Pete Rosen

Joe was a master customer service guy. We’re talking about a time before Jefferson County and the City of Louisville were one. Joe had created an environment where, if you wanted to hold a city-wide office in Louisville, Kentucky, you had to come to The Palm Room. If you wanted to do anything in the city and you wanted to get the black vote, you had to come to The Palm Room.

Joe’s Palm Room was a political force by itself, which was all created by Joe Hammond. He was that powerful. He had influence that you wouldn’t see today in the political world.

Everybody who wanted to be somebody, came to Joe’s. Lawyers, doctors, judges, politicians, anybody of real influence, especially in the black community, came to Joe’s. He had tremendous amount of influence in the politics in the city of Louisville. If you were a professional athlete from Louisville, when you were home, you came to Joe’s. And, during Derby, it was just mayhem.

"…my father, Al Rosen, purchased Joe’s Palm Room from Joe Hammond in the late 70’s. He wouldn’t sell the building at that time. He still had his real estate office next door. He continued in the real estate business for several years after we bought it. But we just bought the business.

 

My dad was from New York. As a child, jazz was all we listened to. That was the music that was in our household every day. The story is, and I can’t swear to the accuracy of this, he was in the Air Force during the Korean War, and he was stationed in Oklahoma. And they were driving back to New York and this (Louisville) is where the car broke down, literally.

 

My dad was best friends with a couple that owned 118 West Washington Street. Eddie Donaldson and Gloria Donaldson. It was a jazz club that later became a strip club, then it became The Great Midwestern or something like that. A guy named Doug Gossman owned it. Eddie and Gloria got divorced and Eddie moved to the Virgin Islands. Gloria ran a club in the basement of Actor’s Theatre in Louisville called The Starving Artist. They had a son named Turtle. My parents were Turtle's, God parents. But, Eddie had musicians (in his club). As a kid, I mean I was way under age, but I saw Joe Pass, Rashaan Roland Kirk. He had just a myriad of great jazz musicians at this club. He had that place at 118 Washington then he moved to 100 West Washington, right across the street from where the Presbyterian has their center. Anyway, my parents and the Donaldson’s where famous friends.

 

My father was a salesmen and entrepreneur. He was selling flatware door to door. He had a bar restaurant thing later on at the corner of 2nd and Kentucky that he called The Chicken Shack. He was in the car business. He had a couple of used car lots. I wasn’t estranged from my father, but I wasn’t at home. And, ya know it was just life as it is. And, I was working for a guy named Tom of Tom Kemp Construction. We were framing up this building and doing all of this work in Jeffersonville. Basically, the day we got it completed, I got fired. And, I was really shocked. I thought I was doing a good job. And he was like, you need to go see your Dad.

My dad had a small liquor store right down the street. And my Dad said the building that you have been working on, that’s my building. I wasn’t aware of that. And he said in two weeks I will be opening a new liquor store, and you are coming to work for me. It was called Cut Rate Liquors.

 

After several years, he divested from Cut Rate, sold it to two other guys, and was looking for something to get into. The opportunity came to him through a friend of his named Kenny Lewis who owned Consolidated liquors, a store at 15th and Jefferson. I think it might have been a life long dream of my father’s, because he talked about going into clubs when he was under aged in New York. Owning a jazz club was enticing to him so when the Palm Room opportunity came up he took advantage of that. So, I started working for my Dad at the liquor store and I was with him all the way through. We mopped the floors, we cut the grass, we did everything. I worked at Joe’s Palm Room every day. I was in my 20’s and I am 60 now.

 

When we took it over, they had offered food. We didn’t. We got out of the food industry. So, we were just running the bar. The building itself was beautiful, it was well maintained. But it was in the middle of a poor neighborhood. It was kind of odd. You can tell the houses that were built, it was part of a fairly affluent neighborhood at one time. But at this point it was a poor neighborhood. We were within a block and a half, I think there were 3 churches. There were 2 churches at the corner of 19th and Jefferson. So we were only a stone’s throw from there. It wasn’t a kind of place where you would get walk in traffic. To come to The Palm Room you had to want to come to The Palm Room. The inside of the building, it wasn’t paneling. These were maybe 36 X 36 inch squares. The wood had to be with double edges. That was throughout the whole place. It had dropped ceilings. It had recessed lighting. It was really ahead of its time when it was built. I think all that wood was imported from Italy or something. We had to keep the wood clean.

 

One thing about the club was the front and back doors were solid glass. Inside the bar itself was dark, colors were red and black. When anybody walked up to that door to come in during the day, there was kind of a light that shined in. So, for a moment you were on stage when you walked in, while everybody tried to figure out who just walked through the door. It was part of the creative atmosphere.

 

One of the other things was, when you went behind the bar, there was a 14 inch step down, so when you tended, you were 14 inches shorter. Part of the reason for that was, when you were behind the bar, you would not obstruct the vision to the band stand. There wasn’t a bad spot in the place. It was well put together. Well thought through. And, the clientele that came there required you to have an extensive liquor inventory. People would come in and want AquaVit Bloody Mary, which is like a Polish Brandy or something. The bartenders that were there during the day, hand polished every glass. That place was spotless every day, every piece of glass, every window. There were doors on some of the liquor cabinets because some of that stuff you didn’t use often. But every bottle was wiped down every day. Every piece of glass got washed. It was built so you could accommodate that kind of stuff. It was a well thought out design. It was a great building.

 

Some of the bartenders and waitresses that worked there, were there over 20 years, an unheard of thing. If you had been there before and your drink was Old Grand Dad 100 proof, they knew it when you walked in the door. It was excellent service. Rudolf Stitches’ son’s name was Don Stitch. He worked there.

