October, 1976. The month-long period of mourning in China over the death of Chairman Mao is over and Mao’s wife and other members of The Gang of Four are arrested and charged with conspiring to seize power over the state!
Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Regine has come to town to open a club in the Delmonico Hotel based on the success of her Paris club, New Jimmy’s. That club, on the Boulevard Montparnasse, ran neck in neck with Chez Castel on the ancient narrow rue Princesse in Saint Germain des-près.
New Jimmy’s had a noticeable and very visible entrance whereas Chez Castel had an anonymous-looking ancient wooden door with a speakeasy type hole through which the doorkeeper could decide whether or not you would be allowed to enter. New Jimmy’s had a flashy glamour to it while Castel’s was more reserved.
Upstairs at Chez Castel was a restaurant with an ensemble of four women playing classic old popular songs that — later in the evening after the ladies’ departure — became an impromptu cabaret.
With the choice of music and costume there was a subtle hint of high camp.
I loved going here and once, realizing I had an appointment, had to end the evening and leave at 3:30 p.m. the next day! I had no time to change clothes and appeared still in black tie which I covered with an overcoat. The patent leather shoes gave it away, however the art director I was seeing was quite impressed!
So Regine had decided to conquer Manhattan.
Regine was a dynamic presence in Paris during the ’60s when I was living there. She had opened a club she named simply Chez Regine during the 1950s where she claims to have invented the idea of the discotheque! She also perfected the concept of excluding people who were “undesirable” for not being famous or chic enough!
If you were young, beautiful and talented you were welcome at Chez Castel!
Jean Castel preferred a somewhat English style of quieter elegance and had a nightly assortment of aristocrats, movie stars, international celebrities and even Royals; whereas Regine had a more razzmatazz, razzle dazzle quality to her clubs — but she still attracted a similar clientele.
Paris had a meaningful term for the young beautiful crowd who came to the clubs. They were named « les Locomotives » because they pulled in everyone after them! I guess they were what we now call influencers!
In a typical evening we’d start at the Café de Flore where we’d probably have been since late afternoon, walk to nearby Castel’s after a bistro dinner and pass a few hours in visiting and gossiping with friends.
Around midnight we’d go to Montparnasse to where Regine had opened her most recent New Jimmy’s. There, we’d have a dance and a drink and then go back to Castel’s until early morning!
I remember one night whirring speedily through boulevards back to Castel’s, driving with Francois Rochas (son of Marcel and Helene) with a drink still in his one hand and thinking if we’re arrested by the police or even killed in a traffic accident it’d at least be in the news!
Small consolation … but still …
One amusing event at Castel’s was when the bejeweled Maharani of Baroda was drinking a toast to Jean Castel and then threw the crystal glass against a marble counter shattering it. Jean paused, gave it a look, and then dashed his own against the marble; quietly saying to the surprised bartender, “Antonio — clean it up, please.”
Noblesse oblige, maybe?
Chez Castel’s was too Parisian to ever be successfully transplanted to Manhattan, but Regine was giving it a go!
Regine’s would continue in business until the sex and drugs of Studio 54 changed the whole zeitgeist of Manhattan club-life!