Tonight Kris is taking me out, we’re making a night of it. Chef Andy Hollyday’s new place, Selden Standard, is now open, we’re going there for dinner. Turning onto Second Ave we see cars parked up and down the street, Kris drops me at the door and parks the Jeep. The once nondescript building sports an attractive facade, Edison lights within glow warmly through the windows. I am greeted at the hostess stand and taken to a table, looks like we made it before the dinner rush. The attractive interior of knotty wood planks, black walls and white glazed brick create a casual and welcoming atmosphere. Kris is seated and we are left to pour over the menu. Selections are served small plate style and are perfect for sharing, items run the gamut from veggies and oysters to quail and lamb. Our server helps us narrow down our choices, we place our order then dig in to the bread and butter.
I have to admit I’m a fan of the old-fashioned bread basket or some incarnation there of; it always makes me feel a little more welcome, like the establishment is extra friendly. Menu items come from local farms and producers whenever possible, I like that too. First to arrive is the Fritto Misto, an assortment of fresh vegetables in a light tempura batter, a little bit of panko for crunch, served with a tasty herb aioli, really good. The Kale Caesar salad is next; just what you’d imagine with the addition of crispy chicken skin alongside the shaved Parmesan and croutons, quite nice. The Sweet Potato Ravioli with brown butter, sage and pecans is set down just as the Steak Frites arrives. The hangar steak is served medium rare, a scoop of shallot butter slowly dissolves in the meat, a handful of dressed bitter greens and a half-dozen fries complete the dish. This is our favorite way to eat, a bunch of different dishes, sharing everything. We enjoy it all, each item had a different taste; the combination of salty, crunchy, sweet and savory all add up to a satisfying meal. And now for the entertainment portion of the evening……
A short drive away, performing on the stage of Northern Lights Lounge every Tuesday from 8 till 11:30 pm, is legendary guitarist Dennis Coffey. He had his first recording session at the tender age of 15, backing Vic Gallon in I’m Gone, after that he played with Del Shannon. He went on to become a session guitarist for various labels including Motown, see if you recognize any of these: Just My Imagination, Smiling Faces, Cloud Nine, War, Someday We’ll Be Together, Ball of Confusion, ah, now I’ve got your attention. In the late 60′s he was a member of the Funk Brothers Studio Band, it is said that Coffey introduced a hard rock sound to producer Norman Whitfields recordings, most notable the wah wah guitar sound heard in songs like the Temptations Psychedelic Shack and Ball of Confusion. Coffey is credited with discovering Sixto Rodriguez, he played lead guitar on Rodriguez’s first album Cold Fact. Coffey appears in the Oscar-winning film “Searching for Sugarman”, not only did he co-produce, co-arrange songs on the soundtrack, he played guitar and bass on some of them too.
In the early 70′s Coffey struck out on his own as artist, film scorer and producer, in 1971 he recorded “Scorpio” a million-selling instrumental that reached #6 on the Billboard pop chart. The story of the Funk Brothers was told in the 2002 film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, in 2004 his memoir, Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars was published, in 2011 his self titled album Dennis Coffey was released. He turned 74 just this month, and here he is tonight, on stage, joined by three other amazing musicians, about a mile away from where it all began.
Inside Northern Lights we sit at our usual table, the band is getting ready to start, it’s busy for a Tuesday night. You can tell who’s here for the music alone, these folks grab the tables front and center, when Dennis Coffey plays, listening isn’t enough, you have to see him work that black Gibson. Our cocktails arrive simultaneously as the band starts, there he is, the star attraction in blue jeans, a black turtleneck and his signature black hat. The song is a great funk-a-fide version of Summertime, combined with the great 60′s vibe of Northern Lights, it’s the next best thing to going back in time. We listen along, at times just stopping and staring as his hands slide up and down the guitar strings, so natural, effortless, it’s like watching someone breath. Audience members tap their toes to Knock Me Off My Feet, Signed Sealed Delivered, Scorpio, Coffey sings on Johnny B Goode; my absolute favorite is Just My Imagination, no vocals necessary, this version is extraordinary. It’s not uncommon for a number to last five minutes or more, every minute a delight of sight and sound. The man is an incredible musician, he has survived and thrived in the business for decades, and he’s right here every Tuesday, doing what he does best, entertaining a live audience, and it doesn’t cost a thing.