When owner Earl Spain (of St. Nick’s Pub) purchased the space, the area had mostly been “demolished”, as manager Celeste Sapp, a cheerful woman who runs the club’s day-to-day operations since its reopening last spring, explains. “Right before we got here, the place had been used as a community center for the local neighborhood church.” The décor is quite simple, with black-and-white tiled floors and a long bar that takes about half of the room’s space.
Says Sapp, “We have a mature crowd, of all ethnic backgrounds from all over the world, who get together and enjoy the music.” Minton’s has regular attractions from Sunday to Wednesday (charging no cover from Sunday to Tuesday) and reserves its Friday and Saturday nights for a varied selection of artists, ranging from vocalists, modern, traditional and Latin jazz.
“There are different kinds of jazz played here”, says Sapp. “This is a home of bebop, though, so a lot of people play bebop, but there’s a great rhythmic variety.” Sapp remembers some magic moments that have taken place since the reopening: “Curtis Fuller was really great and also Charles Davis; these are people that played here, like 30 years ago and that have come back.”
Although there is no menu of appetizers or entrees, they often throw special events in which food is offered for free: “When we have food, it’s always free”, says Sapp, “this is one of our traditions, to serve food free on special nights.”
Drinks are relatively inexpensive considering that the space is a jazz club; most range from $8-10, while a two-for-one happy hour seven days a week has been attracting a variety of neighborhood customers. “People have been coming here every day and giving me history lessons about how it used to be,” explains Sapp. “We’re trying to organize a reunion to get all these people together to talk about what it was; all the musicians, maybe they could just jam, you know?”
These impromptu lessons have taught Sapp “to respect the music much more than I have over the years and I have a much greater respect for this space,” she marvels as her eyes wander around the club. “There are people from Scandinavia, Japan, London, from all over the world that come here; this is one of the places that they want to see, this is one of the few original places in Harlem - and there’s a plaque outside that says that.”
~ Ernest Barteldes