Classic experience on Friday nights Restaurant brings European flavor to downtown Nevada City
By Laura Brown Nevada City Advocate
Those who stroll past the Classic Café on Broad Street on a Friday evening will hear European gypsy music, conversation and laughter waft out invitingly into the night. A look inside will reveal a bustling French bistro-style atmosphere with a Nevada City slant. Old friends fill the place each week to eat crepes and Tapas specials, drink wine and listen to the lively acoustic music of Beaucoup Chapeaux. It all began nearly three years ago on Valentine’s Day, when husband and wife owners Kirk Valentine and Genevieve Crouzet began a tradition that was meant to offset the doldrums of a grim economy. “We needed something to cheer up,” Crouzet explained in her heavy French accent. With a vision to find an accordion player, Crouzet was thrilled when she first heard Maggie McKaig playing at a Saturday farmer’s market. A few months later during a power outage on a cold, snowy evening, McKaig joined by her entourage – 33-year partner Luke Wilson and band Beaucoup Chapeaux members – warmed the café with their music for the first time. “Right at the beginning it was just magic,” said Peter Wilson, a local musician who has played with the band on various occasions. “It was great. People loved it. They discovered the place,” Crouzet said. These days it’s difficult to find an empty chair or table most Friday nights in what was once the downtown Nevada City diner known as Moores. Besides McKaig with her accordion and Luke Wilson on tenor guitar and banjo, the band includes Scotland-born Murray Campbell on violin, Randy McKean on clarinets and additional violin by Margot Duxler. The key to the magic is the “utterly unamplified” acoustic ensemble, said Peter Wilson. It’s the right amount of sound for the room – not too loud, nor quiet either – allowing people to carry on conversations yet tune into the music if they feel moved to. “Unamplified music by nature is way more intimate,” Peter Wilson said. A diverse following has surfaced over the years during the community party, from surgeons to stone masons and everyone in between. Over the years, the band has watched couples meet and fall apart and unlikely friendships grow in the cafe. “It’s not like anything else that goes on in Nevada City,” said Murray Campbell. “It’s got it’s own kind of feel to it.” More than just background music, the performers are known to get up from their seats and “stroll” and dance about the crowded room by night’s end. A dancer of many years, Crouzet is known to join in song. Crowds dance, clap and stomp feet in time to the music. “It’s not fragile. It’s a pretty robust scenario,” Campbell said. Though the band brings a following of fans, many regulars were introduced to the music through the café. Some of the regulars can be classified as “Europhiles,” folks who have been to Europe, love the culture and long to return. “That’s a comment we hear a lot, it reminds them of a café in Paris. It’s like a cheap trip to Europe,” McKaig said. The band plays European roots music from 50 and 60 years ago, heavily influenced by American Jazz. Old favorites like Under Paris Skies and tunes found in European films like Bread and Tulips are popular. “A lot of the music we play is older, traditional music,” said McKaig. “What I hear is the roots of Bluegrass and Country. It’s all there,” said Luke Wilson, a luthier and musician who has played a wide range of music for 50 years. Fans of the community party must wait an entire week before returning, adding to the specialness of the occasion. “There’s almost like a Brigadoon quality to it,” McKaig said, comparing the Friday night scene to that of the old German tale of a magical village that appears only one day every hundred years. Those looking to satisfy their palate can choose dishes inspired from Crouzet’s French roots like Coq au Vin and Tarte Tatin and Valentine’s American influence like the Prime Rib Crepe. Rounding out the meal is a wide array of wine and beer to choose from. Crouzet says her skills in the kitchen stem from her birthplace. “Every French woman knows how to cook. You are kind of raised in a place where everyone loves to cook,” she said. Far from stale, the relationship between the musicians and café owners has grown richer over time, Crouzet said. “We realize we have the same vision with people. It’s giving joy and happiness. Food is a way to reach out and music is a way to reach out,” she said. For more information, visit www.ncclassiccafe.com or www.beaucoupchapeaux.net. Laura Brown is a freelance writer. Contact her at 401-4877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.