New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: music venues

Happy Tenth Birthday to Manhattan’s Best Music Venue

[adapted from the introduction to the forthcoming photo book celebrating the tenth anniversary of Manhattan’s edgiest music venue and romantic date spot, Drom]

Every great city is defined by its artistic spaces. Paris has the Louvre and the Bataclan, London has the Royal Albert Hall, New York has the Met and and Lincoln Center and the Apollo Theatre.

But every city also has a secret history. No real history of New York in the past decade would be complete without Drom, Manhattan’s global music mecca since 2007.

High on the back wall of the lowlit, old-world space, there’s an amber-toned painting of the Galata Tower, an iconic landmark on the western Istanbul skyline. In the shadow of the tower is a historic neighborhood which throughout the centuries has been home to churches, mosques and also a synagogue. That striking image mirrors the inclusive sensibility central to the philosophy at Drom, in a decade of booking artists from around the world, from every tradition from the West and beyond.

Among New York venues booking music and the arts from around the globe, Drom is the only one over the past half-century to succeed without corporate or public funding. In an era in Manhattan increasingly defined by rising rents and displacement of independent business, that achievement is all the more astonishing, testament to the tirelessness and depth of vision of founders Serdar Ilhan and Mehmet Dede, bolstered by their partner Ekmel Anda.

The two are a contrast in personalities: Ilhan, the aesthete, an accomplished visual artist with a focus and drive to create a milieu that best represents the vast range of artists who grace the stage there. Dede, the gregarious impresario, with a similarly vast address book and fearlessness to match the eclecticism of the acts he books. In a field that can be awfully shady, Ilhan and Dede aren’t afraid to be transparent with their terms. No wonder so many artists from around the world, and across New York’s five boroughs, have made their North American or New York debuts here.

The space itself is both indelibly urban and urbane. The wrought iron steps down to the brickwalled basement-level landing are gritty New York to the core. Inside the front doors, past the plush red velvet curtains, an oasis reveals itself.

Before it was Drom, the high-ceilinged, L-shaped space was a neighborhood dance club called Opaline. Ilhan completely gutted and redesigned it himself, directing renovations from up on a ladder. The contrast of elegant dark wood paneling and rustic brick under the low light of the chandeliers reflect a welcoming atmosphere. The same friendly faces work here, night after night – everybody seems comfortable here, a rarity at music venues and even more so in the service industry.

The only feature from the old space that Ilhan retained was the L-shape and the high ceiling, which enhances the sonics: Drom is a live room. No matter who’s onstage – a classical ensemble, a jazz group, a blazing Balkan brass band or hip-hop – the sound is reliably good. Depending on the music or the performance – Drom has also been home to the Fringe Festival and other theatrical performances over the years – there might be tables, or the entire floor might be opened up for concertgoers. The bar always fills up fast: the wine is good, the bartenders are friendly and it’s one of the few places in all of New York where you can find Yeni Raki, the delicious anise liqueur.

Ilhan got his start in show business in the theatre: his first booking at the Town Hall was a sellout. When Dede first began booking music at Drom, he was doing regular Balkan events at a gritty Alphabet City bar a few blocks further east. Since their first days producing the annual New York Gypsy Festival, this city’s most wide-ranging series of concerts featuring performers from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Balkans , the two have combined to offer more diverse programming than any other venue in all of New York, in the same vein as Barbes in Brooklyn.

Long before Obama hinted at normalizing relations with Cuba, Drom was booking Cuban artists. Since its inception, the venue has been the first stop in Manhattan for Russian bands. Before Snarky Puppy became the most happening thing in progressive jazz, they were playing here as well. Boban Markovic took the stage at Drom years before his Balkan wedding and funeral band began packing Lincoln Center. Iconic jazz drummer Chico Hamilton played his final show on that stage, while noted klezmer trumpeter Frank London’s Glass House Ensemble made their debut here, among countless other artists’ genre-defying projects, blending Eastern European, Mediterranean and jazz sounds.

Meanwhile, Ilhan and Dede have expanded beyond their home base. They’re the only American promoters doing national tours for some of the most happening Turkish rock and folk acts. And numerous iconic Turkish artists have made their American debuts at Ilhan and Dede’s annual showcase, Istanbulive – “the Turkish Woodstock.”

