Nation’s longest-running jazz restaurant to shut its doors

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Atlanta’s Dante’s Down The Hatch will close July 30. Marquee notes jazz club’s closing date. (Courier Photo/Timothy Cox)
 

 

ATLANTA, GA — When news spread that one of Atlanta’s most nostalgic restaurants was about to shut its doors – forever – lots of talk surrounded the unique ambiance of Dante’s Down The Hatch, a suburban Atlanta tradition for more than 40 years.

Less talk noted that the July 30 closing will end the longest-running live-jazz music venue in the nation.

 

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John Robertson accompanies Rosemary Rainey on a classic jazz ballad. (Courier Photo/Timothy Cox)

Since 1970, Dante’s Down The Hatch has featured live jazz – six nights weekly. The end-of-month closing abruptly ends the longtime run of The John Robertson Trio, featuring vocalist Rosemary Rainey.

Robertson, a Florence, S.C. native, has made it his mission to continue Atlanta’s little-known jazz tradition much like his mentor, Paul Mitchell, the jazz pianist/bandleader who originally performed at Dante’s from 1970 until Robertson’s trio took over in 1989. Robertson came to Atlanta in the mid-’70s and studied music under Mitchell, a music professor at Morris Brown University. Mitchell passed away in 2000.

Since then, Robertson, who is a very accomplished pianist with classical roots, has carried on a tradition forged by other jazz luminaries like Oscar Peterson, Nat King Cole, Erroll Garner and George Shearing. Robertson’s vocal approach is reminiscent of Cole and his younger brother, Freddie Cole, another Atlanta jazz legend who still performs nationally.

Robertson and his wife/vocalist Rainey, said they plan to keep the band intact while staying committed to traditional jazz. The trio is rounded out with drummer Terry Smith and acoustic bassist Edwin Williams.

“We’ve always appreciated ownership’s jazz commitment,”  said Robertson. “We plan to continue with our mission.”

His wife adds, “Music is in our future and we plan to keep working,” said Rainey, noting that the couple’s two musician sons are equally dedicated to the jazz genre and are college music majors. Rainey’s vocal style reflects the late Betty “Bebop” Carter, one of her many influences.

 

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The John Robertson Trio features Terry Smith, drums; Edwin Williams, bass; Rosemary Rainey, vocals and John Robertson, piano/vocals. (Courier Photo/Timothy Cox)

Meanwhile, Dante Stephensen, owner of the restaurant, said he was forced to sell the business due to increasingly rising property values in the suburban Atlanta. The restaurant is located in the heart of Buckhead, near upscale retail outlets such as Lennox Mall and Phipps Plaza, home to Nordstroms and Saks Fifth Avenue.

The restaurant will be replaced by a high-rise apartment complex, Stephensen said.

Along with quiet, classic live jazz, the eatery was also known for its unique interior design, similar to an 18th century Mediterranean ship. Meat, vegetable and cheese fondue dinners complemented a 55-selection list of premier, international wines.
Stephensen said Jazz Times magazine confirmed that his business became the nation’s oldest jazz club after two New Orleans-based clubs closed following Hurricane Katrina’s wrath in 2005.

Stephensen says he hopes to relocate Dante’s Down The Hatch in the Atlanta region, but did not disclose immediate plans.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If planning to visit Dantes Down the Hatch before July 30, call 404-266-1600 or access http://www.dantesdownthehatch.com/.

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