Sunday, August 1, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Christine's Restaurant & Showroom, West Dennis


    It was a can’t-miss spot, both literally and figuratively. Located on the big curve of Route 28 in West Dennis, Christine’s set the bar high when it came to entertainment. Some famous names graced the stage in the twenty-five years this landmark was in existence. The three-hundred-seat Christine’s packed people in on a nightly basis.

    It began in 1980, when Joe Jamiel, straight out of college, purchased the property and originally called it Celebrities. It was a young rock-and-roll bar back when the drinking age on Cape Cod was still eighteen. When the drinking age was raised, Jamiel decided to change with the times. The hopping nightclub atmosphere of Celebrities was replaced with a function room for private parties, banquets and family-style meals. The only thing left was choosing the new name. Jamiel named the venue Christine’s after his wife, and the new establishment opened in 1983.

    Despite the changes, this spot did not lose its appeal; in fact, it gained even more. The young rock-and-roll bar began incorporating all sorts of musical tastes to increase its audience. Monday was jazz night, and many legendary local musicians played there weekly. Tuesdays were reserved for standup comedy, including a young Jay Leno, who plied his trade on stage there before later becoming host of the Tonight Show for many years.

A 1987 Ad for Christine's(Yarmouth Register

    Shows started between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m. and never ceased to amaze and enthrall customers. Jamiel credits having really good agents for helping him book many talented acts. Christine’s was seen as the little stepchild of the Melody Tent, a popular music venue that opened in Hyannis in 1950 and is still running strong as of 2016. This was due in part to the fact that several acts would play the Tent and then Christine’s, or vice-versa.

    It was a family-run restaurant, with Joe Jamiel booking the entertainment, his brother Geoffrey working as the chef and his wife, Christine, running the front of the house. His kids ran and played throughout the restaurant, adding to the true family atmosphere that they wanted to display.

    Though it was known for tremendous entertainment, Christine’s could hold its own with cuisine as well. It had the classic Cape Cod seafood meals and award-winning clam chowder. It was also known for its buffets on holidays such as Mother’s Day, Easter and Thanksgiving. The talented staff could change the function room from buffet setup to nightclub setup in thirty minutes, an impressive feat for a three-hundred-seat establishment.

    The entertainment is what made Christine’s a landmark. There are legendary stories to attest to that fact.

    There was the time that the rock band Steppenwolf came to Christine’s. The Canadian American band had some major hit songs, including “Born to Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride,” and sold more than twenty-five million albums worldwide. It also attracted a large biker following, and on the night that they played, some two-hundred-plus motorcycles packed the Christine’s parking lot to hear the band play.

    Sometimes Jamiel got lucky with the timing of the acts he booked, like the time he had R&B singer Chubby Checker come and play in 1988. Not too long after booking him, it was revealed that Checker was to play the halftime show of Super Bowl XXII between the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins. The publicity for his appearance was off the charts.

    Then there were times like when the Guess Who came and played. The Canadian rock band had a string of massive hits in the 1960s, including “No Time,” “American Woman” and “These Eyes.” After playing a large arena show, the next stop for the band was Christine’s. The band walked into the three-hundred-seat function room thinking it was just a place where they were going to eat and asked where the venue was, not knowing they were there already.

A 1990 Christine's Ad featuring some big name artists.(Yarmouth Register)

    Perhaps the most famous story is that of the time the band War played. The California-based funk rock band had some substantial hits, including “Low Rider” in 1975. However, when the band was nearing the end of its show at Christine’s, the musicians played another hit—“Why Can’t We Be Friends?.” It was during this song about peace, love and friendship that a massive brawl erupted between patrons right in front of the stage, completely contradicting the message of the song.

    There was also the time that Boston Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn came to help promote the Dream Day on Cape Cod charitable event. He had just been named American League Most Valuable Player in 1995. Again, the hype for this appearance was palpable, and it included legendary Boston sportscaster Bob Lobel coming down to interview Vaughn from Christine’s.

    Not to be forgotten in the world of Christine’s entertainment was the Italian wedding show dinner theater and music from the reggae, folk and even disco genres. It was true that this spot had something for everyone.

    As the twenty-first century dawned, it started becoming harder to book acts due to the rise of local casinos. Jamiel said that felt he was “starting to get a little old for the nightclub scene.” It was around this time that he opened the first Ardeo Mediterranean Grill on Station Avenue in South Yarmouth. At one point, there were five of these spots featuring Mediterranean cuisine. For a few years, the Jamiel family ran both Ardeo and Christine’s, but the rapid success of Ardeo—combined with the tragic loss of Joe’s brother Geoffrey in 2006—made it easier to sell the legendary establishment.

The former Christine's building in 2008.(Google Maps)

    It has been over a decade since Christine’s lights went out for the last time, and people still reminisce about it. After sitting dormant for many years, in 2015, a new complex opened on that famous curve in West Dennis, anchored by a barbecue restaurant called Billygoats BBQ.  The new restaurant did not last very long.  In a fitting twist of irony though Ardeo, which had been closed for a few years, opened a new location in that very complex in 2019.  This means that Joe Jamiel is operating his business on the grounds where Christine's once reigned supreme. 


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