One arts story this month is culinary. Nick's Restaurant is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It's the artist's office and the performer's meeting place.
The diner at 226 State St. is a favorite of actors, dancers, musicians and writers. They're drawn by the relaxed atmosphere, retro-chic decor, hearty food and proximity to galleries and theaters.
To celebrate, on Thursday, Aug. 13, Joy Dragland with Louka Patenaude & Friends will perform at 9 p.m. Dragland used to be on Nick's wait staff. There will be food and drink specials all day.
Nick's customers have included Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Roger Ebert, Bret Easton Ellis, Lenny Kravitz, Tom Wopat, Robin Williams and, of course, those from local arts circles.
"It's almost like the staff lunchroom for us," says Tom Carto, president and CEO of the Overture Center for the Arts. "Nick's is one of the most popular stops for our audiences before and after any show here at Overture. On symphony nights the place is packed. I'm there for the fish fry every Friday."
"I have been a regular customer at Nick's for decades," says Stephen Fleischman, director of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. "It is truly the place where time has stood still. I've taken many an artist there, and those comfy booths have accommodated lots of good discussions."
Lisa Thurrell, artistic director of Kanopy Dance, worked there in college. So did her sister. "Nick's has been, and is, family to me," says Thurrell. "My parents, my other sister and her family, all of my friends, the dance company members, the backstage crew, all my other colleagues - all frequent and love Nick's."
The restaurant opened in 1959 as Nick's Home of Good Food. In the 1930s it was Julian's Sandwich Shop and Delicatessen, likely a welcome destination in the waning days of vaudeville for performers at the nearby Orpheum and Capitol Theaters. In 1945 it became Stanley's Theatre Restaurant. In 1958 it was remodeled with doodling stripes as the Tiger Lounge; most of the decor remains.
It's a family operation. Arist Christ joined Nick Cristakos in the business in the early '60s. Christ's sons, Dino and Tom, own it today. Their mom, Soula, makes the pies, and their cousin, Bill Briamis, tends bar.
If artists and performers love Nick's, Nick's loves them, too. "I want to thank all the theater and musical groups from when it was the Capitol Theater to the Civic Center to, now, the Overture," says Dino Christ.
Says Carto, "No question, it's a State Street legend."