View Full Version : The Bottom Line May Close Over Rent

September 15th, 2003, 08:06 AM
September 15, 2003

Village Club May Face Swan Song Over Rent


The Bottom Line, the Greenwich Village cabaret where a little-known New Jersey guitar player named Bruce Springsteen danced across tabletops at age 25, and where the venerable composer Aaron Copland played piano at age 79, has fallen into a deep financial hole and is facing eviction from the West Fourth Street corner it has occupied for nearly 30 years.

New York University, which owns the building, says that the club owes $185,000 in rent back to 2000, and that the school needs both the money and the space. The university has filed papers in New York City Civil Court seeking to take possession of the club. The case is scheduled to be heard next week.

After three decades as the city's premier showcase for a broad sweep of popular music, from Miles Davis and Dolly Parton to Jerry Garcia and Norah Jones, the club's prospects are dire.

"It's about to be executed," Mark Alonso, a lawyer for the club's owners, said. "There's basically 10 days or so for a reprieve. There's a very real possibility that this may not be salvageable — it depends on whether the university will be flexible."

Allan Pepper, who opened the Bottom Line in February 1974 with his partner, Stanley Snadowsky, says that the club was scraping by in the late 1990's, but that business collapsed in the days and months after the attack on the World Trade Center, two miles away. Insurance and emergency aid provided about $50,000, which helped him cover his payroll, taxes and utility bills. The club has paid the monthly rent of $11,000 since June, Mr. Pepper said, adding that he is determined to find backers who would satisfy the university and keep it going.

"They're entitled to their rent," Mr. Pepper said. "They're not wrong. We're not looking for free lunch."

Yet to get new backers, Mr. Pepper said, he would need to have at least the prospect of a new lease, which the university has been unwilling to offer.

With good reason, says a spokesman for the university, John Beckman. He said Mr. Pepper and Mr. Snadowsky are being charged only about half the going rate for space in the area, but even at that, could not keep up with what they owe. The university is also being financially squeezed, Mr. Beckman said, with contributions shrinking, wages frozen and tuition increasing.

"No one was looking to see the Bottom Line closed," Mr. Beckman said. "If they had paid their rent, there wouldn't be an issue." He said the university does not plan to use the space for commercial purposes and will probably convert it to large classrooms.

The Bottom Line, with seating for 400, dwarfed an earlier generation of Village bars, restaurants and coffeehouses that had served as incubators for young musicians.

At the time the Bottom Line opened, the Village was fast losing any lingering charms of its bohemian past and was sliding into a seediness that could seem downright sinister. The club sits at the corner of West Fourth and Mercer Streets. Just to the west, Washington Square Park had become an open market for a rampant drug trade and prostitution. To the east, Broadway seemed to be pocketed with lifeless shadows.

On opening night at the Bottom Line, Dr. John was joined on stage by Stevie Wonder and Edgar Winter. Among those in the audience, Mr. Pepper recalled, were Mick Jagger, Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Charles Mingus, John Hammond Jr., Rip Torn and Geraldine Paige. Within weeks of its opening, the club was packed every night. Very quickly, 7,000 or 8,000 people a week were coming to Mercer Street, Mr. Pepper recalled. Not only did the club survive the neighborhood difficulties, it thrived.

While bigger than most of the older Village clubs, the Bottom Line provided a downright cozy and less-expensive alternative to stadiums and arenas. Even today, its ticket prices are around $20. There is no cover or minimum. Until Mr. Snadowsky retired to Las Vegas in the early 1990's, both owners had been in the club nearly every night since it opened.

A five-night run of shows by Mr. Springsteen in August 1975 still inspires awe among those who saw them. Over the bar is a series of color pictures of performers on the vest-pocket stage: Mr. Springsteen, the Roche Sisters, Peter Allen, Janice Ian, Gregory Hines, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed and David Johansen. But neither echoes nor memories can pay the bills. Mr. Pepper said his audiences tend "to skew older." His lawyer, Mr. Alonso, said that it might be time for Mr. Pepper to have "reverse mentoring — young people to remind Allan and his partner of what the market wants."

