Clubs Crawl

The week of the World Trade Center disaster, nightclubs around the city were to be filled with artists ranging from White Stripes to Herbert to Richie Hawtin for the annual CMJ Music Marathon. Instead, the stages were desolate and empty, as club employees and patrons alike were barred from entering the off-limits areas of Lower Manhattan. "Acid Mother Temple was supposed to be closing the festival," says Guy Compton, marketing director of Knitting Factory. "I don't think they've played in the States for 10 years. The money aside, it's just completely amazing music that we lost out on."

While CMJ has been rescheduled for October 10-13, Compton says all of the original showcases at Knitting Factory—including shows by Folk Implosion and DJ Vadim—have been canceled outright. "It's a crushing blow," says Compton. The Knit has a few of those dates already booked in the main room, but Compton and CMJ organizers are still unsure which of these shows will be included in the Marathon, as CMJ is still scrambling to rebook what will undoubtedly be a smaller event.

Downtown Rising: Mark Stewart and Stacey Earle at Knitting Factory, September 19
photo: Cary Conover
Downtown Rising: Mark Stewart and Stacey Earle at Knitting Factory, September 19

Knitting Factory, located on Leonard Street four blocks south of Canal—just eight blocks from Ground Zero—is one of the hardest-hit venues. Already in deep financial trouble before the attacks, the Knit barely made it through the last year, which Compton calls "our toughest period to date." But now, the club has to start over from its own ground zero—the general public couldn't even venture below Canal Street without proof of residence until last Monday. "We have to do what we have to do to survive," Compton says.

Unable to enter the club until the Monday following the attack, the staff hacked into the company's Web site from outside and changed the homepage to give updates. Compton opened his doors on Wednesday the 19th for a show featuring Freedy Johnston and Stacey Earle; on the Web site, he posted tips for negotiating the various police checkpoints around the area. Compton required that patrons prepay for tickets, and gave city police a guest list for each show. "What we do at the velvet rope, they're doing at the checkpoints," he says. According to Compton, the American Analog Set show this past Saturday night came close to selling out, and the area seemed unofficially opened to pedestrians, but not vehicles, as of this weekend. "To get that close [to selling out] in these conditions is a major, major victory."

The Knit is not the only club directly affected. Shine, which sits at the border of Canal and East Broadway, is technically allowed to be open, says co-owner Nicholas Cohen, but "I'm looking at 30, 40 state troopers outside our club." Cohen has temporarily canceled weekly dance parties like Giant Step and Touch. Opening his doors would cost the club $4000 per night, Cohen estimates, but "Is it worth being open and not have people inside?" he asks. "That doesn't help anybody, including the staff, because they are not going to be making any tips." He says that getting deliveries for beer and liquor have been extremely difficult but that Centro-Fly and other clubs have offered to help out. Cohen estimates financial loss is in the tens of thousands, but the club was fully operational as of Tuesday night's Vice magazine party.

While nightclubs are perhaps one of the last things on people's minds, club owners are looking into the possibility of getting financial assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "I think we'd qualify, but everything's going to be in a holding pattern for a while. They have to worry about Cantor Fitzgerald before they get down to us," says Compton.

Vinyl, the largest nightclub in Lower Manhattan (located at Hubert and Hudson, nine blocks from the disaster), has also been closed two weekends straight. Co-manager Benny Soto said that even if the club—which had been partially without electricity and water—had been able to operate, its DJs, like Danny Tenaglia, didn't want to play. Soto pointed out, "You don't know how many people are really going to come out and dance. But Vinyl has a real hardcore crowd, and people will want to dance, especially at a party like Body & Soul, which tends to be a little spiritual. Dancing is a way of healing." And countless other parties, like the ones thrown by Plastic City at the Soho Grand and the Tribeca Grand, have been put on hold indefinitely. "My guess is they are basically done due to this horrible occurrence," says promoter Ben Butler.

Nightclubs, already beleaguered by the mayor's anti-club task forces ("Giuliani has never looked too favorably at our types of businesses," says Compton) now face a more daunting rebuilding process. All the same, many venues, including the Knitting Factory, are donating proceeds and holding benefits. The local record and promotions company Giant Step canceled three shows after the disaster; co-owner Jonathan Rudnick says that from his Church Street office "you can immediately smell the thick air and see flatbed trucks filled with huge, huge girders and wreckage. We have been back in the office since last Monday and still have trouble with long distance." But "so many have lost so much that an interruption in any of our business just pales in comparison." —Tricia Romano

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