Tributes for

Johnson, Jay

Jay Johnson
March 29, 1953 - March 21, 2015

Jay was the colorful owner of the Club Deluxe, a bar and musical institution in the Haight Ashbury (1511 Haight Street) for nearly 26 years. One would have found him singing there most Sunday nights until, unfortunately, cancer robbed him of his lungs.
Jay was born in Chicago on March 29, 1953. His family moved to San Mateo just before his second birthday; he always considered himself a Californian to the core and more importantly, a San Franciscan. Jay graduated from Aragon High School in 1971 and from the College of San Mateo in 1973. He then moved to San Francisco, residing in the Lower Haight.
Jay was an entrepreneur his entire life. He started selling antique furniture in his early 20's and became a life-long collector and curator of interesting memorabilia, art and furniture. In 1985, he opened Ground Zero, one of the first cafes in San Francisco to serve specialty coffees. At the time, the Chronicle review stated: "the owner/coffee machine operator's personal interpretation of survival chic does achieve that smart, bombed-out look. I like him and his arty place."
In 1989, Jay opened Club Deluxe in the Haight Ashbury, going against the reputation of the hippie- and dot-comer-populated neighborhood by opening a sleek retro bar dedicated to the mood and music of the 1940's and early 50's. He reinvented himself, presiding over his bar resplendent in vintage suits, ties, and hats. The bar had a reputation as the nesting place for the swing scene. The music was always the reason for the Deluxe, which since its inception has showcased live music seven days a week.
It was at this point that Jay began his own professional career as a singer, with an affinity for Sinatra, Bennett, and Martin. Most Sundays found him singing at the Deluxe accompanied by a small combo. Years later, in yet another reinvention, he sang bossa nova music, this time in vintage Hawaiian-style shirts.
Although the Deluxe and music always remained his main focus in life, he also owned the Orbit Room Cafe on Market Street, designing the interior and doing most of the work himself.
Jay had a love of all things vintage, with a particular fondness for mid-century modern furniture, art and photography, and 1940's clothing. He was an excellent athlete, and enjoyed golf, yoga and Pilates. He was an avid reader of history. Jay enjoyed annual fishing trips with his uncle and cousins in Canada, and tramping around the woods at his sister's place in Lake Tahoe. He was a world traveler, from Thailand to Budapest, Mexico to West Berlin.
A life-long bachelor who leaves behind a string of broken hearts, Jay's biggest passion in life was music. An accomplished guitarist and even better singer, he lived his life true to his idol's song,"I Did It My Way."
Jay is predeceased by his father, Gerald Warner Johnson, and his two beloved dogs, Petey and Petra. He is survived by his mother, Mary Ann Johnson, his sister, Kymberly Pipkin, brother-in-law Jerry, nieces Shari Malejan Jochem, Melissa Griffin, Marialena Malejan-Roussere, Sarah Jerney, and Katie Gardner, and nephew Miguel Carisoza. He had nine grand nephews and nieces. Jay is also survived by his Uncle Jack Malejan, Malejan cousins Todd, Dean, John, Leslie (Houfaidi), Leah (Lust) and Cynthia (Temple), and Johnson cousins Craig, Luke and Seth.
Jay passed away at home with family by his side on March 21, 2015. About a month before he died, Jay mused that it would sound more interesting to die at 61 than 62 (his birthday was coming up), reasoning that 61 is a prime number with no divisors other than itself and one, and that was Jay-unique to the end. Jay will be sorely missed by all who knew him as he was treasured by many. Friends Sarah Wilde and her husband Chris Pankow will be taking over the Deluxe where they will keep Jay's spirit and the music alive.