I took the opportunity of a free and blissfully warm day in New York City to uncover the original locations of a slew of legendary music spots, whose influence weighed heavy on the development of many of the city’s music scenes. Given that most of these flourished several decades ago, none of them are still in operation. Here’s how each of them looks now, along with a little bit of their respective histories.
Let’s start by making for Max’s Kansas City at 213 Park Avenue South, near Union Square. Operating between 1965 and 1981, after hosting beat poet events and music from the counter-culture years, it developed into a key live music venue for the city’s emerging Punk Rock scene, hosting gigs from the likes of the New York Dolls, the Ramones, Patti Smith Group, Iggy Pop & The Stooges, Television, Blondie and Talking Heads.
Sid Vicious is said to have got involved in an altercation with the brother of Patti Smith at Max’s just weeks after being released on bail for the suspected murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen in early 1979, landing him in a harsh detox programme at Riker’s Island prison. He was dead of a heroin overdose by 3rd February. Here’s how Max’s looked during its 70s heyday.
And here it is in late 2019, as a Korean-operated deli and convenience store.
CBGBs, (originally standing for Country, Blue Grass & Blues,) at 315 Bowery in the East Village, like Max’s, became an influential live music venue on the Punk and New Wave scene. It originally opened in 1973 as a Hell’s Angels biker gang hangout. Here’s how the venue looked in its late 70s prime.
And here it is today. It has been retained as a Rock music memorabilia store, featuring instruments, equipment, original posters and many other souvenirs from its Punk heyday, and a mock-up stage where the original performances would have taken place, (see pics below.) Of all the venues featured here, this is the one that remains the truest to its roots. The music club ceased operating in 2006, but its legacy lived on through a CBGB Radio show launched on the iheartradio platform in 2010, with music festivals under the CBGB banner beginning in 2012.
A venue with some altogether more disturbing links to Punk Rock – and many other aspects of popular culture and literature for that matter – is the creepy-ass Chelsea Hotel at 222 West 23rd Street. Though this retains its ‘hotel’ status nominally, for the past few years it has been open only to a small handful of permanent residents, and has been undergoing continuous ‘renovation.’ Despite this it looks largely the same as it ever has since its construction in the 1880s. There’s no quick way of summing up the unsettling elements of the Chelsea’s history, showing it to be anything but a run-of-the-mill establishment, so here we go with the more juicy aspects of its legacy.
The building has held a magnetic attraction for writers, poets, musicians, actors and counter-culture icons through the decades, many of whom used it as their home for long periods. Arthur C. Clarke wrote ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ there, Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso were residents, Jack Kerouac wrote his novel ‘On The Road’ in its rooms, and playwright Arthur Miller wrote ‘The Chelsea Effect’ to document his time there in the early 1960s. The writer Dylan Thomas was staying there when he is said to have died of pneumonia on 9th November (9/11) 1953. Charles R. Jackson, author of ‘The Lost Weekend,’ committed suicide in his room on 21st September, (the Autumn Equinox,) 1968.
Others to have called the Chelsea home at some point or other include the occultist Harry Everett Smith, (who died in its room 328 in 1991,) Stanley Kubrick, Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, Eddie Izzard, Uma Thurman, Elliott Gould, Jane Fonda and Russell Brand, among many others. Punk’s Dee Dee Ramone wrote a book, apparently “fictionalised,” where he talks of groups in robes holding occult rituals in the hotel’s basement.
Dave McGowan wrote that in 1971 a prostitute-turned rock groupie named Devon Wilson – who had reportedly been with Jimi Hendrix the day before his death and had been romantically linked to Arthur Lee of the Laurel Canyon band Love – plunged to her death from an eighth-floor window of the Chelsea.
McGowan also wrote:
“In the Summer of 1975 Phil Ochs’ public persona abruptly changed. Adopting the name John Butler Train, Ochs proclaimed himself a CIA operative and presented himself as a belligerent, right-wing thug. He told an interviewer that ‘on the first day of Summer 1975, Phil Ochs was murdered in the Chelsea Hotel by John Train… For the good of society, public and secret, he needed to be gotten rid of’.”
