Art D’Lugoff, who was widely regarded as the dean of New York nightclub impresarios and whose storied spot, the Village Gate, was for more than 30 years home to performers as celebrated, and diverse, as Duke Ellington, Allen Ginsberg and John Belushi, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 85 and lived in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
The cause has not been determined, said Mr. D’Lugoff’s brother, Burt, a medical doctor and frequent silent partner in his joyously noisy endeavors. Mr. D’Lugoff died at the Allen Hospital of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where he had been taken on Wednesday after experiencing shortness of breath.
Opened in 1958, the Village Gate was on the corner of Bleecker and Thompson Streets. The cavernous basement space it occupied — the building’s upper floors were then a flophouse — had once been a laundry.
Mr. D’Lugoff later expanded to the upper floors, and in its heyday the Gate comprised the basement space, used primarily for live music of all kinds; a street-level terrace for jazz; and the Top of the Gate, an upper-story performance space.
The club closed its doors in 1994, amid rising rents, a changing market for live music and the aftermath of some unsuccessful investments by Mr. D’Lugoff. It briefly reappeared on West 52nd Street in 1996 but sputtered out after less than a year.
Mr. D’Lugoff was also a producer of Off Broadway shows — most at the Gate — and helped conceive the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.
The Gate may have lacked the cachet of the Village Vanguard, a more intimate West Village club, but it was a bright star in the city’s cultural firmament for decades. A young Woody Allen did stand-up comedy there. The playwright-to-be Sam Shepard bused tables there. A waiter named Dustin Hoffman was fired there for being so engrossed in the performances that he neglected his customers, though service was by all accounts never the club’s strength. Dozens of albums were recorded there, by musicians like Pete Seeger and Nina Simone and by comics like Dick Gregory.
Though most often thought of as a jazz space — among the eminences heard there over the years were John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk — the Gate offered nearly every type of performance imaginable. There were blues artists like B. B. King; soul singers like Aretha Franklin; rockers like Jimi Hendrix; comics like Mort Sahl and Richard Pryor; and Beat poets. There was the harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler; the odd classical recital (the composer Edgard Varèse gave the American premiere of his “Poème Électronique” there); and a duck, Hermione, who performed in the musical “Scrambled Feet,” which opened there in 1979.
Over the years the club also earned a reputation as an important Off Broadway theater space, presenting shows like “MacBird!” (1967), the Vietnam-era political satire; the revue “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” which had its premiere there in 1968; and “One Mo’ Time,” the musical about black vaudeville that opened in 1979.
For many patrons, as for Mr. D’Lugoff himself, the Gate’s eclecticism was at the heart of its charm. One of his most celebrated offerings was Salsa Meets Jazz, a regular series in the 1970s that paired great Latin artists like Machito and Tito Puente with jazz titans like Dexter Gordon and Dizzy Gillespie.
But sometimes the fare grew too varied even for Mr. D’Lugoff, as he told The New York Times in 1988. “I used to put together a lot of unlikely combinations to appeal to a bigger audience,” he said. “Once we had Nina Simone, Dick Gregory and Larry Adler all on the same bill and had so much trouble deciding who would open that I went across the street and hired a guitarist.”
Arthur Joshua Dlugoff was born in Harlem on Aug. 2, 1924, the son of Raphael Dlugoff, who ran a vacuum-cleaner and sewing-machine repair shop, and the former Rachel Mandelbaum. (Art later added an apostrophe to his surname as a pronunciation aid.)
Reared in Brooklyn, Mr. D’Lugoff served with the Army Air Forces in China in World War II. He later earned a bachelor’s in literature and economics from New York University and attended law school there for one year.
For the next few years Mr. D’Lugoff enjoyed a career as eclectic as any of his concert bills, working as an encyclopedia salesman, a waiter in borscht belt hotels, a cab driver in Los Angeles, a tree surgeon’s assistant in upstate New York and a union organizer in Massachusetts and Kentucky. Returning to New York, he embarked on a career as a concert promoter, presenting calypso, folk and jazz artists around the city.
He soon wanted his own space, and the Village Gate was born. (The name stemmed from the fact that early on, patrons entered through a metal gate on Thompson Street to avoid the flophouse traffic on Bleecker.)
Besides his brother, Burt, of Baltimore, Mr. D’Lugoff is survived by his wife, the former Avital Achai; a son, Raphael; three daughters, Sharon D’Lugoff Blythe, Dahlia D’Lugoff and Rashi D’Lugoff; and five grandchildren.
