Growing up, I remember hearing tales from my mother and father — who were both sophisticated New Yorkers — about going out for the evening to different jazz and supper clubs in places like the Algonquin Hotel, Café Carlyle, the Latin Quarter and the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center. The places always sounded ritzy and smoky and exciting, and I could imagine my mother leaning back with a cocktail in hand listening to Bobby Short or Rosemary Clooney belt or whisper out a song and making you laugh or cry as they brought the lyrics to life. I am happy to say that I was able to have that tome of experience myself recently at the opening night for the RRazz Room, minus the smoke, thank goodness. 

The RRazz Room is perched on the banks of the Delaware River just outside of New Hope in the newly renovated Inn at Centre Bridge. It is a beautiful, intimate venue with beautiful red leather banquets, white cloth covered tables and Persian rugs on the floors. Dim lighting shone from the small table lamps and the hushed staff was friendly and efficient. I don’t know if it was just because it was opening night, but we were served our choice of wine or champagne and a plate full of delicious appetizers miraculously appeared on the table. As I’d gone there straight from work it was much appreciated! The talented Billy Gilman, who I had the pleasure of interviewing recently, was performing, and I was seated so close that Billy was able to recognize me and stopped to give a wave to me and my table mate, Gary Hines. To be fair, the place was situated and so intimate that he had a view of almost all the enthusiastic fans who came out to see him on a rainy night. This week, I had a chance to meet the man who is bringing all the talent to our area, promoter Robert Kotonly. 

So I understand that you’re a Jersey Boy?

Yes, I grew up in Union, NJ. I lived very close to New Hope up until a few years ago. Now I reside in Miami and wake up to palm trees. 

Tell me about the family. 

Well, my partner Rory Paull is also my business partner. We’ve been both concert promoters and club owners since 2001; 20 years!

Were you into music as a kid?

I was always into music and entertainment, live entertainment especially. Even as a child, that’s what I did with my free time. And my parents were very supportive; they saw a lot of shows that they probably wouldn’t have had I not been in the picture. 

Was that mostly going to musicals?

Pretty much everything. A lot of Broadway and jazz (I was the little kid listening to Rosemary Clooney), R&B concerts, you name it. I had very eclectic tastes in entertainment. One of the things Rory and I really pay attention to is bringing diversity in our programming. And I think that stems from my beginnings, because I was open to everything. 

Do you remember the first concert you went to?

I do; it was Diana Ross & the Supremes at Westbury Music Fair. That’s how it all started and funny, as things happen in life, later down the road, we worked with Mary Wilson who was one of the original Supremes. She enjoyed working with us, and we later became friends and worked together many, many times. Be careful what you dream for, it might just come true! 

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I went to University of Miami and I studied business. And that’s where I met Rory. 

What was your first entry to the business? 

When we graduated, Rory wanted to start a travel agency, this was back when people were still using them. Within a few years, we became friends with and the exclusive travel agent for the director of programming at the Apollo in Harlem. He also happened to be the theater director at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in NJ. As we became friendly with him we confided to him that what we really wanted to do was to become concert promoters, but we had no idea how to do it and had no connections. He said, “You came to the right person, I know you guys are hard workers and when you decide to do something you do it to the fullest extent. I will help you.” 

We did our first show at BergenPAC in 2001, and it was called, “If you ever leave me, I’m going with you” with Renée Taylor — she played the mother on “The Nanny” — and Joseph Bologna. Let me tell you, we gave it not 100%, we gave it 250%, and not only did we sell out that show, we had to add a second show. It eventually went to Broadway! [Laughing] It was a wonderful way to start but deceiving because we thought they were all going to be just like that! Fortunately, it often was that amazing like that, but not all the time. 

What came after that?

We kept moving up and got to the point where we were doing concerts with Kenny Rogers and Kenny G, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Wanda Sykes and Lily Tomlin, I could go on… Joan Rivers, we used to take her all over the country. I remember the first time we did a show in San Francisco, we rented a venue and we had Bea Arthur (pre-Broadway), Donna McKechnie (from A Chorus Line), and Catskills on Broadway, and we became friendly with the owner of The Empire Plush Room, which was a world renowned cabaret room. For a long time, it was the longest running cabaret in the country. It was in a hotel and the person who had been doing the programming had retired. The owner said, “We know the hotel end, but no so much about the cabaret, would you consider handling it?” Rory and I looked at each other and said, “Yeah, let’s do it”. So that was our first cabaret room. 

That’s a great story, and I always loved Marilyn McCoo. 

She’s so great; we’re going to be doing a show with her and Billy in Florida next February. Did you ever get to meet her?

No, but I had a chance to see the 5th Dimension when I was a kid at Valley Forge Music Fair. 

So that’s the sister venue to the Westbury Music Fair where I saw Diana Ross and the Supremes the first time. [Smiling] So we have something in common! Music fairs! 

[Laughing] Well, tell Marilyn if she wants to dump Billy, I’m available. 

If you come to Florida in February, we’ll have you as our guest! So we were at the Plush Room for 3 years and we were selling out the venue so we decided that we needed more space. So in 2008, we decided to take it to the next level and moved to another hotel in San Francisco and opened up the RRazz Room there. 

Is there a story behind the name?