You could make a case that Drom is CBGB, LaMaMa, Carnegie Hall and Mehanata – the downtown Bulgarian bar where Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz held court for so many years – rolled into one. Except that the sound is on par with any good New York jazz venue, and the ambience is more inviting: among New York music spots, few are as unabashedly romantic as Drom.

If your agenda in running a music blog is to cover the entirety of New York and the vast expanse of styles across this city, you need to move around a lot. But it helps to have an anchor. In Manhattan, Drom is New York Music Daily’s home base. If you’ve followed this blog, especially if sounds from around the world and the Balkans are concerned, you’re no stranger to Drom. If you’ve never been, now is as good a time as any to discover the space. June is looking especially hot. Since they’re celebrating ten years of going against the tide – seriously, did anybody really expect these guys to last ten months, let alone ten years? – their ten-year celebration month is off the hook. Just for starters, on June 9 at 7 there’s a benefit for Drom’s Brooklyn soulmate venue, Barbes featuring an unbeatable lineup including mystical Moroccan trance-dance band Innov Gnawa, allstar brass pickup group Fanfare Barbès, (with members of Red Baraat, Slavic Soul Party and Banda de los Muertos), elegantly  menacing film noir instrumental icons Big Lazy, Colombian folk reinventors Bulla en el Barrio and torrential Bahian drum orchestra Maracatu NY, Advance tix are a bargain at $20.

Then on June 10 at 8 Romany guitar legend Stephane Wrembel airs out material from his wildly eclectic, psychedelic new double album The Django Experiment, with another show at 11 by Brooklyn Balkan brass faves Slavic Soul Party featuring sensational Serbian trumpeter Demirhan Cerimovic; advance tix for those are $15.

On June 14, the wildfire NY Gypsy All-Stars are joined by brilliant guest oudist Ara Dinkjian at 9:30; advance tix are $10. On June 21 at 8, there’s one of the year’s hottest jazz lineups: imagine seeing the Rolling Stones’ Tim Ries on sax, leading a quintet with Randy Brecker, the great Chano Dominguez on piano, with James Genus on bass and Clarence Penn on drums, for real, and for fifteen bucks! And for fans of serious esoterica, percussionist Navin Chettri‘s band makes jazz out of rarely heard Nepali themes on June 25 at 9:30, and that’s ten bucks if you buy in advance. That’s just a taste of what’s coming up.

Which is something that adventurous New York concertgoers have taken for granted, and can pretty much still take for granted. Day in, day out, nobody in Manhattan does more fearless programming than these guys. July will no doubt be just as good as June…then there’s the annual New York Gypsy Festival to look forward to as we get into the fall. Here’s to another ten years of minor keys, intoxicating grooves and Yeni Raki!

Death By Audio or Vice? Not a Hard Choice

If a venue doesn’t book good music, should it exist?

No.

Why should we care if Death by Audio or Glasslands bit the dust? To castigate Vice Media – who are taking over the Williamsburg space that housed both clubs – is absurd. Vice has a reputation for brave reportage well beyond the scope of corporate media. Aside from that free jazz night once a month at Death by Audio, neither of those two venues ever took any chances, or showed any real balls, when it came to booking music.

And isn’t it funny that far less ink has been spilled over the closure of Rodeo Bar, Spike Hill and the Ding Dong Lounge, venues that actually served a useful purpose and at least to some extent supported viable scenes?

The general perception these days whenever a club closes is that gentrification is to blame. While that’s usually the case, there’s a misunderstanding of how that pathology works. To use a gentrifier buzzword, a lot of these closures are a market correction. Much as extreme rent increases killed off the Rodeo, Spike Hill, the Ding Dong Lounge and others, there’s an elephant in the room that’s just as responsible. That elephant is the overproliferation of outer-borough bars, itself a toxic by-product of gentrification.

The obvious question is how a surplus of venues could possibly be bad for New York. Why should a musician have shlep all of his or her gear into Manhattan when they could just walk to a gig at their local? Why deal with the endless hassle of the trains when there’s a place just down the block that has music that’s probably better than what you could find in Manhattan? And isn’t all this just a return to an earlier period in New York history, when music was more of a local phenomenon, with neighborhoods more defined along ethnic lines?

