COZY ST. NICK’S
“With such a distinguished reputation my mother and I felt obligated to keep this legendary tradition in the community.”
Just ask Vincent Lampkin where he got the skills to run St. Nick’s Pub, the cozy little bar in Harlem’s Sugar Hill section, and he automatically credits his mom, Ruth Lampkin. She purchased the building at 773 St. Nicholas Avenue in 1964 from Etta Lowery, who rented the ground level bar to pianist, composer and bandleader Charles Luckeyeth Roberts from the 1940s to the 1950s. Mrs. Lampkin worked there as a barmaid and manager until she retired in 1980. During her last ten years at the bar, young Lampkin was there after school doing his homework and watching his mom diligently running one of Harlem’s major nightspots.
The groove of St. Nick’s Pub dates back to 1940 when it was Luckey’s Rendezvous. The original owner Charles “Luckey” Luckeyeth Roberts influenced the styles of Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson and Duke Ellington. Until it closed in 1954, Luckey’s nightly jams included Art Tatum (the house pianist), Sonny Rollins, who lived around the corner, and Charlie Parker. The waiters and waitresses were often Columbia University music students, who scurried around singing everything from blues to opera.
Roberts, who passed away in 1968 at the age of 75, had written 14 musical comedies for the New York stage, and in 1939 he performed at Carnegie Hall, and made his Town Hall debut in 1941.
Though the bar was sold and renamed numerous times throughout history, the music was always prominent. Jack McDuff was the house organist in the early ‘60s when it was called Dude’s. In 2004, the Lampkin family reclaimed its crowned-jewel after the former renter lost his lease. They anointed Vincent the task of running the bar and booking entertainment.
“This bar is a jazz tradition not only in Harlem but throughout the world,” said Vincent. “With such a distinguished reputation my mother and I felt obligated to keep this legendary tradition in the community.” The place jumps every night from its jam sessions to music of the African Diaspora. “You can’t miss a night because you never know who’s going to show up,” stated Berta Alloway of Berta Indeed Productions, who is credited with reviving the jazz lineup at the club in the 1990s. “I love playing at St. Nick’s because I’m following in the footsteps of Luckey Roberts,” stated pianist Donald Smith.
Today St. Nick’s Pub, the cozy little bar, continues its great jazz tradition.
—by Ron Scott