How Dorothy Got Her Name

After I made the decision to open a piano bar and lounge, the next step was to come up with a name.  Being in Seattle, I was hoping for a name that was indicative of this city in which I've made my home.  What is Seattle know for?   Being green & progressive, beer, seafood, some sports teams, lots of outdoor activities, the Puget Sound, rain and so much more.  One of our nicknames in all of this is the Emerald City.  "That's it" I thought.  The Emerald City Cabaret.  Perfect, now time to get everything in motion including licensing the name.  A quick Google search dashed my fantasies.  I learned that the Emerald City Cabaret is a strip club in Orlando.  The name was discarded as quickly as the dollar bills of a lot of men in Florida.   What to do, what to do?  Come up with another name.  Rain City Cabaret?  Nah.  A Gay Cabaret?  No, Mary.  Capitol Hill Cabaret.  Snooze.  I wend through as many names as tourists go through Pike Market during any given morning.  I think it was finally may Aunt Carla, who said "You could just call it Dorothy's."   I believe her inspiration came from the Emerald City idea and a connection to one of the greatest Dorothy's of all: Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale.

So, a name was bestowed.  But did I really want to make it a bar with that gay of a theme?  I mean, really!  As a gay man, I want my club to be someplace where my friends and I feel at home, but it doesn't have to be THAT gay.  I can see it now:  a big statue of Judy in the entrance way,  a Yellow Brick Road leading to the stage, servers dressed as Munchkins, the Scarecrow behind the bar and a Wicked Witch who popped in from time to time trying to scare the patrons enough that they drink more.  Run, Toto, Run!   Still, it was a good idea but I needed to frame it better.  My graphic artist friend Chip Taylor (who created our logo) said "Why define it?  Let people come to their own idea about the name.  There are a lot of famous women named Dorothy and of course, there's always the old expression "Friend of Dorothy's" that was used for decades as code for someone who was gay or gay-supportive."  Thanks, Chip!  That's exactly what I needed to hear and you just won the ruby red slippers! (He'd look great in them btw.)

So now, Dorothy's has become an homage.  An homage to so many famous women who were indeed cabaret performers, who sang on the stage and screen and into our hearts.  In addition to Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale there are or were such great performers as Dorothy Dandrige, Dorothy Lamour, Dorothy Loudon, Dorothy Collins, Dorothy Fields, Dorothy Moore, Dorothy Provine, Dorothy Malone, Dorothy Sebastian and my personal favorite Dorothy of them all, Dorothy Zbornak, played by Bea Arthur in the Golden Girls. In fact, another dream is to eventually open establishments named Sophia, Rose and Blanche too.  Dorothy's parent company is indeed named St. Olaf Productions.  When Dorothy's opens, we will have a mural depicting all of these great women on our wall.

One final Dorothy of note is not at all famous, at least not to anyone but me.   Her name was Dorothy Hollenbeck and she was my great aunt, the sister of my maternal grandmother.  When I was little, my mother's sister Elaine was coming for a visit.   My aunt Dorothy told little me, "You know, Johnny, Elaine is your aunt but I'm your GREAT aunt."  The precocious response of my 5-year old self was "Oh, Aunt Dorothy, that doesn't mean you're any better, it just means you're older!"  Well, that was certainly true and while Aunt Dorothy passed in 2001, I miss her dearly.  She was indeed a "great" aunt and was one of my biggest fans as a young musician.  She'd come to every concert I ever had, even when I was in college and the concert was a 2 hour drive away.  She always believed in me and encourage my music.   More than any other Dorothy, my dream has been at least in part named after her and Aunt Dor's picture will be included in the mural. 

Thank you to all of the Dorothys, real and fictional, living, dead and yet to come who are inspirations to those of us in the arts.   We salute you!


John Lehrack



How Dorothy's Came to Be

It all started when...

It's been suggested to me that I start a blog for Dorothy's.  When I asked folks what I should write about, one of the most immediate responses was "tell us your story.   Tell us about Dorothy's and how it started."   Okay.  Here I go!

I've been a musician my entire life and it's been my profession for over 30 years now.  I've been a teacher for most of it but have done a fair amount of performing and recently have turned some attention to composing.  One thing I've always enjoyed doing though is playing the role of impressario, a word that can be defined as "producer" but has a deeper meaning in being someone who helps other artists gain the spotlight, often ones who have been previously unknown.  I've done this in many ways through teaching, theatre work, conducting and more but a part of me yearns to do it bigger and better.   How can I fulfill both what I love to do as a musician and what I'd like to do for others?

There are certainly numerous ways to accomplish the above goal but I have also often wanted to own a bar.  My ex and I almost took a major step in this direction in 2006 San Francisco.  Neither of us were happy with our careers at the time and thought we could open a bar together.  We found one in our neighborhood that was for sale but alas the $3 million price tag that was required to buy both the business and the building was beyond our reach so we abandoned the idea.

10 years later, single and in a new city I came back to the idea.  This time though I also gave some thought to my longtime desire to have a dinner theatre and a bar.  Why not do both?  I came up with the concept of Dorothy's and decided it would be a three-tiered venue.  The main room would be a nightly piano bar where patrons could sing what some call "piano karaoke."  (I really dislike this term because a good piano bar is so much better than that but it's a term that people can hear and relate to.)

A great piano bar has many things:  a terrific pianist on hand to entertain the crowd;  a large selection of songs for people to sing; the option for singers to bring in their own sheet music for the pianist to play; fun singalongs; theme nights; delicious drinks and small plates; a comfortable and friendly atmosphere and so much more.  My goal is for Dorothy's Piano Bar to have all of these things and to evolve in the ways that best fit our customers' needs.  Of course, I'll also enjoy getting to sit down at the piano some of the time and playing for the singers.

The second part of Dorothy's will be our cabaret lounge that will feature many fantastic local performers and hopefully some with national name recognition.  I've been truly lucky during my time in Seattle to meet and befriend a host of wonderful artists.  Many have already performed at our pop-up events and more are scheduled this year.  Dorothy's Cabaret will be an intimate and very comfortable lounge with cocktail tables, comfy chairs, a sofa or two and the great drinks and small plates we hope to become known for.

The final phase of Dorothy's will be a black box theatre.   A black box is a flexible theatre space that can be rearranged in  numerous ways to fit a performance concept.   After much thought I have decided to let Dorothy's Little Black Box be it's own non-profit organization that will partner with Dorothy's Piano Bar and Cabaret to produce a regular season of great (mostly musical) theatre.  The focus will be on re-envisioning classic shows, producing and promoting brand new works and spotlighting new and under-served artists.  We already have our IRS 501(c)3 designation letter and more news will be announced soon.

When we finally open, I know that Dorothy's will be a venue unlike anything Seattle has ever seen and also a place where people from all walks of life can come, have a great time, make some music together, meet new friends and be entertained.

Thanks for coming on the ride with me.  Stay tuned for the next post when I tell you all about why we're called Dorothy's


John Lehrack