Nightclubs were a cultural mainstay during the Big Band Era of the 1940s. In major American cities, the most fashionable nightclubs were grand-scale venues featuring top performers, showgirls and live orchestras playing jazz or swing music. The trendiest nightspots attracted a rich and famous clientele who created a stir beyond the cocktails, dancing and all-star entertainment.
In the 1940s, Chicago's upscale hotels housed nightclubs that featured ballroom dancing, big bands and floor shows. Among these were the Boulevard Room at the Stevens Hotel, the Empire Room at the Palmer House, and the Panther Room at the Hotel Sherman's College Inn. Other notable Windy City nightclubs were freestanding venues like the Blackhawk Restaurant and Chez Paree, the latter of which reigned for nearly two decades as Chicago's hottest nightspot. Chez Paree opened in 1932 and hosted such legendary entertainers as Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne and Tony Bennett. A legion of dancing girls dubbed the Adorables also graced the smoky stage. Until it closed in 1960, Chez Paree occupied the landmark Schatz Building, erected in 1917 for the Horn & Hardart Automat Company.
Miami Beach Nightclubs
Miami Beach specialized in Latin music during the 1940s. Nightclubs featured Cuban and Puerto Rican superstars such as Xavier Cugat, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. Strolling down the street at night, you might hear Desi Arnaz performing his signature, "Babalu." One of the most famous and lavish venues in the city was aptly named The Latin Quarter, a former 1920s speakeasy. Inspired by the Moulin Rouge in Paris. The world's most talented dancers and showgirls performed there. Entertainers such as Jack Benny, Milton Berle and Sammy Davis, Jr. put on three nightly shows, along with a cavalcade of chorus girls. The Latin Quarter attracted glamorous celebrities and crowds of well-heeled tourists until 1959, when a fire destroyed the building.
Los Angeles Nightclubs
Not surprisingly, Los Angeles nightlife in the 1940s was teeming with movie stars. Hollywood luminaries patronized nightspots along the Sunset Strip, including the Players Club, Zamboanga South Seas Club, Don's Beachcomber, Slapsie Maxie's and Ruby Foo's. Ciro's opened on the Sunset Strip in 1940 and swiftly became one of Hollywood's most star-studded nightclubs. Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall or Cary Grant could be spotted at the tables on any given night. Songsters like Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Peggy Lee performed at Ciro's. The club's heyday dovetailed with the golden age of Hollywood. After a brief stint as a rock and roll venue, it has thrived since 1972 as the stand-up comedy club, The Comedy Store.
New York City Nightclubs
New York City nightlife flourished in the 1940s. The bebop jazz scene developed at venues such as Three Deuces and Onyx Club on West 52nd Street and Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem. Café Society was the downtown spot for up-and-coming singers like Big Joe Turner and Sarah Vaughan. The Latin-themed Copacabana, one of New York's most celebrated nightclubs, opened in midtown Manhattan in 1941. Throughout the decade, famous entertainers headlined at the ritzy supper club, including Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Jackie Gleason. The Copacabana underwent several makeovers and relocations over the years. In the 1970s, it got revamped as a discotheque, inspiring Barry Manilow's hit song "Copacabana." Now in Times Square, the Copacabana is an upscale restaurant with live music.
- Schatz Building: History
- Chicago Tribune: Peter Zankovich, Maitre D' At Chez Paree
- Miami Herald Online Store: Palm Island's Ritzy Latin Quarter Nightclub Burns, 1959
- South Beach Magazine: The Latin Quarter Nightclub
- Los Angeles Times: Before There Was a Comedy Store, There Was Ciro's
- Copacabana Supper Club: Copacabana History
- Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images