Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Dee Felice 'closes' bar and fills the house

Here's something you don't see too often: a full house at a restaurant/bar - and a full dance floor - on a Tuesday night, of all things. And it's going to happen again.

Here's something else you don't usually see - a 12-piece big band standing on the bar to perform.

Referring here to Covington's Dee Felice Cafe, which last week started Big Band Tuesday - a twice-a-month do with the Dee Felice Swing Band led by Bill Gemmer.

Kick-off Tuesday was an Autism Spectrum Disorders Network benefit emceed by Nick Clooney ("Cincinnati's oldest living broadcaster," though wife Nina would disagree with 'living', he told the crowd), and it brought a surprisingly young crowd despite the notion of big bands being old folks' music.

The idea took shape, Shelly Dee Felice says, when Gemmer and Carl Gresham started kicking around the idea of rebirthing the sort of band that was so popular there when drummer and bandleader Dee Felice was alive.

And to do it the same way: Move booze off the front half of the bar, lay platforms from the back of the bar to where guests are seated, and play from there.

"They're all sidemen and they've all been playing forever," Shelly says. "Almost all of them played here with my dad, and they're even using some of his old charts.

"Oh, and get this. Mom (Shirley Dee Felice) is dating Carl, the drummer. I guess she only dates drummers."

Next outing is 7 p.m. April 22.

Artsy crowd: How mobbed was Phyllis Weston last week at the opening of the new Closson's Phyllis J. Weston Gallery? This mobbed: When she wanted a glass of wine - sipping wine at art openings is required by law - she had to commandeer someone else's because she couldn't get to the bar.

Among those congratulating her: artist and semi-newlywed Michael Scott, who has paintings and a line of prints on silk in the gallery. He flew in from Santa Fe, where he's living with wife Ellen Miller-Scott (the artist who did the tiara-inspired Baseball's Crown Jewel for Bats Incredible!).

Oh, and where's he's also digging a well. By hand. "Ever try it? It will kill you," he said.

Longtime Weston pal John Stobart flew in from Fort Lauderdale. Two of his original paintings of the Cincinnati waterfront - $250,000 each - hang in the gallery. "Miss this? Not a chance," he said.

That seemed to be the feeling of all of the more than 200 who showed up for the party.

Jeweled crowd: Same night across the street at 2700 Erie, another love fest was in full swing.

That would be a trunk show with Jay Strongwater, designer of jeweled picture frames, boxes and tons of tabletop accessories. Jewels for the Home, they call them.

"I came in from a show in Chicago and I'm only here 20 hours. I hate that, because it's my first trip here and I want to see Cincinnati," he said. "Especially after the incredible sales we did today."

No kidding. The stuff was just about walking outta there, especially his new Paradise line - reds, greens and teals on exotic birds, clocks, frames and flowers.

"It's probably good that I'm going. I keep buying things, and I don't want to leave with a deficit." He bought a couple Sweetie items - gifts inspired by designer John Bartlett's dog.

Ten percent of the Strongwater sales are being donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

E-mail jknippenberg@enquirer.com

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