When theater producers Michael and Tom D’Angora heard the rumor that Steve Olsen was near to throwing in the towel at the West Bank Cafe and Laurie Beechman Theater, they took action. “We immediately marched in there and said ‘NO WAY’, we’re not letting this happen,” recalls Michael. “We had a very lengthy discussion about his situation. It’s dire (as it is for everyone) and he is operating at such a loss right now, he anticipated that he could survive a week or two maximum.”
“So, within 10 minutes, we had an idea. We had Steve on board and writer Joe Iconis and actor Tim Guinee enthusiastically jumped in ready to help us produce an event,” enthused Michael — who, with his husband, Tom, launched a GoFundMe page that has already raised over $60,000 (as we publish). Even local businesses have chipped in, with Little Pie Company donating $2,000 to their neighbor.
Now they are adding to this with a Christmas Day Telethon. “We’re gonna ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ this shitty situation for our old pal, Steve,” said Michael. “We’re starting at 12 on Christmas Day and will go until we run out of performers.”
The Telethon will be streamed at SaveWestBankCafe.com. It will showcase the variety of talent that has hung out for the past 42 years at the Cafe and performed downstairs at the theater. So expect to see RuPaul drag queens, cabaret singers, movie stars, Broadway’s A-list, and more…
The fundraising target is set at $250,000. Tom added: “If we hit our fundraising goal, not only will it get West Bank out of debt, but it will allow the venue to weather the rest of the pandemic so we can once again enjoy our home-away-from-home once this crisis ends.”
The West Bank Cafe, situated underneath Manhattan Plaza on W42nd Street, has been an anchor to the neighborhood’s growth since 1978. Steve Olsen was the choice of W42ST readers as our “Hell’s Hero” earlier this year.
“There are very few places left in New York, that we can wholeheartedly trust with our career and life milestones, the way we have always trusted the crew at West Bank Cafe,” said Tom D’Angora. “So many of us have celebrated birthdays, weddings, opening nights, closing nights, Tony wins, Tony losses, and everything in between. It is our safe place to pitch our big ideas to that big investor, because we know when we bring someone to West Bank Cafe they will be treated like a VIP. That’s because everyone is treated like a VIP when they walk through those doors.”
The pandemic has been hard on restaurants, with many closing or going into hibernation. When Governor Cuomo shut down indoor dining last week, Steve told us: “Indoor dining at 25% is a proven recipe for financial disaster. Now that the cold weather has set in, restaurants will be closing because nobody feels comfortable dining inside. 4 out of 5 eating establishments will close down before year’s end.
“I knew back in March that by November-December the restaurant industry would start to collapse and it started happening right on schedule. Once the PPP ran out, every restaurant would be on its own to survive. There aren’t many restaurants that can afford $10,000 a week out of pocket to continue to operate indefinitely, especially with no occupancy allowed.”
Steve’s venture faces a double hit with the Laurie Beechman Theater shuttered. It is the stage where Joan Rivers performed her final set in 2014; the room where the original cast of Sunday in the Park With George rehearsed; where Aaron Sorkin’s first two works were produced; not to mention the countless Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Tony, and MAC award-winning artists who have graced the stage over the decades. So many stars have been born at the theater, including LBT regular Jackie Cox, who was a finalist on Ru Paul’s Drag Race this year.
Olsen is overwhelmed by the response from his neighbors. “So far, it’s been unbelievable,” he said. “The love we are experiencing in this effort to stay in business is overwhelming and I am forever grateful for the lives we have touched during our 43 years’ run — and hopeful that we can come out of the catastrophe whole, along with our Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea neighbors. Thank you everybody.”
Things you can do to help…
Download W42ST “Hell’s Kitchen is OPEN! app — and buy local, avoiding apps like Seamless that take a cut of restaurant revenue (it includes West Bank Cafe)
Buy local and nominate businesses for a grant at the #HKTAKEOUTCHALLENGE
If you have other suggestions, please comment below and we will add to this list.