Mr. Beckman said that officials at N.Y.U. recognized that the Bottom Line had a long history but that it could not ask its students to subsidize the operations of a for-profit club. "You ask, `Will closing the Bottom Line mean the next Bruce Springsteen won't be discovered?' " Mr. Beckman said. "I ask, `Will keeping it open mean that the next Albert Einstein might not get educated here?' "

On Saturday evening, Wishbone Ash, a British rock band popular in the 1970's and 80's, was performing two shows at the club. Mr. Pepper stood on the sidewalk outside the door, and a friend arrived with a cake to celebrate his 61st birthday.

A young woman walked up with a camera, asking Mr. Pepper to take her picture against the club's billboard. The woman, Yasuko Uto, 22, who was visiting from Japan, pulled out a New York guidebook that touted the Bottom Line for its good sight lines and diverse acts. She had just seen the first show. "I did not know the band, but it was great, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere," Ms. Uto said.

Standing in line for the late show were Ken and Marla Levine of Westchester, alumni of many Bottom Line performances. Mr. Levine, 47, recalled an evening when Talking Heads opened for Bryan Ferry. "That may not top Springsteen, but that was as big as it gets in what was then New Wave and British avant-garde," Mr. Levine said. "There was a night when Peter Gabriel played, a freezing February night, and people were lined up halfway down Mercer Street. Had to be 20, 22 years ago."

Mr. Levine said that with the passage of years and the arrival of children, it was harder to get into the city for an evening out. "I wanted to get to the early show, but we couldn't work it out," Mr. Levine said.

"Now we're falling asleep," said Mrs. Levine.

To bring in younger crowds, the club has paired up with WFUV, the public radio station at Fordham University, to sponsor nights of new music, Mr. Pepper said. He is proud to have run what he called "a mom-and-pop" operation without corporate backing for so long, and sees irony that during the 1980's, N.Y.U. used the presence of the Bottom Line on its campus in student recruiting materials.

Mr. Pepper sees the viability of the club as standing for something larger than the cash flow of one business. His older crowds, he says, are worried about mortgages, college tuition, their own safety. "We deal with an audience that has become very much aware of their own mortality," Mr. Pepper said. "In the long run and big picture, as every other small business in this city after Sept. 11th, our future is directly related to people's sense of well-being, which at this moment in time is very tentative."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

September 15th, 2003, 11:18 AM
Very interesting. Keep us updated on the Bottom Line. Hope it survives.

TLOZ Link5
September 15th, 2003, 05:56 PM
Greenwich Village—soon to be known as NYUville.

Jack Ryan
September 15th, 2003, 09:48 PM
Yeah..I read that today. I'll be sad if that place goes under. Some of the greatest shows I've been lucky enough to attend went down on that stage. Devo, Elvis Costello (On April Fools Day one year back in the big blur, E.C. played three shows at three different venues. I can't seem to remember the other two), Santana, Peter Tosh, the list is endless. Perhaps the best one was the Night Rockpile was headlining and Keith Richards showed up, played four tunes with them, returned to his table (right next to mine) and passed out.

TLOZ Link5
September 15th, 2003, 10:36 PM
One of the downsides of living in a capitalistic society.

September 16th, 2003, 11:26 AM
September 16, 2003

For Younger Music Fans, a Club Is, Well, History


There was a time when a guy named Ringo Starr played the drums with a band called the Beatles, who had their music pressed onto round, black discs of vinyl and stuffed into jackets known as album covers.

That might sound so obvious as to be silly, until you meet Brian Lee. He is a 19-year-old student studying music technology at New York University. He plays the trombone, has his own band and dresses like a 19-year-old musician might, with lots of black and piercing.

He's never heard of Ringo Starr.

"I haven't heard about a lot of groups," Mr. Lee said. "I'm mostly into my own band."

This is not to make fun of Mr. Lee, who is a serious young musician, but to point out the problem facing the Bottom Line, a legendary music club in Greenwich Village that has showcased many of the biggest names in music over the last 30 years. Indeed, Mr. Starr himself recently played on its stage.

The Bottom Line owes its landlord, New York University, $185,000 in rent going back to 2000, and may be forced to shut down. The club has been a presence on West Fourth Street in the Village for nearly three decades, and its possible demise has alarmed many of its faithful, from longtime customers to music industry legends. They say the club must be saved to help preserve a historic site, one that also offers a unique atmosphere to established musicians as well as up-and-coming artists.

