Thanks to our good friend, Google, I’ve been receiving some good feedback on my recent article about the New Brunswick, NJ Music Scene. One of the emails I received spawned an interesting conversation about the music venues of the mid-90s where many of the punk, ska and hardcore concerts took place in the NYC area. This inspired me to put a list of these venues together and even do a bit of research on a few of them, as I had no idea where some disappeared to. What amazes me is that, although some of these venues are considered to be “legendary”, there are few traces of their existence on the web, other than concert reviews and tour schedules. Here’s my attempt to re-capture some of those venues.
(Please note that I only focused on the “commercial” concert venues – There are tons of other small bars, basements, fire houses, banquet halls, etc. where lots of concerts took place. Most of these were come-and-go places and I have not included them)
Coney Island High (St. Marks Place, New York City) – Boy do I have some crazy memories of this place. Like most small venues in NYC, this was a true shithole, but that was half of the charm. I remember that my friend was able to get into Joey Ramone’s birthday party there sometime back in the 90’s and referred to it as “the greatest night since he was ejected from the womb”. It shut it doors in 2001 and is now the site of some condos (welcome to gentrified New York!). I stumbled upon a great blog entry from someone who used to work at CIH, which gives you a great insider’s view of the venue.
Wetlands Preserve (Hudson St., New York City) – This legendary venue closed its doors just days after September 11. Another victim of NYC gentrification, the building was converted to condos. We didn’t understand who would want to live there, but that was before TriBeCa earned its status as the most expensive ZIP code (per square foot) in the City. I saw a variety of bands here and was always fascinated by the VW Bus in the middle of the floor (I’m easily entertained, I guess). There’s a good article about its closing here.
The Cooler (W. 16th St., New York City) – It wasn’t open too long and didn’t achieve any sort of legendary status, but I saw 7 or 8 shows here around 96-97, my first being H20 with Inspector 7 and The Insteps (very, very memorable for me. The Insteps broke up a few years later, but I still believe their album, Eleven Steps to Power, is amazing). What was most interesting was the fact that it was actually the one-time basement walk-in refrigerator of a meatpacking business upstairs.
Roseland Ballroom and Irving Plaza (New York City) – Every band in the world has seemed to pass through these venues. Owned by the same company, they are the most commercial of all the venues I mention here, but worth a mention just because of the fact that they will go down as true legendary parts of the NYC scene. They are still both alive and kicking. Very Commercial venues. Roseland capacity is now up to 5500, so you can jam a lot of people in here.
The Pipeline (Newark, NJ) – Legendary Newark venue, which was a true home to punk over many years. The first time I went here, I was scared shitless – both for the neighborhood and the people it attracted. I eventually acclimated to that type of crowd as I got more into the scene, but it was quite an experience for me. The venue is dead, but the founders maintain a MySpace profile, which contains some great photos.
The Melody Bar (New Brunswick, NJ) – Legendary dive bar that accommodated thousands of bands which passed through its doors over the years. Indie wonder-boy Matt Pinfield once DJ’d there. The Bouncing Souls attracted masses to its stage over the years. Its grunge was complimentary to the downtown New Brunswick area before it began to gentrify and, as Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital began to expand, we knew that its days were doomed. The building no longer stands, but I was brought back many years when I stumbled upon the Flickr set from DJ Shaggy, which show The Melody in its final days.
The Court Tavern (New Brunswick, NJ) – A quintessential dive bar, the entire space is about as big as my current living room and dining room. That didn’t stop band after band from playing there over the years. Much like The Melody Bar, Court’s days were numbered as construction and gentrification threatened to destroy it. The difference, however, is that the owners refused to be shut out and stood their ground. Developers, literally, built high-rise buildings and parking decks around it. Those who are living in the $800K condos next door probably find the building to be a eyesoar, but many of us consider it to be a rose in the adjacent concrete desert. Still going strong, their website recounts its history, along with a number of very interesting pictures, both past and current.
CBGB (Bowery, New York City) – Trying to summarize the history of this venue would be a disservice, so I won’t even try. But in it’s final years, even the Bowery could not stand up to the pressures of big real-estate development (If you walked around the corner in 1995, you’d be afraid for your life. Now, there’s a Whole Foods Market just blocks away). The end came fast: Joey Ramone died in 2001. Patti Smith closed its doors on October 16, 2006; and its founder, Hilly Kristal, passed less than a year later. cbgb.com tells all.
Knitting Factory (Leonard St., New York City) – Still going strong, but has branched out and grown significantly over the years (opening a venue in LA, starting a record label, strong web presence, etc.).
Birch Hill Night Club (Sayerville, NJ) – The building known as Birch Hill still stands and was re-opened as Starland Ballroom in 2003, owned by Concerts East. An article in a local paper documented the transition. Still booking every type of act under the sun (including lots of punk and emo).
The Stone Pony (Asbury Park, NJ) – What can I say? It’s still there and still considered a landmark. New condos are popping up all over the place as Asbury Park is in the midst of a renewal – at least on the waterfront. Also still booking all sorts of acts year-round.
Trocadaro (“The Troc” – Philly, PA) – Still going strong.
Electric Factory (Philly, PA) – Still going strong. Very commercial (Livenation venue). Last time i was there was for a Primus concert in 1998, so it’s been a while for me.
Theater of Living Arts (“The TLA” – Philly, PA) – Still going strong. Now known as The Fillmore at TLA. Very commercial (Livenation Venue)
Maxwells (Hoboken, NJ) – Still going strong (and I can vouch, since I only live a few blocks away!), although not as influential as the days when Husker Du and Nirvanna were on its stage. Yo La Tengo still rent it out for the 8 days of Hanukkah. It still attracts bands from around the world and manages to survive just fine within uber-gentrified Hoboken. The original sign, donning its namesake Maxwell House cup of coffee, is no longer there.
The Saint (Asbury Park, NJ) – Still there. I always admired this place for it variety. My friend saw Incubus there many years ago and I still hear about it to this day.
Tramps (New York, NY) – This rock haven closed its doors in 2001 and became Centro-Fly. Tramps was a legendary rock venue and, consequently, anyone who ever went there despised the techno-heavy Centro-Fly (even though it did attract the world’s greatest DJs, including Fatboy Slim and Paul Okenfold). As the ultimate insult, it is now Duvet, the Sex-in-the-City-ish ultra-trendy bar/restaurant where you sit (or lay) on beds while you eat and drink. Yes, beds.
Got another good one to add? Drop me an email.