On December 8, the Living Room announced via Facebook that it will close by the end of the year. This announcement arrives a mere fourteen months since the music venue and club reopened in Williamsburg, a relocation made after originally operating for fifteen years in the Lower East Side. Staking its reputation on its no-frills, intimate ambiance, the Living Room provided an early stage for various acts including Norah Jones, the Lumineers, Joseph Arthur, and many more.
Owners Jennifer Gilson and Steve Rosenthal say that a few factors influenced the club’s closing, citing indifference with their landlord, the rising cost of real estate in the neighborhood, and a lack of coverage from the press. “It’s funny that everybody is interested in us now that we’re closing. All of a sudden we’re getting all this press and I didn’t get any calls for interviews when we moved,” says Gilson. “Everybody likes to write about the sinking ship and then the media latches onto each other and regurgitates it. So all people read about is how bad things are.”
In the past two years alone, Williamsburg has seen the closing of four of its music venues: 285 Kent, Death by Audio, Glasslands, and more recently Cameo Gallery. Rosenthal notes the “interesting issues” brooding in the neighborhood and the difficulty in maintaining a business in this environment. “I think one thing, from our perspective, is that it’s very difficult to have a business there. No matter what business you’re in, businesses are struggling [in Williamsburg],” he says. “All the landlords are happy because people want to come in and buy their buildings and build expensive condos and that kind of bullshit but most businesses are struggling.”
After relocating to their Williamsburg location in October 2014, Gilson and Rosenthal were intent on booking acts outside the genres of their past. “I think one of the problems that we faced was the reputation of us being a ‘free, little folk club,’” says Gilson, who then cites heavier acts they booked in the past year, like SKATERS, who performed at the Living Room during CMJ 2015.
“We were really trying to stretch the booking into other areas,” adds Rosenthal. “I think it’s kind of hard when you’re pigeon-holed as a folk club. Even though the [Williamsburg location] was much bigger than a folk club and was much more varied with the booking, I don’t think people really got that. I’m not sure how to get over getting pigeon-holed like that but this version of the Living Room was not a folk club.”
Gilson and Rosenthal are currently working on an exact exit date with their landlord but confirm that the upcoming weekend’s performances will be offered. Gilson also notes that various artists have been calling with hopes of performing on its stage one last time. Rosenthal, who also owns the SoHo recording studio the Magic Shop (which has also undergone recent business strains), says that he feels “damaged” by the closing. “You have to realize, we’re like a mom and pop. This is not Bowery Presents. This and the Magic Shop are our life. We borrowed money and we leveraged our stuff to try and make a successful club and it didn’t happen,” he says, and then later turns his attention to the cultural decline in New York City.
“That’s what you’re talking about when you talk about all these venues closing and recording studios closing – all of these things that support, nurture, and cultivate new music are so difficult to keep going at this point. What kind of city do we want to end up with?”