Lancaster's Village nightclub marks 60 years of music

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LANCASTER, Pa. -- Where else could you hang out with Cyndi Lauper and Charles Barkley in Lancaster?

It's the same place where Bruce Springsteen jumped on stage for an impromptu jam session, where Daisey Mae made hearts pump fast, and where generations of music fans still come together.

This past Wednesday, the Village nightclub on North Christian Street turned 60 years old. The Lancaster landmark is a labor of love for two Greek families.

This may not have been part of the master plan April 17, 1953, for John Patounas and Peter Photis, but three generations later their evening establishment is still creating memories, establishing friendships and entertaining area residents.

"My dad, when he was alive, I would tell him that I ran into people at Park City who said they met their spouse or wife at the Village," says Gus Photis, Peter's son. "It is such an institution.

"My dad said, 'In its heyday, a few thousand people came through the door in a week. If we got all those people together that have been in the Village, no venue in Lancaster could hold them all.' "

The list of celebrities (Harrison Ford), big-time entertainers (Mr. Springsteen) and surprise guests (Ms. Lauper) helps to make the Village a special place.

Glory days

The night "The Boss" and members of the E Street Band walked into the Village has become local folklore.

The date for Mr. Springsteen filling fans' hungry hearts in Lancaster was June 22, 1984, and as Mr. Photis recalls, Dana Dieter Murr, a lifeguard at the old Host Town, which became the now-razed Days Inn on Keller Avenue, brought "The Boss" in. The band was staying at Host Town while working with Clair Bros. in Lititz in preparation for the band's "Born in the USA" tour.

"We typically had 100 to 150 people on a Thursday night. She brought them in and everyone ran for a telephone, and this was before cell phones," Mr. Photis says. "In a short time the club was packed.

"I called the newspaper and told the editor that answered that they might want to send someone down here, that Bruce Springsteen was about to perform. The editor said, 'Gus, my staff is already there.' "

Mr. Springsteen was just one of the guys, Mr. Photis says. People came up and he signed autographs.

The Sharks, one of the most successful bands to call Lancaster home, were playing that night. About midnight, they invited the legendary band to take the stage. Mr. Springsteen and his band mates picked up the Sharks' instruments and started playing "Out in the Street." They kept playing for about 35 minutes.

"There was such an air of excitement and energy," Mr. Photis says. "You felt their stature. You realized you were listening to one of the best bands to ever perform. It was unbelievable."

Other surprises

On Nov. 8, 1984, Ms. Lauper, one of biggest female singers in the 1980s, made an unannounced visit to the Village. She joined members of the Fabulous Greaseband to sing Frankie Lymon's hit, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."

Also in attendance were members of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, including Mr. Barkley, the Hall of Fame basketball player.

George Soukas, who has managed the business side at the Village for more than 40 years, said Mr. Barkley, a regular visitor when the Sixers held training camp at Franklin & Marshall College, was always a gentleman, often buying rounds of drinks. Mr. Barkley brought the late 7-foot-7 Manute Bol, who died in 2010, with him during one of the camps in the late 1980s. Mr. Soukas said Bol had to stoop when he walked in the lobby.

Mr. Soukas also recalls Don Johnson, an unknown actor prior to his "Miami Vice" days, coming into the club with singer Gregg Allman, who was performing as a sole act. Mr. Johnson was standing in the lobby with Mr. Soukas when the telephone call came from a woman looking for Mr. Allman.

When Mr. Soukas asked who was calling, the woman said, "This is Cher."

Mr. Johnson rolled his eyes, Mr. Soukas says, as if knowing this would be trouble. Cher was staying with Mr. Allman at the nearby Brunswick Hotel.

Mr. Soukas relayed to Mr. Allman that Cher was on the phone. Mr. Allman's response: "You tell [her] I'll call her when I'm good and ready."

Mr. Soukas says, "I told her he was in the bathroom and she hung up on me."

Other notable acts included Eddie Money, The Romantics, The Sugar Hill Gang, Fuel, The Hooters, The Guess Who, Arlo Guthrie, Quiet Riot, Ratt, The Duprees, The Trammps and The Village People.

Mr. Soukas has no comment about reports that cast members of the current Discovery channel show "Amish Mafia" frequent the club.

A-list celebrities

In 1984, while filming "Witness" in Lancaster County, actor Harrison Ford visited the Village three or four times, Mr. Soukas says.

His "Witness" co-star Kelly McGillis was living in Lancaster during the filming and often rode a bike to the Village in the evening. Many times, Mr. Soukas says, she came back the next day to pick up her bike.

Mr. Soukas says the Village hosted everything from oil wrestling to male dancers. They had talent nights and Guinness World Record Night. Frank Edgell, circa 1976, ate the most gold fish, and to top it off, he drank the water in the bowl, Mr. Soukas says.

In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, Patounas and Peter Photis booked the bands and got such acts as Danny and The Juniors, The Kit Kats and The Flamingos. They also brought in Daisey Mae, a go-go dancer who drew a large male audience.

"Not only did she keep her clothes on, but she was fine young lady," Mr. Soukas says. "It was a draw. When she came to dance, she brought her mother to watch her. She wore a two-piece bathing suit; not a bikini, a two-piece bathing suit."

Gus Photis took over booking bands in the late '70s. He says he often talked with the staff at Stan's Record Bar, a short distance away on North Prince Street, to see what groups were selling well.

He paid between $7,500 and $10,000 for acts and charged $10 a ticket. He said live shows are very expensive. The Village had to rent sound and lighting equipment. The challenge was making a profit on the shows, he says.

The Village got a lot of groups on their way up, but groups on their way down also graced the stage. "We got some fabulous names, like Blue Oyster Cult, who played 50,000-seat stadiums, and Cheap Trick," Mr. Photis says.

Eddie Money asked Mr. Photis for a favor. He needed someone to watch his son while he performed. Mr. Photis checked, but the Village staff wanted to see the show. So "I was out in the band van with his son," Mr. Photis says. "They say it was a great show."

Warren Zevon requested a six-pack of Coca-Cola. It took Mr. Photis three tries to get it right. Mr. Zevon wanted bottled Coke, not a pitcher or cans.

The Village was offered U2 early in their career. Mr. Photis thought the price tag of $5,000 a night was too much for a small band from Ireland.

"They may not have been worth that much at the time, but they soon were worth a lot more than that," he says. "Who knows if they would have done well at that point? They were such a new name. I am not sure how they would have done."

Many times, though, Mr. Photis admits being willing to take a risk on a new group.

That seems like a motto for the club, which used to have match packs that read, "expect the unexpected."

You never know what you'll find at the Village.

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