Tales of the West Bank Cafe

by Gaylen Ross

Rand Foerster, Rowan Joseph, Steve Olsen, Rusty Magee, and Lewis Black at West Bank Cafe
This is a New York story. It's the story of a City, a neighborhood, a restaurant, a theatre and the people whose lives it changed. [more detail]
Alison Fraser lyrics of Rusty Magee's At The West Bank
Alison Fraser lyrics of Rusty Magee's At The West Bank


This is the story of how a restaurant became more than just a restaurant and how a theatre in its basement became more than just a theatre. For us in 1978 it all played out in a neighborhood of tenements called Hell's Kitchen, just steps away from Times Square and Broadway. The murder rate was off the charts. The mafia was running the docks. The Westies, the Irish mob, were chopping off the heads of their enemies. Drugs were everywhere. So were hookers and homeless and triple xxx porn. New York City was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Still people came from everywhere on the planet to live out their dreams. I came to New York (City) to be a playwright. My friend Steve came to have his own restaurant or Public House as he is fond of calling it. My friend Randy came to direct plays. My friend Rusty came here to write musicals and music and play the piano. We came to a city that would embrace you or punish you senseless. Where in one instant you can feel like a million bucks and in the next you're smashed into a million pieces. After all, Frank Sinatra was singing "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere" that year at Radio City Music Hall. It may have been a dump but it was still mythical. And that's where our story begins... —Lewis Black


Gaylen Ross, Director/Producer

Ross has produced, directed and written award-winning documentary films for over 25 years, premiering in national and international film festivals. Among her films, Killing Kasztner: The Jew Who Dealt With Nazis, was an official selection of the Toronto International Film Festival, broadcast on BBC Storyville, shown in 11 countries and has enjoyed an unprecedented theatrical release in the US, Israel and France. It was named by the LA Times as one of the best documentary films of 2010. She produced and wrote the Emmy award-winning Blood Money: Switzerland's Nazi Gold — feature-length doc on the Swiss Banks and the Holocaust accounts. Her documentary on diamond dealers Dealers Among Dealers which aired on PBS's POV was the official selection of the Berlin Film Festival, Haifa International Film Festival, awarded a Gold Plaque from the Chicago Film Festival. Her latest film Caris' Peace about an actress who lost her memory premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival, won first place Athens Film Festival, Ohio; and presented as the featured film for the Rubin Museum of Art's Brainwave series in New York.

Lewis Black, Producer

In the 1980's Black was the playwright-in-residence at the West Bank Cafe's Downstairs Theatre Bar working with Rand Foerster, Artistic Director, and Rusty Magee, Musical Director, where together they oversaw the development of more than 1,000 plays including works by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, American Beauty writer Alan Ball. Black has penned more than 40 plays, many of which have been produced around the country. He left the West Bank in the late 1980s to pursue stand-up full time. Now known as the king of the rant, Lewis Black uses his trademark style of comedic yelling and animated finger-pointing to skewer anything and anyone that gets under his skin.

Receiving critical acclaim as a stand-up, actor and author, Black has performed for audiences throughout Europe, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. In 2012, he performed eight sell-out shows at Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway. Lewis has taped four specials for the Comedy Central Presents series, co-created Last Laugh with Lewis Black and presided over Lewis Black's The Root of All Evil. He has received five Grammy nominations and two wins for his work: Best Comedy Album for The Carnegie Hall Performance, and for Stark Raving Black.

Steve Olsen, Producer

Owner of the West Bank Cafe, Steve began working in the restaurant industry at age 16. He started in the kitchen and worked his way through every position in the business. In keeping with West Bank Cafe's close ties to the theater and film worlds, Steve has nurtured young actors, writers, and directors including Lewis Black, Sean Penn, and Side Man playwright Warren Leight many of whom appeared in and staged performances at the downstairs Laurie Beechman Theater.

Jeremy Smith, Producer

Smith is an actor and supporter of the arts. Pursuing his interests, Jeremy serves on the Juilliard School Council, the Board of Advisors of the Yale School of Drama, the Advisory Committee of Columbia University School of the Arts, and the Film Committee of the Museum of Modern Art. Jeremy also serves on the boards of the Redford Center, Symphony Space, Primary Stages, the Alliance for the Development of Theatre Artists, OnStage in America, and Page 73 Productions.

Lewis Black play Crossing the Crab Nebula with John Bowman, Kathryn Rossetter and Rick Weatherwax
Lewis Black play Crossing the Crab Nebula with John Bowman, Kathryn Rossetter and Rick Weatherwax