Requiem For Grendel's Lair - And For Live Entertainment

Posted: March 17, 1987

Grendel's Lair has closed. The history-making South Street night spot, which for 15 years provided Philadelphians with an exciting alternative to movies, has become the latest victim to "progress."

The building, at 500 South St., originally housed a clothing store. This was several decades ago when Philadelphia had (at least) five major theaters and dozens of nightclubs. Well, what goes around comes around, and when the doors of 500 South St. reopen, it will once again be a clothing store. Only now, Philadelphia doesn't have five major theaters. And the number of major nightclubs can be counted on one hand (with plenty of fingers left over to thumb a ride).

Grendel's closure marks the end of an era and the continuation of an error - the apathy killing live professional entertainment in Philadelphia. Grendel's, more than any other night spot, provided something for everyone. A small sampling of its entertainment menu included off-Broadway shows, rock and roll, stand-up comedy, jazz, magic, disco dancing, female impersonators, folk music and Yiddish theater (there was much, much more than just "Let My People Come").

No other nightclub, theater or coffee house (remember coffee houses?) came even remotely close to equaling Grendel's offerings. Grendel's provided up- and-coming actors, writers and musicians with a launching pad and proving ground to perfect their crafts. It also gave established artists an intimate room in which to perform. It provided an intimate room in which to perform. And it provided Philadelphia audiences with the best seats in town.

I had the honor of producing the last original stage show at Grendel's Lair ("The Cometition's Killin' Me") last summer. While there was a great amount of excitement in producing a "hit" show, there was equal pride in knowing I had produced the show at a very special theater - Grendel's Lair. There was also a great amount of sadness in knowing that this would be the last original play to be produced there (that's when we "insiders" were told about the impending closing).

Fifteen years ago, Grendel's Lair was a pioneer, an urban homesteader on an all-but-deserted wasteland known as South Street. Had there been no Grendel's Lair or had it failed, South Street might never have grown into the tourist and shopping area it now is.

Philadelphians, both private citizens as well as city officials, have sat back and watched theater after theater, club after club, cultural center and movie theater close and be replaced by a non-entertainment business or (worse) by nothing at all.

Philadelphia has a long and rich history of live entertainment (including burlesque and opera, neither of which are still around today). We cannot afford to sit back and watch as our theaters and nightclubs vanish. Videocassettes are fine entertainment, but live entertainment of any kind is more than worthy of our time, our concern, and our money.

No other entertainment complex can or will ever take the place of Grendel's Lair. Grendel's was something special. It not only made history - it was history. And I, along with (I guess not enough) Philadelphians, will miss it very much.

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