By Bernice Elizabeth Green
There was no place in New York City quite like Greenwich Village in the 50’s and 60’s, not even in Brooklyn.
On any given day you could run into some of the hippest music performers and literary stars in America at some of the coolest places: Boomers, The Village Gate, Five-Five, Vanguard, Oscar’s, and the popular Pink Teacup restaurant, where Brackie “Brock” Rice worked.
“Gregory Hines lived down the street, Bobby Timmons; the jazz piano player lived around the corner; Jimi Hendrix was in and out,” said Rice. “I shared an apartment with two family members for about $100 a month – living room, dining room and kitchen — on Bleecker just around the corner from the Teacup. So every single day was Saturday night.”
Leaving the Village was the furthest thing from Brock Rice’s mind, until around 1970 when romance crept into his life and guided him across The Bridge to Brooklyn. He took an apartment in his sister’s house on Vanderbilt Avenue. It was an easy walk to the Brooklyn Navy Yard where he worked on the TT Brooklyn, one of the last of the ships to be constructed at the waterfront.
Everyday Rice passed an empty building on the southeast corner of Vanderbilt/DeKalb. He soon met marketing executive Tommy Sellers and his wife, a couple determined to purchase 250 DeKalb Avenue to open a “jackets-only” restaurant and bar.
Mr. and Mrs. Sellers opened their spot (a year after the opening of the legendary Two Steps Down, across the street and one-half-block down Dekalb) with Mr. Rice in grassroots public relations mode and their amanuensis, meaning he did, like at Teacup, everything, including welcoming customers, after they were buzzed in. It was a Soul Train world, indeed, with pork chop dinners, light drinks, appetizers, television sets broadcasting sporting events, the fashion-set, the dream catchers and that famous hot jukebox – similar in tone to the warm, moving subjects in paintings by the artists Frank Morrison and Ernie Barnes.
Rice opened the door to a lot of nice, beautiful, colorful people back then, including Muhammad Ali.
The www.clintonhillblog.com posts “what-happened-to-Cellars?” with comments from nine years ago – the year of Tommy Seller’s death due to long-term ill health. Memories of Sellers, the man, are mixed; memories of Cellars, the place, are mostly fond.
Rice remembers everything, but he is not a “tell-all” person; he’s loyal to Tommy, Lucille and their family. And it has a lot to do with, as he says, “being nice.” We believe it is that mixed with a tinge of karma.
One Clinton Hill blog respondent noted in February ‘07, “They used to have a door guy and a sign on the door that said ‘Proper Attire is Required.’ I noticed that as the neighborhood changed over the past decade, the sign and doorman went away.
Actually, Rice stayed around … and close by … for a while, partly as a protector of the legacy, mostly because he loved Brooklyn as much, if not more, as he did The Village. “Cellar’s was the spot; it was about good times.” (Brock’s Story, Part 3 of 3-Parts, comes next month.)