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VOL. 130 | NO. 119 | Friday, June 19, 2015

Garibaldi's Temptations Club Celebrates its 1980s Run

By Bill Dries

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Mike Garibaldi is known for his Memphis restaurant chain, Garibaldi's Pizza.

At the original Garibaldi’s, near the University of Memphis, is a picture on the wall of a smiling waitress in her 50s.

Kirk Houston, former general manager of Temptations nightclub, with photos and memorabilia from his days at the club. Houston is organizing a reunion event celebrating 30 years since the club opened. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Dora Wagner turns up in other places as well. Several YouTube videos show her belting out standards like “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey” at a Macon Road nightspot named Temptations.

Temptations was next to one of Garibaldi’s pizza places at 6195 Macon Road near Sycamore View Road and it was his only venture into the nightclub business.

Workers and regulars from Temptations gather Saturday, June 20, at Neil’s Grille and Bar, 5727 Quince Road, to mark the 30th anniversary of the nightclub’s opening and remember Wagner who died several years ago. Temptations’ seven-year run ended in 1992.

“I just wanted a place as an extension for the restaurant for folks when they came home,” Garibaldi said of Temptations. “It was so they didn’t leave and go somewhere else because they couldn’t get a beverage.”

So, Garibaldi and his business partner at the time, Jim Stanley, hired Kirk Houston away from his post at Chevy’s, a short-lived neon-laden nightclub that signaled the 80s had replaced the 70s in Overton Square.

After Garibaldi hired Houston to manage Temptations, he hired Wagner, a career waitress who had worked at 1960s- and 1970s-era nightclubs including El Dorado and Leon’s.

“They had all the experience,” Garibaldi said of Houston and Tom Claypool, who worked with them to develop the club. “And one day this middle-aged lady comes walking in with her little bouffant hairdo.”

Garibaldi remembers her telling him, “I want to bring my customers some place where I’m comfortable. I’m not looking for a job. I’m looking for a home.”

Houston remembers her showing up for her first shift at the new nightclub.

“My first reaction was, ‘He’s hired this old woman to come in here,’” recalled Houston, who is now older than Wagner was when they had that first encounter. “We were all in our late 20s or early 30s and she was in her 50s.”

Then he heard her sing.

“It just brought the house down, so then we just started making her part of the shows,” Houston said.

A YouTube video from the era shows a mature woman with a hairstyle that is part blonde bouffant but mostly beehive wearing sneakers and an apron with an order pad in the front pocket. With large shiny earrings, she belts out a tune over a cheering crowd. The crowd comes into view later wearing an assortment of neon colored tops, suspenders, ankle beater blue jeans and painter paints and high-waisted jeans with numerous iterations of big hair.

The Temptations shows also included a lip-syncing stage show, dance contests, and elaborate skits as well as themed music nights.

The success of Temptations, according to Garibaldi, was in its young regulars who lived in several apartment complexes around the nightclub as the city was in a growth spurt to the east.

“It was out farther east, so you didn’t have to drive all the way across town,” he remembered. “You could have your fun and libations and food closer to home. That’s when East Memphis started gaining its popularity with all of the places to be.”

Houston remembers In Cahoots, Wellington’s and Ziggy’s in the Poplar corridor, which also featured DJs, recorded music and theme nights.

“Definitely a different era, no doubt about that,” Houston said.

“We drew a lot of students nearby from State Tech,” he said, referring to what is now Southwest Tennessee Community College’s Macon Cove campus. “These were regulars, not people who would just come in.”

Houston got married on the dance floor. The regulars got older and became homeowners. Beale Street hit its stride in the 1990s as a rival for a segment of the city’s nightlife.

Temptations’ seven-year run is a long time for the life of a nightspot.

Many of the bar’s workers met several years ago at Wagner’s funeral.

“A lot of us hadn’t seen each other in 20-plus years,” Houston said, adding they decided to mark the 30th anniversary “before we get too old to enjoy it.”

Garibaldi says he doesn’t know why he ventured from pizzas to mixed drinks and sound systems.

“We just kind of gave it a shot,” he offered. “It was the right place at the right time with the right mix of neighborhood folks nearby that kind of clicked for a while.”

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