The Door, formerly the Cellar Door and for many years one of the most prestigious nightclubs in America, shut down without explanation Thursday night following two sold-out performances by Aztec Two-Step. By yesterday morning, the marquee that had listed many of the fine performers of the last 15 years (including Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Miles Davis and John Denver) said simply, "Goodnight D.C."
Rumors of financial difficulties at the club had been floating around the Washington music market for the last six months. Club owner Paul Kurtz, reached late Thursday night, would only say, "We are closed temporarily as of tonight." The capacity audience greeted the announcement at Thursday's show with a gasp, and, possibly as a diversionary move to keep the doors open, called Aztec Two-Step back for eight encores. Waiters and waitresses worked through the night with black armbands.
Kurtz purchased the famed Georgetown nightspot for an undisclosed sum last Jan. 31 in partnership with Howard Bomstein, president of the Bomstein Advertising Agency. The sellers were Jack Boyle and Dave Williams, partners in Cellar Door Productions, one of the most successful national promotion companies (they do the majority of the Capital Centre's shows) and owners of the Bayou and a number of other clubs in the South. Kurtz and Bomstein kept the name for six months, then shortened it to The Door. A reliable source indicated that Kurtz had fallen behind in his payments on a note to Cellar Door Productions and that he had been given one week to find a buyer for the club. No potential buyers have come forth and it is expected that the club will revert to Cellar Door Productions. Williams, however, insisted "it will never reopen as the Cellar Door."
From the mid-'60s until the mid-'70s, the undistinguished gray building on the corner of 34th and M streets was among the top five or six showcase clubs in the country, a prestigious venue that attracted a top-flight mix of rock, folk and jazz acts. It established its reputation under the ownership of Charles Fichman, who had worked his way up as waiter, bartender, cook, manager, part-owner and finally, in 1964, full owner. In 1970, it was bought by Jack Boyle, who had first worked in M Street clubs as a Georgetown University undergraduate in the '50s, and who had owned the club previously -- in 1963, when it was known as The Shadows. Boyle renamed it the Cellar Door.
In 1978, the club suffered a serious blow when the D.C. Fire Department cut its seating capacity from 199 to 124 in compliance with the D.C. building code. The cutback affected revenues and impaired the club's ability to book medium-priced acts. The smaller club became expendable when Cellar Door Productions purchased the 500-seat Bayou for a reported $500,000 in January 1980.
The parade of acts that went through the club was a virtual who's who of contemporary music and comedy: Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Woody Allen, Steve Martin (who got a less than enthusiastic reception), Kris Kristofferson, Laura Nyro and Rickie Lee Jones were among the hundreds of stars who made the club known around the world. Appearances at the Cellar Door helped boost several careers, including those of Richard Pryor, Ian and Sylvia, and Denver, whose biggest hit, "Country Road," was written in the Cellar Door dressing room by his opening act, Bill and Taffy Danoff.