It doesn't take a particularly agile imagination to step back in time at the Dorrance, the restaurant and bar that opened in the old Union Trust bank building downtown last fall. The marble floors, the high ceilings, the stained-glass windows — they all summon the structure's pre-Prohibition past.
VINTAGE VIXEN Minksy.
Time travel will be even easier the evening of Saturday, February 25 when the space is invaded by mimes, jugglers, stilt-walkers, hula-hoopers, and snake-handlers for Chifferobe Cabaret's Cirque de Ville.
Take a swig of one of the Dorrance's specialty cocktails, listen to the evening's star attraction — local vintage songstress, Miss Wensday — belt out Bessie Smith and Edith Piaf, and the past will be there, solid as the doors of the restaurant's metal vault.
It's all the creation of Kristen Minsky, the Atlanta native and RISD graduate who has become a focal point of Providence's vintage scene. Minsky is the founder and creative director of the vintage dance troupe, the TropiGals, and one half of "'20s tap sensations" the Minsky Sisters, who have been tap-dancing their way up and down the East Coast (and into the pages of TheNew Yorker and TheNew York Times).
In recent months, her Chifferobe "traveling club" series has brought interactive film noir and murder mystery evenings to the Providence Social Club and the Lippitt House Museum. Cirque, she says, is her most elaborate, over-the-top venture yet. For people who insist on describing the world in modern terms, it's the Vintage Super Bowl. "It's not just about coming to a circus," Minsky says. "It's about stepping into that three-ring area, because the performances will happen all over the place."
Cirque will be open to the general public at 8:30 pm, with tickets $25 in advance and $30 at the door. (A VIP segment — featuring an open bar, hors d'ouevres, and a tarot reading begins at 7 pm, with tickets $75 in advance and $100 at the door.) Excited as she is to talk about the evening, there are some aspects of the event that Minsky would only hint at with a smile. The Dorrance boasts all kinds of mini-performance spaces — the second-floor balcony, the vault, the miniature stage above the restaurant's revolving door — where surprises will await guests. One thing is certain, however: Eileen Forster Keck and her husband, James, will be in attendance.
The Kecks are the preeminent vintage couple in town, famous for the 1930s-era General Electric refrigerator in their kitchen and the top hats, tuxedos, and parasols in their closet. "You see, Jimmy studied ballroom dance, and I'm a Lindy Hopper, so we have to meet in the middle," Mrs. Keck says, discussing the foxtrot she will be trotting out this Saturday.
She'll be anticipating her favorite Dorrance cocktail, the Westminster Revival (a gin-based drink, with lime and lavender), she says, but also Miss Wensday's rendition of "Black Coffee."
Keck doesn't go for an all-or-nothing view of the past. She wouldn't give up antibiotics or the Internet, for example, but she'll gladly write a letter with a fountain pen over tapping out a text message. "I don't live in the past, I borrow from it," she says.
This Saturday, at the Dorrance, there will be plenty to choose from.