Exploring East Village Music Meccas with Building Blocks
From 19th-century concert halls to punk palaces of the 1970s, many influential music scenes got their start or found a home among the East Village’s legendary music venues. The East Village attracted countless creatives – performers, writers, artists, and thinkers – intermingling and inspiring radical new ideas. Today we’re looking at a few spots from our East Village Music Venues Tour on Building Blocks, reminding us how many unforgettable musicians made their mark on these humble streets.
Perhaps one of the most familiar names on the tour, Hilly Kristal opened CBGB (originally called Hilly’s) in 1969. Located at 313-315 Bowery, this site launched the careers of The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, and many other world-famous rockers. The famous club, whose name stands for “Country, Blue Grass, and Blues” (followed by “& Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers”), closed down in 2006. In 2013, 315 Bowery was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Bowery Historic District.
The building that houses 313-315 Bowery was originally constructed as two Old Law tenements in 1878, later altered in 1934 with its orange brick Art Deco facade that still exists today. It served as one of the Bowery’s infamous flophouses before Kristal opened his club. Today, the building’s storefronts pay some homage to their rock and roll legacies but also remind us that those days are long gone. No. 315, with bits of the club’s graffiti- and poster-covered walls on display, is now a John Varvatos boutique, and No. 313 became Morrison Hotel, a fine art music photography gallery.
The Five Spot Café
Just up the street at 5 Cooper Square, Joe and Iggy Termini opened the Five Spot Café in 1956 (a re-launch of their bar, the No. 5 Bar, in this same location) following the demolition of the Third Avenue El. In the 1930s, the venue was a divey neighborhood bar that attracted the writers and artists living nearby – Franz Kline, Grace Hartigan, Allen Ginsberg, and Willem de Kooning, to name a few – and became one of the world’s premier jazz clubs in the 1950s. This was a must-go for jazz lovers and aspiring musicians, featuring such greats as John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, and Billie Holiday.
Due to its enormous popularity and need for a larger space, the Treminis opened the new Five Spot at 2 St. Mark’s Place in 1962. The club remained there until 1967, resumed in 1974, and finally closed for good in 1976. The building which housed 5 Cooper Square is long gone, replaced by 200 East 5th Street, the Evelyn & Louis A. Green Residence, while the Five Spot’s second location still stands, but is now a tattoo, piercing, and souvenir shop in the ground floor of the St. Marks Hotel.
Over to 101 Avenue A, our last stop (as a tour of all the venues would be quite lengthy!) is the Pyramid Club, the sole surviving music club from the avant-garde era of the 1980’s. This club stands on hallowed musical ground – an 1876 brewery and popular gathering hall for the local German-American community well through the early 20th century, the building became a jazz club called the East Village In [sic] in the late 1960s. This club showcased Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, the Booker Ervin Quartet, and the Lee Morgan Quintet. In 1973 it became the Jazzboat, owned by Aziz Latif, a percussionist in Duke Ellington’s band known as Gaylord Emerson.
The venue became the Pyramid Club in 1979, and came to be widely known for its politically-conscious drag performance art and its central place in the counter-culture scene. Performers like Madonna, Kenny Scharf, RuPaul, Lady Bunny, and Ann Magnuson all could be found at this club, either on stage or among the crowd. The Pyramid Club “remains to this day devoted to providing our patrons the full 80’s experience.” So be sure to stop by and pay your respects!
As mentioned, it would take far too much space to compile all of these venues into one Off the Grid post. But if you’re up for a self-paced walking (or digital) tour, check out all of the spots for yourself! To see the whole tour of groundbreaking East Village music venues, including a concert stage where one of the most iconic rock album covers of all time was shot, a legendary drag cabaret where Debbie Harry performed pre-Blondie, or a concert hall that went from housing Polish weddings to psychedelic light shows, click here!