And aren’t all these bars a boon to the economy as well? Think of the tax dollars. And don’t people actually spend more at their neighborhood bar than they would if they were hanging in Manhattan? If you’re taking the train home, you have to watch your back. But you can get as pie-eyed as you want at your local and then stumble straight to bed.

The result of all this is less serendipitous than the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere want you to believe. For one, all these new Brooklyn quasi-venues, most of them without any kind of decent sound system, have balkanized the music scene, which makes it exponentially more difficult for a band or an artist to gain traction and build an audience. Nobody is going to come see you play in Red Hook or Ditmas Park except for people who live there. But if you play Manhattan, pretty much everybody can get there.

Except that nobody does. Nobody wants to leave their neighborhood anymore – and this blog is just as guilty on that score as the rest of you are. And even if you were willing to grapple with finding a way home on the train in the wee hours, the real estate bubble has made it all but impossible to open new venues in Manhattan. Is the city so strapped for cash (yes) that we have to turn every neighborhood into a vomitorium for the sons and daughters of New Jersey Wall Street money? Ten years ago, the idea of Santacon invading Bushwick would have been just as laughable as it is now – for completely different reasons.

What economy do these bars benefit? It’s Robin Hood in reverse. Gentrifiers own them, and gentrifiers work there. And none of those people really need to work for a living: they’re just picking up beer money. Unless you count the Mexican guy slaving away in the kitchen sixty hours a week, off the books, for minimum wage.

Rodeo Bar, on the other hand, drew a diverse crowd. Yeah, a lot of those people were Baruch College kids who wanted to get as trashed as possible and just yelled louder and louder once the band started. As the neighborhood became overrun with yuppies, the din went up another notch. But much as classic country music is a niche subgenre now, there’s money in niche audiences, and the Rodeo folks were keenly aware of that. It might be a stretch to call the Rodeo the equivalent of CBGB for country music in New York, but it was home to a genuine scene, even if that scene went into decline in the past few years. Ridiculous as it might seem to say that Hill Country Brooklyn put the Rodeo out of business, there’s more than a grain of truth to that.

The Ding Dong Lounge was a local Harlem bar and also a spot for punk rock shows, off and on, for more than two decades. If you didn’t live in the neighborhood or didn’t have friends who played there, you probably didn’t know it existed. It was dark and dingy and cheap and back in the day had a good jukebox: sort of a Harlem counterpart to O’Connor’s in Park Slope, another legendary neighborhood spot priced out of existence.

The great loss here is Spike Hill. It was an ideal place to play, just steps from the Bedford Avenue subway. Sure, the club went through a down phase a couple of years ago, trying to sell tickets and compete with the trendoid venues, and making a dubious deal with an online booking scam didn’t help. But they learned from those mistakes, and booking was on the upswing again. They had a backline, the sound there was surprisingly good and the crowds were a lot more diverse than you typically see in that neighborhood, just like the music. And it’s not like the venue wasn’t raking in the dough. When a busy bar on the Bedford strip can’t make enough to survive there, that’s more than a canary in a coal mine: that’s a screaming eagle.

For a gentrifier venue, Death by Audio drew a surprisingly mixed crowd, if only because ownership was cool enough to let neighborhood kids and local stoners in to smoke weed. Which isn’t to say that those crowds mixed. And ultimately the venue was better than the music there. Sure, some good bands passed through, but pound for pound, Death by Audio was no more important to the New York music scene than Arlene’s is now.

As far as Glasslands is concerned, there are plenty of gay bars and loft spaces where newcomers from Laguna Beach and Lake Wayzata can get their fill of being “in a band” until their trust funds kick in and they move to Beacon or Provincetown. They won’t be missed. If the owners choose not to reopen the venue elsewhere – which ostensibly they plan to – they can always repurpose their Greenpoint piano bar the Manhattan Inn.

Contemplating the Closure of Beloved New York Music Venues

Bad Cop: RIP Rodeo Bar.

Good Cop: Rodeo Bar didn’t close. They just stopped having music.

Bad Cop: That’s a tragedy. Rodeo Bar was Americana Central in New York for decades. Bands relied on that place for a living. It was one of the few remaining scenes here. It’ll be missed, badly.

