Late last week, Sullivan Hall, a venue in New York City’s Greenwich Village, closed unexpectedly after a 17 year run.
While never my favorite venue, I visited the sans-frills joint numerous times due to its location—namely its proximity to my favorite pizza place—and consistent booking. Furthermore, they had one feature that set them apart in my book, which is they let in 18-year-olds.
The venue was exactly what you look for when it comes to national touring acts and big-ish local bands. Upon walking in, you were met with a bar on the left, a merchandise table to the right and a stage at the front. That’s it.
The real issue with Sullivan Hall closing is the dearth of all-ages venues, or at least venues that will let in minors.
New York City has hundreds of venues, with each catering to a particular niche by and large. Some, like Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center, are giant arenas. Those, by virtue of generating their revenue from ticket sales and food, do not rely on solely alcohol sales to turn a profit on a show.
To continue further down the chain, with the closure of the Roseland Ballroom—which I hated, and thus, does not get it’s own column for closing down—leaves just Terminal 5 and Radio City Music Hall in terms of large-capacity theaters.
Terminal 5, with the closure of the Roseland, finds itself with the undisputed crown of “Worst Venue in New York.” Scratch that, the world. I clearly have not been to every venue in the world; however, it really does not get much worse than trekking to 56th street and virtually the Hudson River to not be able to see, move or breathe.
Without running through every venue in New York City, one hits a certain point, at about 500 to 600 people, where ticket sales alone will not allow a venue to turn a profit.
The 250-capacity Mercury Lounge, which books some of the best bands around—including a number of bands who should be playing venues two or three times larger—is 21 and up.
The Bell House, which is booked by Todd Abramson, the person who used to book Maxwell’s, the legendary club in Hoboken, also finds the majority of their shows 21 and up.
My personal favorite venue in New York City, the Brooklyn Bowl, is 21 and up save for the rarest of occasions.
But what happened to the great all ages venues of yesteryear?
The Brooklyn Bowl is currently owned and operated by Pete Shapiro, a man who is as much responsible for the jam music scene as anyone, used to own the legendary Wetlands Preserve.
What separated the Wetlands from its counterparts was putting the music first, last and everywhere in between. Nearly all of my favorite bands, from Phish to Pearl Jam to Rage Against the Machine played the 500-capacity venue (although likely hundreds more poured in for a number of shows). The best part of the venue—it was all ages.
The club unfortunately closed in 2001, with its final show coming right on the heels of 9/11; however, it left an infallible reputation as arguably the most important venue for a giant number of bands.
The venue also left a stark impression on a number of kids (kids meaning anyone under 21 for this definition), as they were able to see a band at a reasonable price and before they made it “big”—with “big” being a relative term for a number of the bands that played the Wetlands.
As someone who considers himself to be somewhat of a concert junkie, my 21st birthday cannot come soon enough for a world of musical options to become available to me. Additionally, I’ve been told that once you turn 21, you don’t want drunken minors ruining your musical experience.
But with that being said, I’ll think back to the time when I was 17 and all I wanted to do was see Soulive play any of their 10 shows at the Brooklyn Bowl but being shut out of each and every one. I’ll think back to when The National played the Mercury Lounge the day before they played the 60-times-larger Barclays Center.
To wrap this up, why one goes to a concert is different for everyone. For some, it’s the music. For others, it’s the party. But at the end of the day, while from a dollars and sense perspective, I understand why a venue wouldn’t want to let in minors. However, I just wish more places would let kids go see live music.
Madison has the benefit of the Majestic, which in recent years has brought in great national touring acts while letting in those under 21. If only every city was so progressive to have this kind of mid-size venue let in minors.
Want to start an all-ages venue with Brian? Start the planning process by emailing him at email@example.com.