GOODNIGHT MR. LEWIS: Webster Hall Closes, Avant Gardner Opens…Eureka!

The purchase of the iconic East Village club, Webster Hall, by concert conglomerates AEG Presents and Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, with Bowery Presents taking over the booking, marks the end of big club entertainment in the Borough of Manhattan. Sure there are a couple of venues of size still going through the motions, but nothing that I consider worth the cab fare. Smaller spots thrive with rumors of new joints opening coming at me just about every week.

However, community boards determined to make Manhattan a bedroom community are only giving out 2AM licenses, a strategy that will eventually end the game as we know it. The city that never sleeps will seemingly go to bed early. The problem with 2AM closings for the city’s economy are profound, except for big real estate interests. The restaurant industry may lose its last turn if revelers don’t book 10pm reservations in order to enjoy lounges and dance clubs that close at 2. Taxis, Ubers. 24-hour delis and all the other places and services that feed on late night partiers will surely suffer. The incomes of future Broadway stars and artists and actors who live off tips will decrease as rents soar.

Yet in what will from this point on define this tale of two cities, Brooklyn’s Cityfox has been granted a full liquor license over the objections of local community boards. This 6000 person capacity, 80,000 square foot venue promises to be all things to all people and will surely be a boost to everything Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Bushwick. Long ago the “bridge and tunnel” patrons of Manhattan clubs migrated to the “city,” gobbling up condos, while the artistic, creative types crossed those dreaded bridges and formed the creative cauldron that now includes parts of Bed-Stuy and Ridgewood.

 

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The new owners of Webster Hall will reportedly spend $10 million to make the space, which has thrived for well over a hundred years, a more comfortable and modern venue. I believe the place is landmarked, and that raises the question on what can be redone and what must remain as it ever was. I talked to a couple of Webster Hall employees and one predicted some of them will retain their jobs. They couldn’t say whether club nights will be part of the new programing or how the reported $35 million purchase price will be divided among the huge Ballinger family which operated the spot since 1992.

Soon there will be very few reasons to travel into Manhattan. Every shop or restaurant worth its salt will find a niche in the outer boroughs. An entirely new city has emerged and now it is grander on most levels than our original city of dreams. I was at Webster Hall last week for Kayvon Zand’s fabulous Saturday night fete on the VIP balcony. I sat right about where I had seen The Ramones and Tina Turner and a hundred legendary acts. Down below a rather not very large crowd stood around watching a DJ while a few actually danced. Kayvon told me his crowd loved the big club experience that they had heard about in the history books. I smiled thinking to myself that this wasn’t it.

Cityfox’s new Bushwick spot called Avant Gardner will more than provide an alternative. The reasons people dressed up and went out hasn’t changed in 20 years, and it won’t in a hundred years or a millennium. We go out to meet each other, hang out in front of the DJ booth or the fire under the stars. It is here that we seek ourselves and display it and share it with others. The redefining of Webster Hall and the promise of Avant Gardner is a eureka moment, a passing of the torch. Manhattan as an “in” spot will still flourish in its nooks and crannies, but the heavy lifting will be found across the East River.

 

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