Good Cop: I hate to burst your bubble, but you’re romanticizing. And you can still go there for the food. Which is pretty good, believe it or not.

Bad Cop: It won’t be the same. The Rodeo was my local back in the day when I was rolling in the dough and living in Gramercy Park. Drinks weren’t all that expensive and the bands were great. Big names would come through on a regular basis: the Hot Club of Cowtown, Wayne Hancock, Rosie Flores. Big Lazy actually played there a couple of times. Might have been the best show I ever saw there. And so many New York bands made the place their home: the Hangdogs, Buddy Woodward’s band, Simon & the Bar Sinisters. A slice of prime Manhattan real estate like the Rodeo can’t be replaced.

Good Cop: But it’s not prime real estate. Prime real estate for a music venue now is Bushwick. Manhattan isn’t a destination anymore. And crowds just weren’t coming out to the Rodeo for the music, and hadn’t for a long time. And that’s not to say that they ever really did anyway. OK, I did get to see a bunch of good shows here, but there was always some issue, having to dodge crowds of drunk Baruch college kids, screaming and hollering and not paying any attention to the band. And as a business model, it just didn’t make sense for the Rodeo to keep paying bands when they weren’t bringing a crowd.

Bad Cop: But the Rodeo could have made a go of it if they’d really wanted to. You know what they did that was really dumb? Rockabilly on Saturday nights. That’s just pandering to a Long Island and Jersey crowd. Why not put New York bands on Saturday nights and create a scene?

Good Cop: Because the Saturday night crowds there are so loud that it made no sense to book a good band because nobody would have listened.

Bad Cop: Not true. I remember going to see the Hangdogs there on more than one Saturday and the place was packed, and, sure, it was loud, but people were there for the music.

Good Cop: Another reason that wouldn’t work these days is that the New York bands are all playing Brooklyn on Saturday nights. You yourself can vouch for this: if there’s something happening in your neighborhood, or at your local, aren’t you going to stay put rather than going into Manhattan, especially on the weekend when the trains are all fucked up?

Bad Cop: It’s not like the Rodeo was Roseland. You brought fifty people, you packed the place, at least on the side with the stage. That’s not unrealistic, even now.

Good Cop: I think that’s wishful thinking. And another thing, the Rodeo was never able to keep up with how the music scene here changed. Maybe back in the 90s, when you were going there, there was an audience for honkytonk, and alt-country, and heartland rock. But that was then. Now if you’re playing Americana, you’re probably playing more or less acoustic – country blues, or bluegrass. And if you tried to do that at the Rodeo, the crowd would drown you out. So you’ve got a situation where the new crop of Americana players wouldn’t play there anyway – and those people are the ones with a following – and the older bands draw an older crowd that doesn’t drink much and just keeps getting smaller and smaller. And to be honest, I thought that the quality of the bands at the Rodeo in the last couple of years wasn’t all that good anyway.

Bad Cop: That place actually had to fight to stay in business more than a lot of people realize. Remember a few years ago when they got shut down by the health department and had to spend a fortune on new ductwork? There was something fishy about that, like maybe somebody didn’t get paid off enough. Or maybe it was just another Bloomberg anti-nightlife crusade. I still think it’s a horrible shame that we’ve lost another good venue.

Good Cop: You can always go to Hill Country…

Bad Cop: No way! Completely different crowd. If you think the crowd at the Rodeo didn’t listen, you haven’t heard the din at Hill Country. The one in Manhattan’s a tourist trap, the one in Brooklyn’s totally ghetto. Nobody pays any attention to the music. Talk about a lousy business model! The only reason I can imagine why Hill Country would continue to hire bands is that they’re making such a killing on the food that they don’t feel the pinch.

Good Cop: But the restaurant at the Rodeo always seems to be pretty full…

Bad Cop: They don’t have anywhere near the markup that Hill Country does. The markup for barbecue is four or five times higher than what it is at most every other kind of restaurant, sometimes more. Paying the band three hundred bucks when that’s how much one party of four is going to spend there is a drop in the bucket, profitwise.

