Purple Crackle to become 'gentleman's club'

Tuesday, March 21, 2006
The Purple Crackle in East Cape Girardeau, Ill., is closed, but will be leased to the owner of several gentlemen's clubs. (Fred Lynch)

EAST CAPE GIRARDEAU, Ill. -- The Purple Crackle was once an elite supper club, drawing hundreds of decked-out patrons across the old river bridge for a big night out of drinking, dancing or, if you knew the right person, a little back-room gambling.

More than 60 years after it first opened, many Southeast Missouri residents who remember those days were dismayed to learn of its next incarnation -- a gentleman's club.

"That's sad," said Cape Girardeau resident Tom Ward, who used to go to the Crackle in the 1950s and '60s in a coat and tie for special events like birthdays and anniversaries. "That's very sad. I think it's a shame."

Purple Crackle owner David Pearce said Monday that he was leasing the building for another use. While he wouldn't reveal the new tenant, the business license and local and state liquor license were issued to Stephanie Capps, who owns Stephanie's Cabaret, a strip club in Cape Girardeau.

Based near Paducah, Ky., Capps also owns several other strip clubs in places like Fayetteville, Ark., Columbia, Mo., and Memphis. Capps, who runs the business with her husband David, could not be reached.

The Purple Crackle, a night club mainly geared in recent years toward the college crowd, closed Dec. 31, Pearce said.

The Illinois Liquor Control Commission issued a license for a business there to be called Big Blue Martini, owned by Capps and SJC of Illinois, LLC. Commission spokesman Ted Penesis said the license took effect March 1, but said there was no opening date listed for the business.

East Cape Girardeau Mayor Joe Aden described the new business as a "gentlemen's club." He said East Cape Girardeau's board of trustees issued the local business and liquor license two months ago.

Aden said whatever a gentlemen's club means, he doesn't have a problem with it.

"We're a small community," he said. "We need all the sales tax money we can get."

The Big Blue Martini will still be a bar during the day, Aden said. A strip club already exists in nearby McClure, Ill., called HushPuppy in building adjacent to Brown Bag Video on Highway 3.

The Purple Crackle has been East Cape Girardeau's most reliable and highest-profile business since David Pearce's grandfather, Clyde Pearce Sr., opened it in 1939.

Many still remember it as a so-called supper club, which it was for 40 years until 1979. But, according to those who went there, its heyday was in the 1940s and '50s.

Clyde Pearce originally named it the Purple Grackle, after the bird. But people almost immediately called it the Purple Crackle and the name stuck.

The "Crackle," as it became known, emerged as a leading supper club on what tourists dubbed the "Little Vegas strip" along Illinois Route 146. In those days, it was run by David Pearce's father, Clyde "Bud" Pearce Jr.

Dr. Frank Nickell, a history professor at Southeast Missouri State University, said it was born in the days following Prohibition, which was repealed in 1933. It was a multi-faceted place, he said. It was a place where families could go for a nice meal by day and a popular place for big-band music at night.

"If you were taking your wife out to a nice dinner, it was either the Purple Crackle or Sunny Hill," he said. "The Purple Crackle ought to be on a mural downtown. You can't tell the story of Cape Girardeau without mentioning the Purple Crackle."

Musician Jerry Ford said top orchestra bands often played there. Jack Staulcup's orchestra played there for 17 years and more than 850 appearances. Ford, a trumpeter, played with local musicians like Bill Brandt, Bill French and Herb Suedekum.

"If you wanted to hear something by Glenn Miller, it was the place to go," he said. "Those were the great days for me."

Ford even met his future wife there in 1979 on its last day as a supper club.

"So it's a pretty special place to me," he said.

As for it being a gentlemen's club?

"Well, I tell you," Ford said, laughing. "It's a sign of the times, I guess."


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