Sites Unscene

Evaluating a Summer of Club Closings

While Hilly Kristal, owner of the legendary Bowery punk club CBGB for over two decades, is more laid-back about the current club climate (quick to defend the need for inspection even), the city's recent methods still rile him. "They have these inspections on Saturday nights where 20, 30 people from every department come and literally shut you down. For many years you'd have the fire department come and the health department and all the agencies, but one branch at a time. In 26 years, I've never had the problem before, not that I didn't get a citation here and there, but now they're ridiculous."

Shapiro feels the opposite is true: that the climate used to be bad, but has recently improved. In Wetlands's case, this is due largely to efforts they've made to reach out to the community. "About three years ago, the social task force was more active and we were very cognizant of that; we had more police presence around us. But the police attention comes if community attention comes. So we've tried to really be responsible neighbors. I worked my ass off meeting with the community people, and we do benefits for local public schools; we removed the graffiti . . . . We took a very proactive approach to being an asset instead of a problem for the community."

Michael Winsch, co-owner of one of New York's youngest live venues, the Bowery Ballroom, concurs: "Basically we're just trying to keep our neighbors happy." But that's not enough. Experience Winsch and his partners Brian and Michael Swier have gained running the Mercury Lounge has helped them navigate legal and political minefields that have hurt other owners, sometimes irreparably. Choosing a prime location (Bowery and Delancy) and avoiding unnecessary attention (like big articles in local press) hasn't hurt, either. Finally, they snagged a professional talent buyer: Theresa Chambers, formerly of national promotions company Delsner/Slater Enterprises.

"They're lucky to have Theresa," says Weitzman. "She knows her shit." And in his opinion, that's what running a successful club comes down to: "Each club is only as good as its booker." If eclecticism is what distinguishes Tramps, then a love of music is what characterizes Weitzman, who exudes total respect, awe, and understanding of what makes a band worth booking. But even having New York's best talent buyer couldn't save one of its most popular clubs from closing. "We never had a raid. The community and the police loved us. Rudy's wife even came to Tramps to see her favorite artists (e.g., Trisha Yearwood). We went to community board meetings and they always considered us the least problematic club in the area. At the end of the night we would make it look exactly like it did when we started. We'd take down the posters and peel the stickers, we'd sweep the street. If you don't do that, you're not doing your job— you're not being responsible."

In the end, though, it didn't matter. But while Weitzman regrets that the club was forced to close, he's looking to the future and intends to keep Tramps's variety vibe alive at venues around the city. Other clubs hint that they have surprises in store as well. So no, it won't be the same, but one bum summer, city harassment, and outrageous rents can't kill the live music scene; it can only scramble it for a while.

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