Good Cop: I never realized that. I guess that makes sense, considering the prices…

Bad Cop: Now that we’ve lamented the loss of the Rodeo, at least as a venue, let’s move on to Roseland. [to Good Cop]: When was the last time you went to Roseland?

Good Cop: I never went to Roseland.

Bad Cop: And why not?

Good Cop: Um, they really didn’t have a lot of music there anyway. Once a month? Once every couple of months? And when they did, tickets were insanely expensive.

Bad Cop: My point exactly. As far as the loss of a venue is concerned, Roseland barely qualified as one, at least since around 2000. I personally hated the place. [to Good Cop]: You would have really loved this place. The bouncers would grope you as you went in.

Good Cop: Really?

Bad Cop: They’d feel you up, all right. Your tits, your ass. I had a guy grab my balls there once.

Good Cop: What did you do?

Bad Cop: Ordinarily I would have decked the guy but I was with a bunch of people. A Wallflowers show, I think. And I didn’t want to get separated from them, plus, I’d dropped twenty-five bucks or so on the ticket.

Good Cop: Do you have any good memories of Roseland?

Bad Cop: Actually I do. I saw the Sex Pistols play their first ever New York show there. That was pretty amazing, even though the sound was ass, like it always was there. And I have a recording of their show there the following night, which I actually didn’t go to. But those shows were the exception rather than the rule, and as the years went by, the place was empty most nights of the week. You wanna know what the deal with that place was? It’s the one commercial property in a large residential portfolio. The scion of this particular real estate fortune would use it as his living room: he’d book the Eagles or the Rolling Stones for a private show, that sort of thing. Strictly a vanity operation, at least at the end.

Good Cop: I think it’s a shame to lose such a big space, one that’s so easy to get to.

Bad Cop: But remember what you just said about the Rodeo not being prime real estate! And also remember that Roseland really wasn’t functioning as a music venue, and hadn’t, for a long, long time.

Good Cop: Since I never went there and don’t really have anything to contribute to that discussion, let’s move on to Maxwell’s, who closed last year. Now I think that’s a great loss…

Bad Cop: It was. Maxwell’s was to Hoboken what CBGB was to Manhattan, except better. It’s unbelievable how many great bands played that little space. I loved that place. The sound was fantastic, the people who ran it were nice, drinks were cheap and the food was good. And where CBGB phoned it in, lived off its reputation, past its prime, for a long, long time, Maxwell’s booked a ton of good bands. And different kinds – Americana, garage rock, punk, songwriters, you name it.

Good Cop: Again, I hate to burst your bubble, but in the last couple of years at Maxwell’s, there weren’t more than a half a dozen bands I would have wanted to see.

Bad Cop: I think that’s more a function of a sea change than a reflection on the venue. I know, it did get really indie towards the end, which is why it pretty much fell off my radar. But back in the day I went there a lot, considering that I was coming from here. I remember walking those long twelve blocks from the Path train, and then back, in the middle of the winter and freezing my ass off. But it was worth it. Did you know, I saw Richard Thompson there?

Good Cop: Whoah! That doesn’t surprise me. I saw the Saints there. And Madrugada, I think it was their first American show.

Bad Cop: Notice how nobody’s tried to replace Maxwell’s? That’s because it can’t be replaced.

Good Cop: Now that’s a function of gentrification. I don’t think that had anything to do with Roseland or the Rodeo though…

Bad Cop: Oh yes it does. Without gentrification, there’d be no explosion of uber-pricy Brooklyn barbecue joints, for that matter, no proliferation of Brooklyn venues and the Rodeo would still be a viable spot.

Good Cop: Well, ok, I see your point. Next on your list is Max Fish, which I didn’t even know had live music.

Bad Cop: Max Fish hadn’t had live music in a long time. I think they stopped having it in around 2001, 2002 or so. But before then, a lot of great bands played there. Douce Gimlet, who I know you never saw, had a monthly residency there….

Good Cop: I know, I’ve heard you talk about them. But Max Fish was a tourist trap, wasn’t it?

Bad Cop: Not in the beginning. Back in the 90s there were two bars on the block, Max Fish and the Ludlow Street Cafe, which also had live music. The Fish was basically a local bar, and a music bar because, hard as this is to believe, a lot of musicians lived on the Lower East Side because – I know this is almost comical to say – rents were cheap. At least relatively cheap.

