Remembering the Ritz

Remembering the Ritz

There are a number of legendary rock venues in our neighborhood, many an integral part of the 1980s NYC club scene. One of the leading ones was ‘The Ritz,’ located in Webster Hall, designated a New York City landmark in 2008, on East 11th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues.  The Ritz opened on May 1, 1980, and it was one of the first clubs to use video in conjunction with music, utilizing a 30 x 30 foot screen (something other clubs around the country would copy). Over the course of its near decade-long tenancy on East 11th Street, the Ritz hosted legends such as U2, Iggy Pop, Tina Turner, Guns N’ Roses, Depeche Mode, Prince, The  Talking Heads, and Sting, just to name a few.

Webster Hall

Webster Hall was built in 1886-87 (the eastern annex in 1892), and over its long history has served Greenwich Village and the East Village as a venue for social meetings, labor rallies, receptions, and balls. In 1980, Jerry Brandt, a legend himself in the music business, chose the site for his new club, the Ritz. In a recent interview, he described the club’s place in the New York City music scene: “The 80s were defined by rock n’ roll, attitude, the clothing and the drugs. The Ritz propelled the 80s with the greatest rock n’ roll bands in the world. The Ritz was the premier venue in New York City.” An article in The Villager from 1981 had this to say about the club:

The biggest, most ostensibly legitimate club is the Ritz at 11th Street and 4th Avenue. It’s no lie calling the Ritz an old Puerto Rican dance hall – it comes complete with mirrored walls, Spanish/English bathroom signs, marble stairs and a monstrous sparkly whatchamacallit hanging ominously from the ten-mile-high ceiling. Yikes! All I can think about is the sword of Damocles. At the Ritz, the bigger-is-better theory applies. A giant video screen plays dream-state film splices between acts. Hypnotic Souixsee and the Banshees at 16 times real-life size. A night at the Ritz can be expensive and/or overcrowded, depending on the act, the night of the week and the weather. If the Rolling Stones are REALLY going to play in one of New York’s downtown clubs, it’ll be the Ritz.

MTV made its debut at the Ritz and would go onto present Live at the Ritz on a seasonal basis. This series featured performers including Run DMC, The Smithereens, the Cult, Iggy Pop, Great White, and the infamous Guns N’ Roses show from February 1988 which Rolling Stone said: “captured the band at its most primal.” During the playing of ‘Paradise City,’ Axl Rose dove into the sea of fans and it took three stagehands to extract the lead vocalist who emerged shirtless (really? he actually had been wearing a shirt?), without jewelry and scratched up. Slash meanwhile played an intensely feverish solo sprawled on his back.

In 1989 the Ritz moved to 254 West 54th Street, former home of Studio 54, leaving the East Village. Webster Hall was reopened as a club in 1992 and reassumed the historic name, ‘Webster Hall.’ Recently, under new ownership, it has been subject to extensive interior renovations as well as some limited changes to the exterior (click HERE for information on those).

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29 comments on “Remembering the Ritz
  1. Sarah Bean Apmann Miriam says:

    I saw many great acts at the Ritz but the most memorable was Prince in a leopard skin loin cloth. I’ll never forget that night.

  2. Sarah Bean Apmann Jeanne Krier says:

    Sarah,
    Thanks so much for this. So interesting and so well-written. I live around the corner from Webster Hall (in the International Tailoring Co building on Fourth @ 12th St) and I read this post with such interest.
    Learned a lot about Webster Hall in one of its heyday period.
    I will share it wih our residents in our building.
    Your work is so appreciated@ Not just in this but all you and your team at GVSHP do for we who live in Greenwich Village.

  3. Sarah Bean Apmann Richard Zinn says:

    your picture of the front door is actually the front entrance of the studio 54 Ritz, not the E 11th st one. I worked at both venues for 12 years.

    • Sarah Bean Apmann Know ee says:

      The picture is from 11st. I live near there.

    • Sarah Bean Apmann Bill brusca says:

      I was the general manager of the Ritz on 11 th Street. That is Not the front door of studio 54. Richard I’m surprised that your memory is gone … or maybe not …

      • Sarah Bean Apmann Marc Kesten says:

        @Bill Bruska, I worked at the Ritz from 1981-1982 as member of Peter Toale’s Tech Crew. I remember you well. You did a great job managing the club. Working with/for you, Jerry, Peter, Cosmo, et al. gave me some of the best memories of my life.

