Philadelphia was never known for having many Greek nightclubs (“Bouzoukia”). Unlike Astoria, Detroit, Toronto, or Chicago, we averaged a few every now and then and they didn’t last long. The biggest ones were Dionysios in the 70s and Athens West in the 90s. Smaller ones included Grecian Gardens, Onassis, Little Pete’s, or Lambrou 29. There was also the Diamond Diner Lounge.
But in the early 90’s, one of the best Bouzoukia, which was not really a Bouzoukia, was a place that had no name. Some people called it the “Flames Soccer Club” because years before, the soccer club used it as their clubhouse and their paraphernalia still adorned the walls. But most people just referred to it simply as the “Leskie”.
It was located on the second floor at the corner of Copley Road and Ludlow Street in Upper Darby, Pa. It was a small, dingy place in need of a good paint job. The windows and ceilings were all smoked- stained. There were about 20 rickety tables and unmatched chairs. There was not two glasses or silverware that matched either. There was an old pool table, a 4 seat counter, a small cooking area, and bathrooms that… let’s say, hadn’t been updated since 1920! It was perfect. But who cared, the lights were always low anyway.
After the soccer club disbanded, Thanasi took over with the thought to make it a small restaurant where the local Greeks could come in and get a home-cooked meal and meet some friends over a drink (the food was good!). One Friday night, two friends, Angelo and Vasili, brought their guitars and after a meal, sat in the corner and started playing old Dalaras and Poulopoulos songs– for themselves. They then invited me and I brought the bouzouki. Soon, the other patrons would sit around and just started singing along and quickly the word spread. People came to sing along while other musicians started appearing and joined in.
Within a few months, the Leskie was jumping on Friday nights. We had a core group of musicians and if anyone else wanted to play or sing they were more than welcomed – it didn’t matter how good or bad you were. Bouzouki players from Greece joined in. Singers appeared. Even Yiannis Dounias (remember, “Tha Pame Stin Zoungla Me To Tarzan”?) paid a visit and was amazed. One singer/guitar player, Antigoni, packed them in each week. After Thanasi, Lazaro took over and he would come out every week and sing, Zigouala. It had become a ritual.
The crowds starting coming in around 11:30 PM and last call was around 5:00 AM. We felt like we were in Greece, but we were in Mikri Ellada – Upper Darby. People came dressed in jeans, work clothes, shorts, or anything, and they ate, drank, danced, and of course, they smoked (the Greek national past time). No pretentions… no showing off… some gossiping (the other Greek national past time), and just plain old fun. If it snowed outside, it was packed even more. 200 people showed up where only 100 could fit… but we continued playing. At one time, while we were playing a hasapiserviko and the dance floor was packed, the floor was actually moving up and down to the rhythm. We thought it would collapse. The owner of the sandwich shop underneath the Leskie found his menu boards scattered all over the floor the next morning! Upper Darby’s finest would come and tell us to turn it down, the neighbors were complaining. We did, for a few minutes.
The Leskie lasted about 2 years, but all good things come to an end. Lazaro gave it up and the crowd moved on to other entertainment spots. What made the Leskie the best Bouzoukia was the fact that it wasn’t a Bouzoukia. None of the musicians were paid. We all played for free and the love of the music. As jazz musicians say, “we got our chops there”. Some great music came out of that small little joint.
Those that came wanted something to do without being gouged in their pocket or worrying what this person or that person said. It was good, clean entertainment. The Leskie wasn’t planned by high priced developers. There were no fancy ads. It didn’t cost a million dollars to build. It just happened.
But it wasn’t the physical place… it was the atmosphere. The Leskie sprang up from a couple of friends playing their guitars on a Friday night and people just joining in and singing their old favorite songs. Isn’t that what life is about? Good food, good drink, good music, and good company.
Who know, maybe another one will pop up one day. Until then, as the Most Interesting Man in the World says, “Stay thirsty, my friends”.
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