Good Cop: That’s hard to figure. To be honest, I didn’t like the place. It was the kind of bar you’d go to on a Monday, maybe..

Bad Cop: Every bar is a good bar on a Monday. Monday is professional night…

Good Cop: It was too crowded and too shi-shi for me. The crowd, at least. And a meat market, from the looks of it…

Bad Cop: Yeah, there was plenty of that too. But back in the day, it was the kind of place where on any random night, Elliott Smith could be chatting with Chan Marshall, and so many other good players would be hanging out. You’d meet all your friends there because there weren’t a lot of other places to go down there, and the Fish was probably the first place you went to the first time you went out in that neighborhood. Back in the day, they had the best jukebox in town, all these great obscure New York bands. The Tom Otterness sculptures on the bar, the trippy polka dots on the walls. Yeah, I know it got crowded, and as the neighborhood went to hell, so did the Fish, but I still have a lot of good memories of the place. I miss it.

Good Cop: It’s too bad I missed out. Are you going to the new one when it opens on Orchard Street?

Bad Cop: Hell no. That was a time and a place and it’s over now. Next on our list here is Kenny’s Castaways…you have got to be kidding. Kenny’s Castaways?!?

Good Cop: Hey, they had a good sound system…

Bad Cop: But the bands sucked! And it’s on the Bleecker Street strip! C’mon, when’s the last time you went to Kenny’s Castaways?

Good Cop: I went to see my friends’ band play there once.

Bad Cop: Did you have a good time?

Good Cop: Actually, yeah. Although I remember there was a big posse of Jersey girls with ironed hair that came in at the end and started yelling.

Bad Cop: We needed Kenny’s Castaways like we needed a hole in the head. If that whole strip turned into a mini-mall tomorrow, that would be an improvement.

Good Cop: Still, it’s too bad to lose another Manhattan space…one with a good sound system, too…

Bad Cop: Give ya a little history. For a blip back in the late zeros, or maybe the mid-zeros, this would have been around 2006 if I remember correctly, Kenny’s Castaways suddenly because a really good venue. Dave Foster from Bubble booked the place for a few months and all of a sudden there were a whole bunch of good bands playing there. And then they fired him. Must not have been what the Jersey tourists wanted.

Good Cop: Wow, I never knew that. Working backwards, roughly speaking, next on our list is the National Underground. Now this place never made any sense to me…

Bad Cop: Me neither. Remember when they first started, they were trying to be a country bar?

Good Cop: Yeah. Lots of Jalopy people, as I remember. But that space is cursed. It’s a tourist bar now.

Bad Cop: Again. Do you remember when it was that airplane theme bar?

Good Cop: Before my time.

Bad Cop: You didn’t miss anything. And I get the impression that the owners never gave a damn about the place, they were just using it for seed money to start a branch in Nashville. You know who owned it, right?

Good Cop: No, who?

Bad Cop: This guy Gavin DeGraw. A sappy corporate singer-songwriter prettyboy.

Good Cop: Never heard of him. Must have been busy with his sappy corporate gig because the bar was a trainwreck. The last time I was there, there was a huge rat in the corner. Didn’t the health department close it down?

Bad Cop: Come to think of it, yes! And the sound was frightful. Drink prices were absurd especially for such a scuzzy space. And there was this one time I was there when there was somebody playing onstage but the bartender left an album, or his phone or the radio or something, playing over the PA during the show. As you can tell from how this conversation has evolved, I’m usually the first to lament the passing of a viable space for music, but the National Underground wasn’t one of them.

Good Cop: Next on the list is Zirzamin. Which I don’t understand. That place had so much going for it, and it closed so soon…

Bad Cop: I don’t want to betray any confidences – let’s say that there are structural issues with the building which preclude the use of the space for any purpose, really. Things may have gotten worse in recent years, but it’s still pretty amazing how long Zinc Bar, and then the frat bar that followed it, managed to last in that space.

Good Cop: They were so dedicated to good music. Where else could you see a weekly residency by Gato Loco, or Beninghove’s Hangmen?

Bad Cop: Barbes, for one. It was sort of Barbes Manhattan. But there were legal issues, related to the building, that nobody knew about, basically from day one. And that pretty much put a damper on any kind of long-term strategy for the place – other than the weekly salon that this blog hosted there, of course.

