Highlighting the Iconic New York City Music Venues of the 70s
Trust that there was a whole lot more than just CBGB & OMFUG (even though that's the picture we used).
Photo Credit: Getty Images
This article is part of an editorial series sponsored by our friends over at HBO celebrating the launch of their new show 'Vinyl,' from Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, and Terry Winter exploring the crazy and fantastic world of music in the 1970s. Throughout the week, Noisey will analyze this iconic era with articles looking back in time.
The New York City music scene of the 1970s holds historical value that could never be equated or replicated. It was an unsettling time to be living in Manhattan: the economy was in the gutter, crime rates were high, and prostitutes and junkies lined the streets. But beneath the challenges of the harsh realities the city faced above the ground, there existed communities of booming musical creation and artistic expression. It was dilapidated, sweaty, and boozy. And well, you could call it a renaissance.
To say any decade or time in music could’ve been influenced by one single factor would be lazy. Coming off the 60s, music was changing rapidly in New York. Punk, glam, disco, hip-hop, minimalist composition and new ages of jazz and salsa were emerging from the nightclubs and basements all across the five boroughs. The culture of artists outside of music: painters, graffiti taggers, and writers all intertwined with the unpredictable zeitgeist of mid-70s New York. Journalists and radio jockeys tried to cover the avalanche as it gained momentum. Papers like the Village Voice and Soho Weekly News did a pretty good job. But arguably, one of the most definitive characteristics of the decade was the scenery itself: the rooms in which the music was created, performed, and realized by its audience.
We’re talking post-Café Au Go Go, Gaslight Café, and passing by the prime of Gerde’s Folk City. In these years, it wouldn’t be shocking to bump into David Bowie and Lou Reed checking out The New York Dolls or to catch a glance of Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen watching The Ramones at CBGB. The formative puzzle pieces to the legacy of music in this time period are actually the buildings in which this all began. Below we take a list at a few of the most important clubs, basements, and lofts New York had to offer.
Max’s Kansas City – Gramercy
Opened by Mickey Ruskin, who owned a handful of bars and restaurants, the original Max’s Kansas City was located on 213 Park Avenue South and operated between 1965 and 1974. In 1975, it was re-opened as Max’s 2 by Tommy Dean Mills, where it become a punk rock breeding ground, with performances by Wayne County & The Electric Chairs, Blondie, and Suicide. Icons such as Lou Reed, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen have all graced the stage at Max’s. In addition to the music culture, it was a mingling place of artistry. Andy Warhol’s studio spaces were within a stone’s throw.
Mercer Arts Center – Greenwich Village
The Mercer Arts Center was located at 240 Mercer Street and operated between 1971 and 1973, before catastrophe struck and the building collapsed, leaving four dead. Located in the space of the then rundown University Hotel, Art D’Lugoff, also owner of The Village Gate, transformed the space into a home for pre-CBGBs punk rock bands like the New York Dolls, Suicide, and Modern Lovers. It later came out that structural renovations to the building were to blame for the collapse of 673 Broadway and 240 Mercer.
CBGB & OMFUG – The Bowery
Located at 315 Bowery and originally titled Hilly’s on the Bowery, the venue became CBGB in 1973. It is widely regarded as the birthplace of New York City punk rock culture, but you already knew that. The acronym stands for “Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers.” If Richard Lloyd of Television’s tale rings true, he and his bandmates caught owner Hilly Kristal on the sidewalk the day he was changing the awning and convinced him to book the band. They established a Sunday-night residency at CBGB in the coming weeks and the rest was history. The venue became the most notorious rock venue of all time, where you could see The Ramones, Blondie, The B-52s, or anyone else that mattered in formative years of punk. Over the following decades the club would continue to rebirth new scenes including New York Hardcore. The place was dirty, smelly, and there were slim chances you’d get much privacy on that legendary toilet. On October 15, 2006, Patti Smith performed the final gig ever at CBGBs. Despite decades of merchandising and the historical value, CBGB lost its lease over unpaid rent and legal disputes. Now, it’s home to a John Varvatos boutique, but its legacy carries on as a restaurant in the Newark Liberty International Airport. Excuse me while I vomit in my mouth.
