John Kelly's Washington

D.C.'s 2 Blue Mirror joints: Quite different images

For years, 14th Street NW was synonymous with adult entertainment, evolving from classic burlesque to raunchy porn. Today, no trace remains of its exotic past.
By John Kelly
Sunday, July 4, 2010

I just read your June 27 article about the Blue Mirror, and I am very confused. I remember as a child my mother taking me downtown on shopping trips, and it was always a special treat to go to the Blue Mirror for lunch, ending with strawberry shortcake piled high with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, which was featured in the front window. This is very different from the description of the Blue Mirror in your article. Were there two Blue Mirrors? There had to be!

-- Karen Gray-Burris, Washington

Answer Man wonders who would be most disappointed: Someone entering an establishment hoping to find naked women and instead finding strawberry shortcake, or someone hungry for strawberry shortcake who instead finds naked women.

Yes, there were two Blue Mirrors downtown: the Blue Mirror Grill at 1304 F St. NW and the Blue Mirror nightclub at 824 14th St. NW. The former had shortcake; the latter had, um, cheesecake.

The F Street restaurant was owned by Ameen David, a Lebanese American businessman who arrived in Washington in 1929 and opened a candy store. He came to run several restaurants in the area. That Blue Mirror was a long space, with a row of booths lining the walls and food that tended toward the deli side of things.

So, no strippers at that Blue Mirror. However, there were exotic dancers downstairs, in a space also owned by David and called the Champagne Room.

Blaze Starr appeared there in 1963, delivering a watered-down act to keep from running afoul of "local regulations." A year later, a 60-year-old Sally Rand, who had wowed crowds at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair with her famous fan dance, performed. These and other dancers needed music to perform, and in those days that was provided by actual musicians, including Tom Korth, who in 1964 was working his way through Howard University as a pianist in the Champagne Room.

Tom said most dancers traveled with their own sheet music, which they would give to the musicians. Others just had a list of certain songs they wanted played as they disrobed: "Satin Doll," "Ebb Tide."

Said Tom: "You tried to catch the various things they did, to have musical accents for each gesture: when they took this off or that off."

Tom once invited his family to see him at work. "I don't know what Mom thought," he remembered. "She didn't say much. My father just had this big gleam in his eye. He seemed to enjoy things."

One of the dancers that night billed herself as "Suzette Dupree, the French Bombshell." Tom's little sister was taking French in high school, and she tried to talk with Suzette. Unsurprisingly, the French Bombshell was merely confused.

" 'Jean Naté' was all the French she knew," Tom said.

Drummer Bebe Cohan led bands at the Blue Mirror and the Casino Royal on 14th Street NW. "I've had some things happen on the floor you wouldn't believe," Bebe told Answer Man. "We had a Chinese girl who had two giant swords that she swung over her head. She was really very good at it, but all of a sudden one slipped out of her hand, and it went straight into the wall of a booth where two guys were drinking. It scared the living hell out of them. They got free drinks for the rest of the evening."

Bebe, 89, lives in Florida now, retired after a life in music. Tom is 66 and lives in Silver Spring. He earned his PhD in composition from the University of Maryland and returned to Howard, where he rose to head the music department. He'll never forget the Champagne Room. "For me, it was an education in more ways than one," he said.

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