Good Cop: The sound was incredible. It was so intimate and so Twin Peaks back there in that room…

Bad Cop: And you remember how the air conditioning would suddenly cut out, and how some days the kitchen would be open and then it wouldn’t be, and the bar would be out of this and that…it was a great scene while it lasted, and considering what they were up against, it’s a miracle it lasted that long. A year and two months. I was just walking past the corner of Houston and LaGuardia the other day and they were finally clearing out the basement. All the fixtures and furniture were still there. Sad.

Good Cop: Did you take a souvenir?

Bad Cop: I did, right before they closed. I took some silverware. One of the knives fell down behind my stove and it’s still in there somewhere.

Good Cop: Next on the list is Bar Four. Which as I see was in Park Slope. I never went there so you have the floor for this one…

Bad Cop: Thank you for that introduction. And this is where I get to vent about everything that’s wrong with the live music scene in New York. Bar Four was a nice enough neighborhood bar. Kind of a small place, little stage in the back, pretty friendly, not very expensive. And as it turned out, they had a surprisingly good songwriters’ night there. Too bad I never heard about it til after they closed.

Good Cop: Did you ever go there?

Bad Cop: Once, to hear a jazz group. Who were great. I would have gone back if the bar had made the slightest attempt to publicize what was happening there. But they didn’t.

Good Cop: It was pretty small, right? Maybe they figured they didn’t need to, that the bands themselves would bring a crowd…

Bad Cop: My point exactly. Or rather, sort of. None of these venues seem to want to grow, to create something that’s going to expand beyond where they are. They’re just content to have enough of a crowd in the house so they can pay the rent. Nobody has any ambition. In the case of Bar 4, part of it is the fault of the musicians. You want to know what that songwriters’ night was called? Local Correspondents…

Good Cop: Sounds like a news organization. Bad branding, if you ask me…

Bad Cop: That’s part of it. But as you know, I have from time to time been known to pitch in and help with putting together the monthly live music calendar at this blog. So when I’d go to the Bar 4 website and I saw “Local Correspondents,” I assumed it was something like what you just described. Did the bar even bother to mention who was playing? Or that it was a music event at all, instead of the guys from the tv trucks on their night off? No. And that I blame on the venue. I don’t know if it was a lack of bodies, or the end of a lease, or what it was, that put the bar out of business, but they didn’t do themselves any favors by not telling the world what was happening there.

Good Cop: But do you really think that people went to their website to see what was happening? Maybe they just figured, you know, we’ll do a twitter feed and leave it at that…

Bad Cop: Maybe so, and that speaks for so many other venues that still are in business. They take and they take from musicians and give back nothing. Max Fish was front and center in the rock scene ten, fifteen years ago. Kenny’s Castaways was part of the West Village folk scene back in the 60s. Maxwell’s was Ground Zero for New Jersey bands, Yo La Tengo and the Feelies and the Bongos and a whole lot of other bands got their start there. Roseland was a hotspot for latin dancing in the 50s and 60s and for big band jazz before then. And the Rodeo we already talked about. Will any of the latest crop of Brooklyn bars be remembered after they’re gone? I doubt it.

Good Cop: Neither will most Manhattan bars. I think you’re romanticizing. Again. Max Fish just happened to be the one bar on the block where all the musicians went. For the longest time, Maxwell’s was the only club in Hoboken. Kenny’s Castaways just happened to be there when Bob Dylan was coming up. And there were a lot of dance halls for big band jazz, Roseland wasn’t the only one. I think that people with ambition and the desire to build a scene are the exception rather than the rule and have always been. Most bar owners just want to make money, they don’t care how and there are plenty of ways to do it other than having bands on the weekend.

Bad Cop: We forgot the Living Room.

Good Cop: Ha, you can have that one too…

Bad Cop: Did you ever go to the Living Room?

Good Cop: Yeah, once or twice. And I can honestly say that I hated the place. I remember the waitress swooping down on me, like a vulture, the minute I walked in. And security was really tight, just getting inside was like going to the airport. Which was weird, and off-putting. And the sound was bad, and drinks were expensive. Which is why I didn’t go back..

