Peter Shapiro knows what a music venue can mean to fans–and he knows intimately what it’s like to see one close. The owner of the Brooklyn Bowl, which opened in 2009, Shapiro got his start in the New York music world when he purchased the Tribeca rock club Wetlands Preserve in 1996. Wetlands would close in 2001, and the idea that a music venue had a life that extended beyond the people who owned the venue stuck with him.
“It’s sad, you know?” Shapiro says when he talks about the venues that have closed. “This happens all around the country. I’ve been through it firsthand, and it’s why all of the music scene is kind of in Brooklyn right now. It’s unfortunate, but you’ve gotta try to recreate and do it in new places when you get pushed out. I’m in Williamsburg with Brooklyn Bowl, and now stuff is moving to Red Hook or Bushwick.”
It’s about more than just New York, but New York has always been one of the hubs of American music. To that end, Shapiro launched Fans.com last summer as a way to help music fans remember the formative music experiences they’ve had at venues both extant and lost to history. The site is a Facebook-like interface–people create profiles, share information and photos with their friends, etc–but everything on the site is built around highlighting music experiences. Ticket stubs, concert photos, setlists, videos–if you were at a show, the idea behind the site is that someone else who might have been there can help create a document of what happened that night.
That’s especially relevant when it comes to lost music venues that were replaced by something else in the same location. Shapiro and his team helped identify five key New York music venues that played host to some of the more important musical moments of the 20th century, but which are now a whole lot quieter.
The Electric Circus opened in the East Village in 1967. It was a hangout for Andy Warhol, and the Velvet Underground were the house band for a time. It also didn’t last long; by the fall of 1971, it closed. These days, it houses a strip of shops anchored by a Chipotle and a cape shop on St. Mark’s place.
The Fillmore East, on the Lower East Side, was similarly important and short-lived. The venue lasted from ’68 to ’71, but it’s famous largely because of how many artists recorded live albums there–Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, and Frank Zappa all released records cut on its stage. Today, the space is now an Apple Bank For Savings.
The Half Note Club in Hudson Square had a significantly longer run as one of the city’s premiere jazz clubs. It opened in 1957 and closed its doors in 1974 after playing host to legends from John Coltrane to Charles Mingus to Cannonball Adderley to Billie Holiday. The location has been a deli for several years, with a rotating cast of owners. Currently, it’s home to a place called D&D Sprouts Deli and Grocery.
Max’s Kansas City is one of the more significant venues in rock history. It was a hangout for much of the New York art and culture world of the late ’60s–Warhol, Lichtenstein, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, and more were regulars. Springsteen played his early gigs there, as did Aerosmith and Bob Marley. Debbie Harry was a waitress. The venue changed owners in 1975 after closing briefly and had a second act as a home for bands like the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, and the Misfits as punk broke. It closed in 1981. The building currently houses a deli called Fraiche Maxx (the “Maxx” appears to be a coincidence).
The Palladium opened in the 1920s as a movie hall near Irving Plaza, but by the ’60s, it was a popular live music theater. After the Fillmore East closed, it took on artists who might have played on the Lower East Side–and continued through the punk rock era and on into the ’90s, when it hosted an array of artists from a range of genres. Fugazi played the venue’s final nights, but Puff Daddy played a few months earlier. It was demolished in 1998 and it’s now a dorm for NYU, with a Trader Joe’s on the ground floor.
All of this is tough for someone like Shapiro, who had a lot of formative experiences in venues like these, to watch happen to the spaces that formed their memories. There might be something cool to know that Lou Reed used to play every week in the same spot you stand as you order your burrito, but for long-suffering fans, the transient nature of the history is kind of a bummer.
“It’s hard. It’s tough,” Shapiro says. “There are a lot of Chipotles, a lot of Duane Reades, a lot of Chase Bank outlets. These are important places. A lot of people have important moments in their lives there. That’s what I’m trying to do with Fans, is make it easier for people to memorialize them—it’s like your shoebox with your ticket stubs in your closet, so it’s a place to share that stuff. Does that bring them back? No, but it does help you to memorialize it and keep those experiences forever.”