 

When it comes to the music, we had a rhythm section. The drummer was a guy by the name of Darryl Cotton. A guitar player named Billy Clemons, who walked with crutches. We had Pete Peterson, was our piano player. And we had a guy by the name of Riley White, was on bass. We owned the sound system that was in the club. The musicians brought their own instruments, but we owned like a Fender Rhodes piano. And we owned some instruments too. We had music every day of some type. We had people that wanted to come in and audition to play. People that came in and played just because they wanted to play there. When the band was playing, there were always people that would bring their instruments with them and try to play with the band. So, in the time that we were there, there was just a tremendous amount of music. Johnny Lytle played there, a friend of the family. Rue Holmes, Eddie Harris. But the other thing about it was that if they were a musician traveling through Louisville, they stopped. If there was an opportunity to come to Joe’s, they’d come. Count Basie’s guitar player Freddy Green, he came to Joe’s. Helen Humes, a jazz singer from Louisville, came to play before she passed away. That was one of the most memorable nights for me while we owned it.

 

We opened at 10 o’clock in the morning, even though we didn’t serve breakfast. One of the things we did was matinees or happy hours or whatever. Two or three days a week, we’d have live music from 5 to 9. Then the night band would come in and start playing at 10. Like I said, this was a destination. You didn’t show up to Joe’s by accident. And everybody who came there was a VIP. There were about 13 seats at the bar. And there was a guy that came in there one evening that was a pretty infamous guy around Louisville. He had some friends coming from out of town later. And, he came in with a stack of 100 dollar bills and started at one end and went past about 5 stools. I don’t know how many there were. But he started spreading 100 dollar bills to cover 5 seats. And he said he wanted those 5 seats for the matinee. And we took the 100 dollar bills, folded them up, and gave them right back to him. Because everybody that came there was somebody. It was first come first serve. There were never really reserved seats. Everybody was important and got treated the same. He thought that he could come in and buy 5 seats for the night. But we just didn’t do that. His name was Bimbo Taylor.

 

Now, Joe had his real estate office next door. And Joe would come through every single day. He was the kind of guy that could wear a suit. I never saw him not in a suit. He was immaculate all the time. He was a tall thin guy, about 6’3 or 6’4. Of course, by this time, he had silver gray hair, but just an elegant person. He always spoke to everybody. He never spoke down to people. He had a stature, that when he walked in the room, everybody knew he was there. A nice man, that worked hard all his life. He earned a lot of respect from everybody. Joe was just a force and just a pleasant person to be around. I know he lived up on Lindsey Avenue. And he had some apartment buildings that were right next to his home. He had a Rolls Royce, but he always drove a 4 door Lincoln. That was his daily drive. He didn’t have any children. And they called his wife Pete. But his wife didn’t come out (to Joes Palm Room) at that stage in their lives. She never came to the club.

 

Joe was a master customer service guy. We’re talking about a time before Jefferson County and the City of Louisville were one. Joe had created an environment where, if you wanted to hold a city-wide office in Louisville, Kentucky, you had to come to The Palm Room. If you wanted to do anything in the city and you wanted to get the black vote, you had to come to The Palm Room. All the politicians at that time came to Joe’s. During the day, during those daylight hours, there were the black Republicans, the black Democrats, they all spent time at Joe’s, trying to get their people elected. Joe’s Palm Room was a political force by itself, which was all created by Joe Hammond. He was that powerful.

 

He had influence that you wouldn’t see today in the political world. If you wanted to hold a city-wide office in the city of Louisville, you came to Joe’s.

Everybody who wanted to be somebody, came to Joe’s. Joe’s had lawyers, doctors, judges, politicians, anybody of real influence, especially in the black community, came to Joe’s. He had tremendous amount of influence in the politics in the city of Louisville. I’m telling ya, all the influential people in the African American community, came to Joe’s. If you were a professional athlete from Louisville, when you were home, you came to Joe’s. And, during Derby, it was just mayhem.

 

A lot of our patrons at that time, were members of Epeturian Club, at 34th and Broadway. They were salesmen, politicians, Lenny Lyles was a regular patron, Laken Cosby, Kevin Cosby’s father was a regular there. And Joe’s is twelve blocks from city hall on Jefferson Street, like 4 stop lights, ya know. So people from downtown would come there when they got off work. And, we’d be packed at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The place would be completely packed. At least 3 or 4 nights a week, somebody would set up a table outside and register voters every week. Most people came through the parking lot entrance and there was always a table out there. The political landscape at that time, Joe’s had a huge part of that. I’m telling you everybody came to Joe’s. It wasn’t the center of people’s universe. It was a part of their universe. Ya know what I’m saying.

I think Joe was also influential in helping a lot of entrepreneurs acquire financing, small business loans. He knew how to work all those angles. And people came to him for a lot of advice. And, I would think that he helped a lot of people, whether it was monetarily with investments or whatever he could do to help the community he would participate but stay in the background. He was the front man at The Palm Room, but a lot of the other stuff that he was involved with, he stayed in the background and didn’t play that hand.

 

The area had changed by the mid 80s. Ya talking about the beginning of the cocaine epidemic. There was never anything that happened inside the bar. But there was a night that a kid got shot to death, not on the property, but in the middle of Jefferson Street. It was kind of a cultural change going on throughout. And my Dad was like, it was time to get out of it. Plus, we were not making any money anyway. Bringing those bands in, paying for them most nights of the week, we were holding our own, but we were not really making any money. It wasn’t hugely profitable. It was a lot of fun. We didn’t really lose money, but I guess it was that time where if you bought a jazz club then you go broke. So we sold the business to the Whitfields...