Yes, since we were Rory and Robert, we decided to use the double RR’s and we added the double zz’s as well. So we were there for about 9 years and then decided we wanted to come back to the East coast where we both were from. I wanted to keep doing shows, and I knew that there was a cabaret room at the Clarion hotel in New Hope that wasn’t being used. I went to speak to the person who owned the hotel about doing shows there. He told us that he knew who we were because he’d been to our club in San Francisco to see shows and liked what we did and that’s how we first got into New Hope. 

Glad you’re back on the east coast! What’s one of your favorite celebrity experiences?

As I mentioned, we worked with Joan Rivers and took her around the country many, many times throughout the years. We are a concert promoting company basically run by two people and we were often up against big corporations like AEG and Live Nation. Joan was always a big star, but towards the end of her life she was getting even more popular with Fashion Police and Red Carpet interviews, etc., and she was working with some of those big promoters, but she said to us, “I want to let you know that when I work with those guys, my prices are much higher, but because I like you and the way you operate, if you ever want me back again (of course we did!), at wherever we did shows before or wherever you need me, you will pay the same price that you did before.” How many performers would do that? She was one of those rare kinds of people who truly cared for people and made lasting relationships with people. That was a thrill, another thrill was when we were in San Francisco. 

Our dream was to get Ashford and Simpson and we were finally able to make it happen. Mary Wilson actually helped us make the connections, and they ended up coming every year that we were there. The last time they played at the club, we knew something was wrong with Nick. It turned out that he had throat cancer and passed away from it in 2011. Our concert was the last time they played together. They were booked again for the next year and later on when we spoke to Valerie, I told her that we would still love to have her do the show if she was up to it. She came and it was the first show she did without him. It was sad, but it was moving that we were the last place they played together and the start of her career as a solo act. We were honored that she chose us. 

For people who don’t know the difference between a concert and a cabaret experience, can you describe it?

It’s more intimate, as a result, there’s a real connection between the audience and the performer that you can’t replicate in a bigger venue. I believe that it’s a… it’s hard to describe. 

I would say, it’s a musical conversation. 

I love that. Yes, but it doesn’t have to be music. Whether it’s comedy or music or whatever, there’s just a rapport that you get that you won’t experience in a larger venue. 

What’s the conversation piece in your house?

We have an elevator room and it’s filled with photos of many of the people who have worked for us through the years. It always brings back so many great memories to see people like Diahann Carroll, and Leslie Jordan, and on and on, some of whom have gone on to become friends. 

What kinds of things do you like to do away from the theater?

We have two other venues in Florida and we do about 120 shows a year, so I don’t have much free time but when I do or if I get stressed, I like to swim. I was a swimmer in school and I still do it to this day. It calms me. 

Ever get mistaken for anyone?

[Chuckling] For a while it was Bon Jovi but I think we’ve both grown up since then. I don’t think it’s too much like that anymore. 

What performer do you wish you could have seen or worked with?

Billie Holliday. Even though she had her troubles along the way, she’d be the one. 

Tell me a little more about what’s happening at the new RRazz Room?

We’re excited to do this collaboration with the Inn at Centre Bridge. We’re presenting the show and they’re handling the food and staff, etc. The gentleman who owns the Inn, Steve Lau, used to own the Raven, so we’ve worked with him before. He contacted us right before the pandemic and told us that he had purchased the Inn and asked if we would handle the entertainment. We were scheduled to open in April of 2020 and of course that didn’t happen because of Covid, then we were set to open on Sept 23rd of this year and hurricane Ida decided to unleash a flood. So we’re excited to finally be open. 

What’s on the horizon?

We have Suede coming up this weekend. She’s been described as “Adele meets Diana Krall meets Bette Midler” and has the record for selling out the room. Do you know Amanda McBroom? The NY Times called her, “…the greatest cabaret performer of her generation.” She’ll be performing Dec. 4th. The hilarious Suzanne Westenhoefer will be here on the 27th. If you don’t know her, she was the first openly lesbian comedian to appear on Comedy Central, A&E, HBO and “Late Night with David Letterman.”

Oh, I know her. And I’ve seen her act before, but I remember her from an appearance on Sally Jessy Raphael about “Lipstick Lesbians!”

That’s great, and do you know the band, “Betty?”

I’m a lesbian, of course I know Betty!

[Laughing] Okay, they’ll be here Dec. 18th doing a holiday show. And we have a whole roster of exciting performers lining up for next year. Because of the weather, we don’t do too much in the beginning of the year, but we have a few acts booked, comedian Jackie Martling in January and singer Eddie Bruce for a pre-Valentines day show in February. But we really get started again in March, and continue throughout the summer. We’ve got music — Tom Wompat in the spring, Christine Pedi and Mark Nadler will be here for New Hope Celebrates. We’ll have Broadway stars, Donna McKechnie and Christine Andreas, as well as Karen Akers and the drag a cappella group the Kinsey Sicks in the summer. Lots of comedy, including The Golden Gays, Tammy Pescatelli, Bruce Vilanch, Judy Gold and a whole, whole lot more. We even have The Amazing Kreskin coming to town.

I should have predicted that. 

To learn more about The RRazz Room, visit https://therrazzroom.com/.