The Golden Age of Black Nightlife Celebrated Tonight at City Winery

Photo: All Jokes Aside owner, Raymond Lambert, Jazz Oasis owner, John Moultrie, and Dejoie’s owner, Steve Dejoie


It is often referred to as the golden age of Black Nightlife. The 90s. It was a time when there were plenty of places to enjoy entertainment without the threats of violence. It was all about good times and great memories.

In the 1990s, Dejoie’s, All Jokes Aside, 601 Productions, and The Jazz Oasis were epicenters of Black entertainment, nightlife, and culture. On September 5, 2022, they reunite for an epic 90s Chicago Clubs reunion celebrating their impact on the Chicago entertainment scene at City Winery Chicago with musical guests, Incognito and Maysa.

The Chicago Defender spoke with Dejoie’s owner, Steve Dejoie, All Jokes Aside owner, Raymond Lambert, and Jazz Oasis owner, John Moultrie about the upcoming reunion celebration and what made these clubs so important to the culture of Chicago.

Chicago Defender: How did each of you get involved in nightlife and promotions? What inspired you?

John Moultrie (Jazz Oasis):  At the time I had a girlfriend we went out to see our favorite movie “About Last Night.”  After the movie, we went around the corner to a bar named “Mothers” and they wouldn’t let us in. It really killed the evening. I remember saying to her, “You know what, don’t worry about it. I’m going to open up a club for us downtown next year.”  I quit my job after that and went through with my plan and it morphed into something else. I really wanted to do something for my community. I wanted a place for us to hang out and open doors for musicians who didn’t have as many venues or opportunities to play. It started off as a restaurant with food but became what is known as Jazz Oasis.

Raymond Lambert (All Jokes Aside): My former partner, James Alexander, and I were working in investments after attending college together. One night we went to a comedy show and saw all of these acts. I remember asking Bernie Mac where we could see him perform but he said there weren’t many comedy clubs for comedians like him. James and I always wanted to own and operate a business and the more we got to know him, the more we realized there was no place in Chicago for you Black comedians to perform on a regular basis unless you were a TV star or movie star. There were five clubs in the market at the time. That didn’t make sense to us, so we saw it as a very pragmatic business opportunity.

At the time I was working for Chris Gardner (portrayed by Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happiness”) and I walked into his office and said, I’m quitting this job and starting a comedy club.”  He thought I was insane but that’s where it started. We were young and naïve but wanted to provide an opportunity for these talented comedians to perform. We wanted to create a first-class operation. We wanted to do it at an elevated level and provide opportunities not only for the artist but for the audience to enjoy these comedians in a first-class venue.

Chicago Defender: What were some of the early challenges you faced as Black business owners?

Raymond Lambert: I had no idea of what it took to operate a business in the city of Chicago, which I think has to be one of the most difficult places in the United States. It was the day-to-day operations, dealing with politicians, fire and police, and neighborhood constituencies. There were so many different components. We had to learn every aspect of running our business from the day-to-day operations, ordering liquor, getting licenses, and so on.

John Moultrie: No one ever teaches you how to be an entrepreneur, how to order, do inventory, etc. There’s a learning curve. We learned a lot along the way.

Chicago Defender:  You all launched to help launch people’s careers and provided an opportunity for our entertainers to have a place to come perform, eat, drink and party. What is it like to be part of that culture? That cultural history?

Steve Dejoie (Dejoie’s): I don’t think we knew we were creating history or anything like that. I knew it was special because we were having a good time.

John Moultrie:  We didn’t know we were a part of something special or the impact of it until you are away from it. There were people who took a chance on us, and we took a chance on them. We were 90s tastemakers who were able to bring people and connect them to new audiences and connect the audiences to these new talents.

Chicago Defender: Talk to me about the significance of the 90s club reunion.

John Moultrie:  Steve did a reunion 10 or 11 years ago and I did one 10 years ago but there wasn’t anything celebrating Jokes and notes except the documentary Ray did. I think when we look back at that era in time, there were so many relationships that we built and so many of us who grew up in that same period. We all emerged at the same time, the artist, the patrons, and us, the entrepreneurs. What we want to remember is that that period was a great time, and we did something that was the tipping point of change. We were circulating the black dollar at a time when a lot of white businesses didn’t appreciate the Black dollar.

Our groups and our businesses were upscale with upscale patronage. We didn’t have shootings and fights and different things like that. We just ran good businesses and were active and engaged with our patrons. We may have been struggling at times be we had our pulse on something special.

Steve Dejoie:  I think what’s so interesting to me is that we all did this together and it’s amazing that people still talk about it like it was yesterday. I remember going to Rush Street and to get in you had to have three IDs to get in and a suit. We weren’t welcomed at all. So, when I opened Dejoie’s, I didn’t know anything about running a restaurant, but I knew I wanted it to be classy, fun, and a place that welcomes all of us.

Raymond Lambert:  All of our venues were popular. We were able to create a legacy because we were able to sell out shows and captivate the interest of the people but what binds us together are the memories, the good conversation, and socialization. That’s what keeps up together.

Steve Dejoie: I don’t think anybody has captured the city the way we did. You know, we all share that in common. This reunion is going to be quite a celebration that people have been asking about for years. I’m so glad we are doing it together.

Chicago Defender:  What do you think was the appeal of All Jokes Aside, Jazz Oasis and DeJoie’s?

Raymond Lambert:  We were welcoming. Chicago wants to be treated well. That’s what’s missing now. You have to acknowledge your customers. We each wanted to entertain you and give you an enjoyable experience. That was the key for all of us.

The 90s Club Reunion Celebration happens at 6 pm on September 5, 2022, at City Winery with Incognito and Maysa. acid jazz ensemble Incognito with special guest singer Maysa perform live in back-to-back concerts on Monday at 6 pm and Tuesday, September 6 at 6:30 and 9:30 PM. Firmly rooted in funk music with influences from 70’s soul, disco, and more, the British band brings their enduring sound to the City Winery stage.


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