Bad Cop: Let’s be completely fair about this. The Living Room, in its original space at the corner of Stanton and Allen Streets, was a perfectly OK place. Back in the day, if you were a singer-songwriter, there were two main places to play on the Lower East Side, CB’s Gallery and the Living Room. There were other places: the original Sin-e, which was a tiny little joint, but then they closed. And there were Fez and the Bottom Line, but both of those places had a cover charge and expensive drinks, and bad reputations for not paying bands. So if your music was on the quiet side, or if you were doing what the Jalopy bands are now, you’d probably end up at the Living Room sooner or later. And it wasn’t a bad little spot: drinks were on the pricy side, but there usually wasn’t a cover and a lot of good people passed through there. I went there a lot. Then when they moved to Ludlow Street, the place went completely to hell.

Good Cop: What was better about the Allen Street location?

Bad Cop: Everything. The sound was ok – it isn’t a huge space, anyway. And there wasn’t the security gauntlet that they suddenly had at the location on Ludlow. What I always found so ironic is that Cake Shop, next door, had such a relaxed atmosphere and such nice people working there, while the Living Room was like a Nazi death camp. Let’s wrap this up with a true story, this would have been around 2006 or so: guy with his guitar onstage at the Living Room, and he’s not young, probably in his 40s. His dad is sitting in the audience, trying to figure out how to work a digital camera. He’s got to be at least 70, maybe 80. Finally, the old guy figures out how to work the camera. From out of nowhere, the sound guy leaps out of the sound booth, sprints down the aisle and snatches the camera out of the old man’s hand. The old guy is mortified: he thinks he’s being mugged. Sound guy snootily confiscates the camera and tells the old man that there’s no unauthorized photography at the Living Room. Which speaks for everything that was wrong with that place.

Good Cop: I recorded a show there and never had any problem…

Bad Cop: Yeah, I did too, but after I heard that story I was more discreet about it. And then it just hit me, why even bother with this shithole. All the good acts who played there would also play Pete’s, or the Rockwood, where the sound would be good and you wouldn’t be treated like shit. I’m cynical about venues in general, but the Living Room was my least favorite club in the world. I’d rather get my balls fondled at Roseland than spend another minute at the Living Room.

Good Cop: Blog Boss had a funny quote about that place. Remember Mike Dukakis? Ran for President against Bush I? Dukakis said that a fish rots from the head down, and that’s why the Living Room was what it was. Supposedly the owner there was a nightmare, and everybody who worked there was miserable, and that’s why they treated the customers like shit.

Bad Cop: Clubs in general have a lot of turnover, but I knew a lot of former Living Room employees and not a single one had anything good to say about that place. Good riddance.

Good Cop: I hope this is our last requiem for dead venues…

Bad Cop: I’ve been bugging Blog Boss to do a dead venues page. For history’s sake. Are you down?

Good Cop: No thanks. You can have all the nostalgia. I’m in this for the here and now. Wait – we didn’t even mention Lakeside!

Bad Cop: I don’t have it in me to talk about that. That was really sad, even though you could see the end coming a mile away. And anyway, there were a couple of things about Lakeside closing here, back around the time it happened. They’re here and here.

Rob Sacher’s Luna Lounge Memoir Due Out March 1

It’s not every day that a Kickstarter project that’s as intriguing as this one comes along. Rob Sacher, now owner of Brooklyn’s Satellite Lounge, was the mastermind behind Luna Lounge, the well-loved Lower East Side hotspot that was ground zero for innumerable good New York bands for about ten years starting in the mid-90s (and then for a blip in Williamsburg before selling to the Knitting Factory). He’s got a memoir due out on March 1 titled Wake Me When It’s Over – from the teasers up at his site, it looks like it could make for a mighty good read (he nicked the title from a song by Longwave, one of the most popular of the Luna bands).

Unlike most club owners, Sacher isn’t all about self-promotion: instead, he had the good sense to keep his eyes open throughout his days in the forefront of a scene that hasn’t been very well documented up to this point. Anyone wanting to assauge their bourgeois guilt and help launch what promises to be a valuable piece of history should head over to to his Kickstarter site where there are all kinds of goodies available for various contribution levels.