One secret of the Gate’s success was Mr. D’Lugoff’s eye for what the public wished to see. This was perhaps nowhere more evident than in “Let My People Come,” which opened there in 1974. Subtitled “A Sexual Musical,” it was all singing, all dancing and almost all naked, male and female, from top to toe.
The State Liquor Authority would have none of this. Where spirit was on offer, it decreed, the flesh should not be. In a protracted battle that engendered much coverage in the news media, it lifted the Gate’s liquor license.Mr. D’Lugoff went to court, the license was reinstated and the show ran for two and a half years.
Art D'Lugoff (August 2, 1924 - November 4, 2009) was an American jazz impresario. He opened The Village Gate, a jazz club in New York City's Greenwich Village, in 1958. D'Lugoff sought out the hottest talent, hosting prominent jazz artists, including Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Aretha Franklin, and Miles Davis, as well as the best in comedy, including Bill Cosby, Mort Sahl, Woody Allen, and John Belushi.
D'Lugoff turned away Bob Dylan, prompting the latter to write music in the basement of the club. He also fired a young Dustin Hoffman for providing poor table service. Playwright Sam Shepard once bused tables. D'Lugoff styled himself on the famous showman Sol Hurok. His avant-garde programming also set the stage for theatrical nudity in New York - the 1974 musical review Let My People Come featured a fully nude co-ed cast. 
Financial reverses led D'Lugoff to declare bankruptcy in 1991. He closed the club in 1994. In the wake of The Village Gate's closing, D'Lugoff dreamed of opening a new jazz club near Times Square. He worked on raising money for the development of a national jazz museum and hall of fame to be located in New York City. D'Lugoff's idea of a museum eventually developed into the National Jazz Museum of Harlem.
D'Lugoff won the Paul Robeson Award in 1992.
On November 4, 2009, after complaining of a shortness of breath, he was taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital where he died at the age of 85.  On November 7, 2009, citing an unnamed source, the New York Post claimed that at the time of his death, D'Lugoff was weeks away from re-launching his nightclub at an even bigger downtown venue.
D'Lugoff's wife, Avital D'Lugoff, worked as a photographer. The couple had four children: Sharon, Dahlia, Racheal, and Raphael.
- ^ a b Gonzalez, David (October 15, 2008). "Founder of The Village Gate Is Back, and So Is the Salsa Meets Jazz Series". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/15/nyregion/15jazz.html. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
- ^ a b Martin, Douglas (July 8, 1994). "It's All Over for the Village Gate But Its Ex-Owner Looks Ahead". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/07/08/nyregion/it-s-all-over-for-the-village-gate-but-its-ex-owner-looks-ahead.html. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
- ^ a b c d "Death shuts Gate on plan for new nightspot". New York Post. November 7, 2009. http://www.nypost.com/p/news/business/death_shuts_gate_on_plan_for_new_D9VKEvj7hnEwulSmaAkpmK#ixzz0WF39r82r. Retrieved 2009-11-08.
- ^ a b Martin, Douglas (March 8, 1993). "Strictly Business; Village Gate Struggling To Avoid Its Last Chorus". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/03/08/nyregion/strictly-business-village-gate-struggling-to-avoid-its-last-chorus.html. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
- ^ Ramirez, Anthony (October 27, 1996). "Art D'Lugoff Lands on His Feet". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/27/nyregion/art-d-lugoff-lands-on-his-feet.html. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
- ^ http://www.jazzmuseuminharlem.org
- ^ "THE VILLAGE GATE to reopen in spring (Wordless Music Series programmer included)". Brooklyn Vegan.. January 8, 2008. http://www.brooklynvegan.com/archives/2008/01/the_village_gat.html. Retrieved 2008-01-23.
- ^ "Sharon D'Lugoff Wed". New York Times. December 15, 1986. http://www.nytimes.com/1986/12/15/style/sharon-d-lugoff-wed.html. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
- IMDB Biography
- Le Poisson Rouge
- Remember the Village Gate Facebook group
- Two-part interview with Art D'Lugoff JazzWax, Oct. 13 & 14, 2008
- "Art D'Lugoff, Village Gate Impresario, Dies at 85" New York Times, Nov. 6, 2009
- "Art D'Lugoff, Village Royalty, Gone Too Soon at 85" The Village Voice, Nov. 5, 2009
- "Art D’Lugoff, Jazz and NYC Nightclub Impresario, Dies at 85" JazzTimes, Nov. 5, 2009
- "Art D'Lugoff dies at 85; longtime owner of the Village Gate, his conscience shaped counterculture" New York Daily News, Nov. 5, 2009
- "Art D'Lugoff, 1924-2009", New York Post, Nov. 7 2009.