Remember the songs ‘Ain’t No Valley High Enough’ ? “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”?
Meet Valerie Simpson, writer of those songs, the ‘Simpson’ in Ashford and Simpson, owner of the Sugar Bar.
Nick Ashford passed in 2011, but Valerie is often at the bar over which hangs a portrait of her husband. From time to time I have sat beside and talked to her when things are slow.
The bar features Soul, R&B, and jazz, all played by busy musicians who also play other gigs in other clubs and on Broadway. ‘They say’ that even Stevie Wonder played here after a Radio City Music Hall gig.
Sometimes there is an eight piece R&B band — 2 horns, 2 guitars, drums, keyboard and 2 backup singers.
The club is small and busy. Many patrons do not want to sit at a table, so stand at the bar, blocking the passageway to your right. You’ll have to press your way through. At the bar I met a professor from Columbia University, a teacher of Swahili, now an acquaintance. He drinks his beer from a martini glass. He is easy to spot because his dreadlocks reach the floor.
All tables have a good view of the tiny stage. Order Crispy Chicken, or from a menu of Cat Fish, Pork Chops, Macaroni and Cheese, Collard Greens, and lots of southern American cooking options. Anything I have ordered, especially the chicken, has been really good.
I love that patrons whoop, holler and dance when the band finds a groove.