Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Lexington's Lafayette Club Closes

I was sorry to see the Lafayette Club close. Through the years I have had the opportunity of playing numerous gigs there. I played solo jazz gigs for the club as well as dances for private parties, wedding receptions, anniversary parties, and wedding rehearsal dinners. In addition to playing solo, I was fortunate to play at the club with The Polytones, Courtney Allen, The Sensations, Ed Minor, Impact, and The Bourbonaires. The last gig I played at the club was as a solo performer for a private corporate Christmas dinner last year. I'll miss this unique place.

From the Lexington Herald-Leader, By Jim Jordan:

The Lafayette Club, a dining and gathering spot known for its sweeping view of downtown Lexington from atop the 14-story Chase building, is closing its doors Saturday after 33 years.

The closing was announced in a two-paragraph e-mail, in which General Manager Lynn Messer Mullikin called the action "unfortunate" but unavoidable.

"The competition which exists in the dining business and the busy family centered life style approach to dining has made the operation of members only clubs extremely challenging," Mullikin wrote after the decision was made at a 4 p.m. board meeting.

Board Chairman Robert M. Hewett said the club had about 20 full- and part-time employees, but "membership had gotten down to just under 300," including corporate members.

When the club opened in 1974 after the Chase Building was completed, it had about 800 members, according to the club's Web site.

"It's been a (financial) challenge for a number of years," Hewett said. "There's so much competition. We've got so many different choices. ... We are not always willing to go to more formal dining."

Also aggravating the club's problems was the October arrest of chef Kevin Trahan on drug charges, as well as a special dues assessment to help the club balance its books.

"We lost members when that took place," Hewett said. "When you do an assessment, you find out who is willing to support the club and who is not."

Lexington lawyer Bill Lear, who served as the club's chairman for eight years, said he was "saddened, but not really surprised by the news."

"I know they had some tough financial difficulties," Lear said. "It's disappointing. The Lafayette Club was a great, non-discriminatory private club ... that served a really useful function in downtown Lexington."

The club hosted the meetings and seminars of local groups who brought prominent speakers to Lexington.

Over the years, they included former President Gerald Ford, former presidential press secretary Jody Powell, former House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, former U.N. ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, TV newsman Charles Kuralt and rock 'n' roll legend Bo Diddley.

Lear said "city clubs have had a hard time generally in the last several years." Their "heyday" was probably in the late 70s or early '80s, he said.

The Lafayette Club had a special disadvantage, Lear noted. When it opened, downtown was expected to grow east toward Midland Avenue, but it actually grew west toward Lexington Center and Rupp Arena.

"The real critical mass of the business community is now on the other end of downtown" and the Lafayette Club is "not very convenient," Lear said.

Lafayette Club board member Kathy Plomin said she missed the 4 p.m. meeting Friday because of business conflicts. "I had a premonition that's what it was going to be about," said Plomin, president of United Way of the Bluegrass.

"I think they finally had to look it in the face," she said of the club's financial plight. "The staff did a great job, but it couldn't sustain itself. I hate to see it close."

Mullikin said the decision to close Saturday was based on the club's holiday closing schedule, not on the expiration of its lease, which will last about another year.

Mullikin said the club will continue to collect funds it is owed and will try to pay its obligations, but Hewett said he couldn't promise that all of the club's debts will be paid.

"We'll just have to see," he said.


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