Sorry to hear that Rembrandts is closing after 32 years. I started to jot down some thoughts about how much the place and people in that place meant to the Ukulele Orchestra. Then I realized that I was repeating a lot of the same thoughts that I had when former owner and founder Jan Zarkin, passed away last December, so I’m just reposting that. I can’t thank Jan and Joann Frezel Zarkin, Gail Seygal (the current o...wner), or the staff enough for the hospitality and support that they’ve shown us over the years.
When we were just getting the Philadelphia Ukulele Orchestra off the ground, I needed to find a place to practice that a) could accommodate 10-12 people, and b) was close to home because I was feeling guilty about starting a second band and neglecting my child rearing duties while my kids were still so young. My first thought was to see if we could practice at the Ukrainian Social Club at the end of my block. I was heading down the street to see if they would be up for it when by chance I happened to walk past Jan. On a whim, I asked if we could play upstairs at Rembrandt’s (at the other end of the block). He didn’t hesitate for a second to think it over, he just gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up. If there was an event taking place in the room in which we normally practice, Jan would always find a space for us somewhere, even letting us use his office on occasion. We’ve been there ever since and it’s always felt like home for us.
I think that a lot of people probably have similar stories about Jan. Nothing hugely heroic like rescuing orphans from a burning building (although he may have done that too, I don’t know), but just everyday examples of a kind heart, a good nature, and a day to day enthusiasm for amusing ideas, even if those ideas are occasionally a little left of center. He always seemed to one of those guys who said “Why not” rather than “Why”, and that’s why on any given day there might be a poker game in one room at Rembrandt’s, a knitting circle in another, and a ukulele orchestra in a third.
I don’t know if he appreciated the extent to which he helped make things incrementally better for people in his orbit but maybe that’s part of his charm as well.
RIP Jan, and thanks for everything.