Does that sound like a reference to ‘alters’ brought about by MK-Ultra-style mind-control programming to anyone … or is it just me and my suspicious mind?
Other musical links include Madonna’s residency at the Chelsea in the early 1980s, and her return in 1992 to shoot photographs for her book ‘Sex’ in Room 822. The same room attracted Taylor Momsen’s band The Pretty Reckless for a more recent photoshoot. British dance artist La Roux shot one of their music videos at the hotel, as did Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan for his song ‘Saw Something.’ The Grateful Dead, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Jeff Beck, Dee Dee Ramone, Phil Lynott, Cher, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, Janis Joplin, Bette Midler, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Canned Heat and Leonard Cohen all spent time there. Why?
Finally, the Chelsea was the place in which Nancy Spungen met her death at the ripe old age of 20, reportedly having been stabbed to death by Sid Vicious, though many suspect that there’s far more to the official account of things than meets the eye.
Constructed around the same time as the Chelsea was the notorious Dakota Building. In 1968, this exclusive residential apartment block at 72nd Street on the edge of Central Park became the main setting for Roman Polanski’s gothic horror movie ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’
Named in the movie as ‘the Bramford,’ the narrative has it as the base of a ring of Satanists, and an early scene sees a young woman plunging to her death from one of its windows, landing very close to the spot where John Lennon would (we’re told) be assassinated on the night of 8th December 1980. (The scene in the movie has a white VW Beetle parked at the spot of the fall, incidentally, which becomes splattered with blood – go figure!) The amount of odd synchronicities tying together the Dakota, Polanski, his wife Sharon Tate, Charles Manson and the Beatles is absolutely ridiculous. This podcast interview from Mike Williams/ Sage of Quay with guest Victoria Leigh gives a very good overview for anyone wanting to fully delve into it all – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G08xyzFa64U
Lennon is said to have been shot in the back as he entered the Dakota’s main entrance, seen here, by Mark David Chapman, presented by the media as a ‘deranged fan’, but having exhibited all the characteristics of an MK-Ultra-programmed mind control assassin. According to many researchers, however, the actual assassination duties fell to a former CIA black ops assassin by the name of Jose Perdomo, who just happened to be working as the doorman of the Dakota on that fateful night. But I’m sure it’s just a coincidence and nothing to worry about.
Just over into Central Park is the Strawberry Fields Lennon memorial area, the focal point of which is the ‘Imagine’ plaque. Finding an instant to photograph it free of crouching tourists is an artform.
On to New York’s disco legacy now, and the individual credited with paving the way for this scene was the recently-deceased David Mancuso, (below,) who operated his invitation-only exclusive ‘Loft’ parties from his home apartments, with the emphasis on top-notch sound systems and a communal attitude to music and socialising.
The first location was downtown at 647 Broadway. Here’s the plaque to the building and the front door as they look today.
And here’s the building itself. It’s unclear which particular apartment was Mancuso’s, but it was in there somewhere!
Mancuso later moved the Loft concept to his new home at 99 Prince Street, on the edge of Soho. Here’s how that building looks today.
The first Loft party back at the Broadway spot was on Valentine’s Day 1970, and was titled Love Saves the Day. (Where have I come across those initials before?) Mancuso’s Loft sessions also seem to have operated as some kind of communal living experiment, and he turns out to have had an association with the self-styled ‘Acid Guru’ and CIA asset Dr. Timothy Leary. As Tim Lawrence, author of the book ‘Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970–1979’ writes:
“The psychedelic guru Timothy Leary, who invited David to his house parties and popularised a philosophy around the psychedelic experience that would inform the way records were selected at the Loft, was another echo that resonated at the Broadway Loft. Co-existing with Leary, the civil rights, the gay liberation, feminist and the anti-war movements of the 1960s were manifest in the egalitarian, rainbow coalition, come-as-you-are ethos of the Loft.”