CBGB’s Second Avenue Theater – The Bowery
CBGB’s Second Avenue Theater was short lived but well intended, it was fittingly located at 66 Second Avenue, but didn’t last long. Previously known as the Anderson Theater, it hosted performances from Talking Heads and Blondie. In 1977, Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen premiered “Because The Night” to a live audience.
Fillmore East – East Village
The Fillmore East actually closed in the beginning of the 70s, operating from 1968-1971. It was located at 105 Second Avenue and operated by Bill Graham, who ran San Francisco’s Fillmore West. The venue had originally opened in 1926 as the Commodore Theater, but was called the Village Theater when Graham took over. In the three-year span the venue operated, you could catch the likes of Jimi Hendrix (who recorded his live album Band of Gypsys there in 1970), Frank Zappa, and Eric Clapton. Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and The Allman Brothers Band also recorded live albums at the Fillmore East.
Ali’s Alley – SoHo
Rashied Ali was a free-jazz drummer from Philadelphia who was featured on the final recordings of the iconic saxophonist John Coltrane, who died in 1967. In the early 1970s, he opened Ali’s Alley, which was the epitome of the loft jazz scene. He lived upstairs, recorded his own tapes, and started his own label in a true DIY fashion.
The Loft – East Village
Starting in 1970, the venue had an invite-only system, not a public barfront. In fact, The Loft wasn’t commercial at all, and didn’t sell food or alcohol. Located at the residence of David Mancuso, the underground parties could be considered the home of the true modern concept of mixing records and beatmatching in the world of dance music. The Loft was filled with a high-quality speaker system and its crowds were mostly comprised of the gay community.
The Gallery - SoHo
As author Will Hermes puts it, “If The Loft was the private invention of the disco club, The Gallery was it’s coming out.” The legendary Brooklyn-born DJ Nicky Siano started the club at the age of 18. It had two locations over a five-year span and was one of the most notable underground disco clubs of all time. Nicky Siano went on to be one of the most celebrated disc jockeys of the time, performing as a resident DJ at Studio 54.
Hurrah – Midtown West
This club was located at 36 W. 62nd Street between Lincoln Center and the southwest corner of Central Park, run by club owner Arthur Weinstein. The club remained open between 1976 and 1980, and implemented the use of music videos inside the venue. Clips of legends ranging from Alan Vega to The Fleshtones to Gang of Four have all been taken inside the club.
Club 82 – East Village
Club 82 was a famous bar to find everything revolving around drag and the LGBTQ community. The club, located in a basement at 82 East Fourth Street, put on elaborate stage shows featuring up to 35 men in drag, singing, dancing, and laughing. After the club’s height in the 60s, glam and punk moved in and fused with the cabaret atmosphere, and the Warhol superstars went to see bands like The New York Dolls and Blondie.
Mudd Club - Tribeca
The Mudd Club was around in the latter part of the decade, from 1978-1983, and was named after Samuel Mudd, the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth. The club resided at 77 White Street and was owned by Steve Mass. The walls would host musicians as varied as the Talking Heads and Fab 5 Freddy and authors such as William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. You could also catch Jean-Michel Basquiat, Madonna or Lou Reed passing through. The Ramone’s even shout out Mudd Club in “The Return of Jackie and Judy-” “Jackie is a punk, Judy is a runt, they went down to the Mudd club and they both got drunk. Oh yeahhh.”
Tier 3 – Tribeca
Similarly to Mudd Club, Tier 3 was a downtown No Wave art club. Punk bands such as The Slits, Bauhaus, played there, and Basquait’s band took the stage too. While it only had a short run, between 1979-1980, Tier 3 hosted a wide range of music, including the formative Canadian hardcore punks in D.O.A.
The Bottom Line – Greenwich Village
As opposed to the short-lived spans of many notable clubs in the 1970s, The Bottom Line made it for three decades, from 1974-2004. Similarly to the dismay of fans of the CBGB, this venue wasn’t turned into a clothing store, but NYU dorms. In the early years of The Bottom Line, history was already being made. Lou Reed recorded Live: Take No Prisoners there in 1978. And over the years, The Police, Van Morrison, Miles Davis, a laundry list of timeless musicians would grace its stage.
Special thanks to author Will Hermes for contributing to this list. Pick up his book on the 1970s NYC music scene here.
Derek Scancarelli wishes he had a time machine. If he can borrow yours, contact him on Twitter.