      • Sarah Bean Apmann Richard Zinn says:

        They swapped it out after I made my comment Billy xoxo

    • Sarah Bean Apmann Bill brusca says:

      No Richard, that photo is the Ritz on 11th Street… I was the general manager from opening day …
      Bill Brusca

      • Sarah Bean Apmann Albert Garcia says:

        I worked at the Ritz as barback on the 80’s when bill brusca was manager, he hired me,and Vincent from law and order worked the front door,..I went on to be bouncer and maintenance supervisor. I worked with Neil cohen on till Felix carcano got involved, and it became a high scale strip club.. it was nothing like the 80’s…… the best years of the Ritz.. Richard, Bill brusca is right

        • Sarah Bean Apmann Richard Zinn says:

          Albert my old friend, I’m glad to see your name. How is the family? Now, to address you, Billy and anyone else…The photo the author of this piece used when this article was 1st published was the 54 marquee. It was only AFTER I commented that it was wrong that they swapped it our to the corrected pic you now see in this article. I know the difference guys. Billy watered down all the free drinks for the crew so I clearly remember:)
          We were talking about you and Ray a few weeks ago. We found a picture of him with the stage crew. I hope all is well. You’re were the best. Join the Ritz facebook group. Most of us from the staff are on there…even the delightful Billy Brusca is a member so you know it’s 1st class…Be well!

      • Sarah Bean Apmann sf says:

        Hi Bill, I’m writing a book, part of which concerns my time of visiting then living in the city, early 80s till 2004. Lots of memories of the Ritz. The Professionals. The Cure. The Cult. Many other events. Wondering if I can ask you a question – trying to remember a thing or two. Cheers. ( copperland@earthlink.net )

  4. Sarah Bean Apmann Rebecca says:

    How could you NOT be in on the New York music scene, and not know this place! Seeing The Stray Cats play here, and being in on the night it was recorded! Hanging out in the balcony with anyone and everyone in the music business! Nothing but the BEST MEMORIES!

    • Sarah Bean Apmann Sylvie says:

      I forgot about the Stray Cats! I was there for that, too. But being five feet from Billy Idol on stage was definitely my highlight memory of the place. So many fantastic acts! So many fuzzy memories…

  5. Sarah Bean Apmann Greg Kessler says:

    Isaw Danzig there twice late 80’s

  6. Sarah Bean Apmann Obrun says:

    Sting, pre Dream of the Blue Turtles release.

    • Sarah Bean Apmann Kevin F says:

      I was there too! I was listening to the radio and the dj said, “you’ll probably hear that if you are going to be at the ritz.” Something like that. I RAN from E22nd and he started the performance just a couple of minutes later. The place was pretty empty, so I danced like an idiot! Must have been ’88. I moved from Olympia to NY right after I graduated high school in ’87.

  7. Sarah Bean Apmann VICTOR says:

    I worked at the Ritz concert hall FROM 88 too 92 as a barback were is EVERYONE at.

    PITO ASK

  8. Sarah Bean Apmann ANTHONY says:

    I played there many time with Fats Deacon & The Dumbwaiters.. So many great shows.. Such an honor to play on that stage…

  9. Sarah Bean Apmann Chris says:

    Senior in HS, decided to go to the club one night. Irish band making their debut??? we weren’t sure how good they would be. Was U2. Fairly good. My entire young life in the 80s was there. Great stuff.

  10. Sarah Bean Apmann Leonard Accardi says:

    My best memories were in the early 80’s, Monday night’s rock and roll against depression $1 admission. I also remember the Jim Carroll Band, Klaus Nomi, Culture Club, Depeche Mode, Yaz,

  11. Sarah Bean Apmann Andrew K says:

    Jerry Garcia and a stand up base player in 1986. One of the best shows ever.

  12. Sarah Bean Apmann Dave says:

    Johnny Thunders/Wayne Kramer right after it opened, May 1980. “Tune up ya burnout!”

  13. Sarah Bean Apmann Sal says:

    Saw Book of Love for a Hometown Show in 1986, drove in from Whitestone with my cousins, unbelievable evening

  14. Sarah Bean Apmann Danny K. says:

    Great Jerry Garcia acoustic with John Kahn on bass in ’86. I remember two nights. Just heard the shows are available through Garcia website

  15. Sarah Bean Apmann Joanne Woods says:

    Went to many shows there but I remember a long staircase leading up to the entrance That photo looks nothing like it to me…am I crazy??

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