Melmeck, Garrick

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NAME: Garrick Melmick

Biography: Owner of the legendary club [Banana], at 3rd and Race Streets in Philadelphia.

I , Xavier François Hussenet, aka Zaza, met Garrick when I was 18 and a student at the University of Pennsylvania. We became lovers and lived in a commune on South Street called Gazoo. We were hippies, but Garrick had a real job as a buyer at Strawbridge & Clothier, while I was painting people’s feet at sit-ins and festivals, designing my own Tarot cards, and cooking potluck at the South Street Co-op. When I turned 20 I went to Garrick and asked him to open a Cafe, and call it La Banane Noire in tribute to Josephine Baker, the expatriate outspoken Black Jazz singer who wore a banana girdle in her exotic sing and dance shows. I am from France, grew up in Paris, and moved to Manhattan with my mother when I was 12 years old. I came on the SS France and the first thing I saw was the Statue of Liberty. Anyhow, La Banane Noire was a success and grew rapidly from its humble origins at 4th and South with next door neighbor Lickety Split, started by 2 of our old roommates, John Weselyk and Dale Shuffler. OK, so we quickly got too big for the little townhouse on South Street and we moved to an old abandoned speakeasy in Philadelphia’s Skid Row, a neighborhood that subsequently got gentrified for the 1776 bicentennial, and was renamed Olde City, at 3rd and Race, one or two blocks from the rediscovered Betsy Ross house. This is 1975, we incorporated as Black Banana Inc., got the Banana theme going Art Moderne and were reviewed by the Washington Post and Architectural Digest, among others, for being the founders of the Philadelphia Restaurant Renaissance. It was an excellent boutique restaurant, we served expensive dishes, and we were very popular, but we didn’t make any money, really. So, by 1980 we made the conscious decision to start expending and becoming a night-club, phasing out the food slowly, and concentrating on the party. The first dance floor was on the second floor, while the restaurant continued on the first. Later we bought the adjacent building and Garrick named the bistro Cafe Zaza for me. That is when all those wonderful people you can see in the videos on Facebook started to appear and things got really creative. Gigi Meoli was Garrick’s favorite model for his photo studio on the 4th floor, and I wrote copy and did layout with Adobe on the early Macs. Gigi and his brother Nicolas were the two most elegant sweet lads you can imagine, never raised their voice against anyone, just did their job quietly with a mysterious smile, and charmed the ladies. I’d like to know what happened to them, and all the others they ran with. Sometime in the mid 80s there was an electric fire caused by Garrick’s own wiring which was not according to code. The damage was mostly smoke and water, and our friends and neighbors did rally around and help rebuild the club while we were being worn down by the Insurance Company, and strapped for cash. But it was all done over with expert speed under the direction of Garrick, he was not yet diagnosed with AIDS. Garrick was a first class contractor, very talented in remodeling old buildings like this 19th century warehouse sweat shop. It is clear that we established the first presence of what was to become a bourgeois neighborhood. Garrick became really ill in the late 80s with AIDS and I became a full time caretaker. It was the most devastating and graphic experience in my life, seeing him go from a vibrant energetic and spontaneous person, to overnight dementia, and a slow malignant cancer that transformed him into a living cadaver. Acting as his advocate in the labyrinthine heath care system taught me the most important lessons in my life. In an effort to provide Garrick with the best and most peaceful life we moved to a beautiful house in Sugar Loaf Key, on the water. He died on March of 1991 peacefully at home. I was a wreck. For a while I lived on a 38 foot Freedom Yacht sailboat, and took tourists out snorkeling and fishing in the coral reef of Key West. I had groomed one of my bodyguard doormen, a handsome athlete from the Vesper’s club on the Schuylkill River, in whom I trusted implicitly with his nice Midwestern demeanor and work ethics, to run the Black Banana and offered him to build his own equity in the property, now comprised of 3 buildings on the southwest corner of 3rd and Race. But I never got him to sign the contract, which totally baffled me. Turns out I should have chosen the handsome South American rebel who actually managed the club up to Garrick’s death. The athlete got married, and decided he wanted to be a gangster. He even made a claim to broker Gary Roesing of Mass Mutual on my life insurance, but I never died, and perhaps the reason I am still alive today is I became a vagabond, living on South Beach, in Fort Lauderdale, and San Diego. This lion of a man ran the club into the ground and took everything with him that was not nailed down, including paintings my grandfather in France had done for me, one of which portrayed the clown Zaza and his pony, from the celebrated Paris Cirque Medrano frequented by Toulouse-Lautrec; and another painting, a gift from my hippie friend Bobby Kitchen, of Paradise. In a strange twist of fate, the law firm of Mesirov Gelman, whose offices provided the setting for Tom Hank’s Philadelphia (1993,) evicted this manager, and the property was sold under duress. I have been in Southern California now since 1995 and live at the beach. The only thing I wish to correct in this original entry into Wikipedia is that Garrick rebuilt the club in its last and final phase, and died of AIDS only after it had been successfully launched.

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Date of Birth: 3/16/1939

Date of Death (delete if non-applicable): 3/19/1991

Age at Death (delete if non-applicable): 52


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