As the 70s progressed, New York was poised to become the epicentre of the nascent explosion in Disco music which, in turn, largely paved the way for the House and electronic dance that would follow in the 80s and beyond. The most celebrated underground venue during the genre’s most pivotal years, largely populated by New York’s gay, black and Latino communities, was the Paradise Garage, under the stewardship of the much-revered pioneering DJ Larry Levan. Here’s Larry in the Garage’s DJ booth back in the day.
And here’s how the unremarkable-looking spot at 84 King Street in the Hudson Square neighbourhood now appears. As its name suggests, the original club was in a converted parking garage. Now empty with construction work going on, it sits next door to an upmarket chocolate retailer, looking largely the same from the outside.
A sneak peek at the interior through one of the construction windows revealed the following. This was seemingly where all the Saturday night action with Larry’s legendary multiple-hour sets, would take place. The Garage operated from 1977 to 1987. Larry Levan died of AIDS complications in 1992.
The garish mass-market answer to the Garage, many blocks uptown, was Studio 54, run by Ian Schrager and his charismatic business partner Steve Rubell.
54 saw disco music go overground, and the club became a playground for celebrities and the wealthy. Pictures exist of a young Donald Trump partying there. It otherwise attracted the likes of Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Diana Ross, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Grace Jones. Nile Rodgers famously wrote Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ after being refused entry by the club’s surly door staff one New Year’s Eve. The song’s hook was originally ‘aaaaaah, fuck off!’ representing Nile’s desired response to the bouncers, before being amended to the more radio-friendly ‘aaaaah, freak out!’ that we all know.
Schrager and Rubell went on to do jail time following a police raid on 54 in 1980, and the subsequent revelations that the operation had been used for money-laundering and the withholding of tax payments. It closed down for the first time soon afterwards.
The site, at 254 54th Street, now consists of a theatre and assorted offices, (see below.) but pays homage to the former operation.
Among its many claims to musical fame, New York City was the spiritual birthplace of rap music and associated hip-hop culture. Originating with open-air block parties in The Bronx from 1973, with Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and the recently-disgraced Afrika Bambaataa universally hailed as its pioneers, by the 1980s, hip-hop’s appeal had spread exponentially and it was starting to become big business. The club spot which cemented its place in history as a haven for the sounds was Latin Quarter, right in the heart of midtown Manhattan.
With DJs Red Alert and Chuck Chillout at the helm, the LQ attracted all the heavy-hitters of the times, both in performance and party mode. It quickly gained a reputation for violence and disorder, however, with attendees regularly getting robbed for their money and jewellery both inside and outside the club, eventually leading to its closure in 1989. The original three-storey wedge-shaped building, which sat at at the north end of Times Square, was torn down and replaced by a new building, which today looks like this:
The other haven for hip-hop partying during the 80s golden years was as below. Let’s take it back to the old school, let’s take it to…
Happily, no great changes there during the intervening decades.
In the 90s, the accolade for No. 1 hip-hop club spot, and one that very much followed in the Latin Quarter’s reputation for unruliness, was The Tunnel. Located at 220 12th Avenue on the banks of the Hudson River, this was a converted rail freight warehouse building and was the domain on Sunday nights of Funkmaster Flex at the apex of his career.
I attended several times from 1995 to ’99. It was always rammed to the rafters, and the atmosphere, if a little edgy at times, was always electric. I didn’t get any pics of my own of the Tunnel, (the camera would almost certainly have been stolen,) but here’s one from its glory days.
The club closed its doors in 2001, reportedly owing to non-payment of rent amidst NY major Rudi Guiliani’s zero-tolerance crackdown on crime and disorder. (This view is from Eleventh Avenue, while Tunnel’s entrance was on the Twelfth Avenue end of the building.)
And here’s a brief video explaining the entry process and the full Tunnel experience from its heyday – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOs0czOx7fM
Finally, another club fondly remembered by New Yorkers was Nell’s on West 14th Street. Flourishing through the 80s and 90s, this was an upmarket spot famed for its live music performances, but also featuring DJ sets often geared around disco and other forms of black music. I was fortunate enough to get to DJ in the basement here a few times from 1999. Again, I didn’t manage to get an up-to-date photo of the place but here’s how its entrance looked back in happier and healthier times.