. A Chicago native now living in New York, Ann Hampton Callaway is one of the most widely acclaimed singer/songwriters working in the pop and jazz world today. She received a Tony Award nomination in 2000 for 'Best Featured Actress in a Musical' for her role in Swing! and won the Theatre World Award for 'Outstanding Broadway Debut' that same year. Television audiences will know her voice from the theme song for the CBS comedy The Nanny, which she wrote and performed. Her CDs include Signature, which features the signature songs of the great jazz legends of the 20th century. The Cole Porter Estate officially recognizes Ann Hampton Callaway as the only composer to have collaborated with Porter, having set her music to his posthumously discovered lyric, 'I Gaze in Your Eyes.'
Also on the bill for this special month is acclaimed New York cabaret artist Baby Jane Dexter with her with her new show Another Spring, (Then and Now). This eclectic performance includes songs by Randy Newman, Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn, Michael Kamen, Vernon Duke and The Beatles. Baby Jane Dexter perfomed Nov. 12-16.
Many other celebratory acts are lined up for November. This is a month to make sure you pay a visit to Davenport's.
Recently, I had a chance to speak with Donna Kirchman who, with partner Sue Berry, are co-owners of the venue.
RR: Congratulations on your firth anniversary! Why don't we start off by having you tell our readers a little bit about the birth of Davenport's? What made you want to open a piano bar and cabaret?
DK: Our inspiration came from Karen Mason and Brian Lasser. We followed their careers from Orphans on Lincoln Avenue to Broadway in New York. The piano bar and cabaret entertainment form has always been our favorite. And while we could find this combination in New York there really was not this type of venue in Chicago. There was a void we knew we could fill because the talent pool in Chicago is so robust.
RR: Where did the name come from?
DK: One of our founding owner's name was Davenport. We picked his name over either of ours because you could make a grand piano out of a 'D' which became our logo and 'davenport' is consistent with our furniture row location.
RR: Were there any problems getting it off the ground? Has your business grown steadily or was it an instant hit?
DK: Having Karen Mason as our first headliner really helped us a lot. We got great press and so many people came into the club when we first opened and thankfully kept coming back and bringing their friends.
RR: The times I've visited have always been lively and fun, usually packed with people. What do you think keeps them coming and coming back?
DK: Ty, Pamela, Karen, Cindy, Justin, Michael, Jenny, Lucia, SueWho, Renee, Daryl, George, Gwen and Andrew … our incredibly talented and energetic wait staff and musical directors. We have never waivered from our original goal, which is to hire a staff that loves to entertain. And of course the shows in the cabaret room are a terrific draw.
RR: How involved are the two of you in the day-to-day operations of the club?
DK: We are very involved in the behind-the-scene management: financials, communications and booking. But since it was not realistic for us to leave our careers we have a remarkable general manager who handles the day-to-day operations. Also our staff is very devoted to the art of cabaret and helps us keep the club in top-notch form.
RR: How have you gone about finding and attracting the great range of talent you currently have?
DK: Our cabaret room is one of the finest in the city. Performers know this and want to play the room. Our mission has been and continues to be to showcase Chicago talent and 'pepper' the bookings with out-of-town performers. Chicago musical directors like Dan Stetzel, Beckie Menzie, Mark Burnell and Daryl Nitz often introduce us to bright and talented new performers.
RR: Who are some of the more memorable people who've either played the piano bar or who have done cabarets?
DK: There are so, so many. We opened the club with Karen Mason. And we have had some wonderful acts from out of town: Julie Wilson, Baby Jane Dexter, Heather McRae, Cory Jamison, Lee Lessak, KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler. The touring companies from Ragtime, Best little Whorehouse in Texas and Cabaret, have performed on Monday nights when their theatres are dark. Bea Arthur sang '50%' in our piano bar. You could have heard a pin drop until the last note when the crowd went nuts. And Ann Hampton Callaway stopped by one night and played in the piano bar to the delight of our late-night crowd. But most important is the incredible talent pool right here in Chicago. They are responsible for keeping this fragile art form alive and kicking.
RR: Your special guest for your anniversary celebration is Ann Hampton Callaway. What's your history with her? What was behind selecting her as your headliner for this special milestone?
DK: Ann is an incredible performer who has not played Chicago recently [besides a benefit for Lesbian Community Cancer Project]. And as everyone knows she is sensational! Ann is so very well known. We feel blessed that we were able to make this booking a reality for our anniversary.
RR: The two of you are in a committed relationship, right? Does co-owning a piano bar and cabaret add any interesting wrinkles or dimensions to the relationship? Are you equally involved with the club?
DK: Wrinkles? Sure there are a few but mostly just on our faces. Being together for almost 25 years is a true benefit. We know how to capitalize on each other's strengths. So while we are equally involved in the club, we do not generally duplicate efforts.
RR: What are your future plans for Davenport's?
DK: We will stay true to our mission to showcase the best of Chicago talent whether in the Cabaret or in the piano bar. We will continue to offer in a fun, high-energy, place to just 'forget all your troubles …get happy.'
Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret is open Mondays through Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. (closed Tuesdays), Fridays from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sundays from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Reservations for all performances are strongly encouraged. A two-drink minimum is in effect in the Cabaret. For reservations or more information, please call (773) 278-1830. Valet parking is now available on the weekends.