July 5, 1961. Winnipeg Free Press.On July 3, 1961 a 19 year old singer named Barbra Streisand began a two week stint at Winnipeg's The Towers night club in the Town N Country Restaurant for a fee of $350. per week. (The year previous she dropped an 'a' from her first name so the above advert is misspelled.)
The Towers was an upscale, 300 seat supper club at 317 Kennedy Street. These clubs were the new trend on the local entertainment scene in the late 50's. The Copacabana, Pierre’s, Chan’s Moon Room Cabaret, Rae and Jerry’s Scarlet Lounge, Club Morocco, The Paddock and the Constellation Room were some of the others. The Towers and Rancho Don Carlo appear to have been the largest.
To fill their stages, the clubs relied on a circuit of mid-level and up-and-coming U.S. entertainers which is how Streisand, who had a Chicago-based agent, ended up here.
Streisand played to critical acclaim but her avant-guard style was new to Winnipeggers.
Gene Telpner, in a favourable Free Press review, said "Miss Streisand is the type of singer you'd expect to find in the Blue Angel or San Francisco's hungry i. That's why Winnipeggers may find her rather strange."
The audience watched quietly, some say it’s because they didn’t 'get' her but others said that they were silenced by her amazing voice.
If Winnipeggers didn't get Streisand, the feeling was mutual.
Her very first television interview was on the Tonight Show later that year and she spoke of the Winnipeg gig saying that she liked it but that the audience was very casual:
"I worked in Winnipeg. This was a beautiful nightclub, very posh, except the people wore short shirt sleeves. They didn't wear ties to come to the nightclub"
TIME, April 10, 1964
The following year Streisand appeared in a run of the Broadway musical "I Can Get it For You Wholesale." She was immediately noticed and a star was born. In 1963 she released her first album and in April 1964, while starring in the musical Funny Girl, she made the cover of TIME magazine.
It took 45 years until she performed again in Canada. She played Montreal, then Toronto in 2006.
Local lore says that Streisand was 'fired' by T & C co-owner Auby Galpern and told that she would never make it as a cabaret singer. That has recently been disputed by a couple of former senior T & C staffers who say that she was released early at the request of her agent to return to the U.S. for work.
In an April 23, 1964 Gene Telpner column, Galpern said of Streisand "I liked her but I thought she dressed very strangely" (she bought her wardrobe at rummage sales to give her an eclectic look).
As for the supper club phenomenon, as other cities around Winnipeg grew in size and status, that old Chicago / Minneapolis / Winnipeg entertainment circuit that had been around since the days of vaudeville began to disappear.
By the mid 1960s clubs relied more on local talent to fill stages and that favoured a new crop of up-and-coming locals including Lenny Breau, The Squires (Neil Young's band) and Chad Allen and the Reflections (later renamed The Guess Who).
By the late 1960s supper clubs gave way to more informal hotel lounges. From old favourites like the Marlborough (with the Golden Crown) and the McLaren (with the Fiesta Room) to the crop of new hotels like the Gordon chain and Viscout Gort, most hotels had a live music lounge.
The Towers continued into the early 70s when the Ginakes Brothers, (some of whom went on to open the Pony Corral chain), took it over. It was then renovated into Studio 44, Winnipeg's largest discotheque. In 1981 it was renovated again into the Stage West Dinner Theatre.
The building was torn down in 1985 to make way for the Portage Place development.
For more on Streisand in Winnipeg:
A fan site has a page dedicated to the Winnipeg stint and includes an audio clip of the Tonight Show interview (which is where Streisand's Winnipeg quote above comes from). Also see Babs' big night in the 'Peg for some behind the scenes tidbits.
For more on Winnipeg Music clubs in the 1960s:
Canadian Idols CBC