"The sense of history alone that exists within those walls is something that the city, let alone the music community and music fans, should value and treasure," said Vin Scelsa, the longtime disc jockey who is best known for the radio show "Idiot's Delight."

But if its doors close, the death of the Bottom Line may well be more the result of changing musical tastes than a dispute in which the landlord has filed court papers seeking to take possession of the club, while the club's owners want to work out a payoff schedule.

There was a time when the Bottom Line was a must stop for up-and-coming artists, established musicians and everyone in between. Its legacy is so strong that when Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel recently announced plans to reunite and tour, they did so from the stage at the Bottom Line.

Why, then, hasn't Melanie Golder ever stepped foot inside the Bottom Line? She is 42 years old and has lived in the neighborhood for the last eight years. Or how about Julie Denison, 33, who has lived there for six years? Both women say that they are interested in music but that the Bottom Line just hasn't been on their list of places to see.

"I've walked by it a million times," said Ms. Denison. "I can't even think of anyone who has been there."

To begin to understand the Bottom Line's troubles is no more difficult than to cross the street. From there, the club's blue awning can be seen by hundreds of students milling around Tisch Hall at N.Y.U., but its legendary reputation eludes them.

"You mean the comedy club across the street?" Chase Berger, 20, a finance and marketing major from Florida, responded when asked if he had ever heard of the club. "I think the taste for live music has gone down. People are more into D.J.'s, hip-hop and electronic music."

Or here is 19-year-old Shawna Dobbins's perspective on the club. "I always felt like it was an older crowd, and it was kind of expensive. I love music, but I've never been there," she said.

If there is a sigh going out over the Bottom Line's troubles, it is probably being heard in Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey. The Bottom Line was once a place that attracted young people from around the region. Those audiences poured in to hear musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed and Miles Davis. But those audiences have grown older, and though still interested in music, they are less likely to venture downtown for a night at a club.

"I think the audience of the Bottom Line is a loyal one that was built over the years. It is the 30-plus audience," said Rita Houston, music director of WFUV, a radio station that promotes two performance series at the club aimed at younger audiences. "I would say the majority of the audience is a suburban audience that lives outside of town and is probably married with kids at this point and still goes to the shows."

Steve Fenster, 47, a mortgage broker from Briarcliff Manor in Westchester, is that audience. He has been going to the Bottom Line since he was a teenager growing up on Long Island. He has memories of shows at the club and still gets out to see live music often. But he hasn't been to the Bottom Line in 10 months and notes that there are many other clubs open now.

"Maybe the kind of musicians somebody my age likes aren't playing there much anymore," he said.

That may be part of the problem. But it is more complex, reaching into the changing economy of the city and the changing nature of the music industry, with name acts concentrating more on making CD's than trying to draw audiences through concerts.

Allan Pepper, one of the owners and founders of the Bottom Line, is struggling to keep it open. He insists that the club remains relevant and modern. He notes, for example, that the club recently had four up-and-coming artists, aimed at attracting younger audiences, on the same day that Ringo Starr played on stage.

That, however, didn't mean anything to Mr. Lee, the 19-year-old musician, who said he had never heard of the four other musicians, either.

"Can I tell you the name of my own band?" Mr. Lee said as he walked away carrying his trombone case. "Insult to Tradition."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

September 25th, 2003, 01:18 AM
Broadcaster Offers to Help Bottom Line With Its Rent


Just last week, the Bottom Line, the venerable but faded Greenwich Village cabaret, seemed to be facing certain death as New York University pressed for $185,000 in back rent.

The club's owners hoped for a savior with deep pockets who could pay the 17 months of unpaid rent to its landlord. They knew it was a long shot that one would emerge, but yesterday that is exactly what happened just as the university's legal case against the club seemed to be heading for a trial in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

A lawyer for the Bottom Line announced in court yesterday that a young Manhattan-based company, Sirius Satellite Radio, had agreed to become an investor in the club, helping it with promotion and making a $185,000 lump-sum payment to the university. Sirius is a subscriber service that broadcasts music, news and entertainment nationally from studios at Rockefeller Center.

The offer allowed the Bottom Line to avoid the legal case and to negotiate over the next four weeks on a new lease with the university for the building at West Fourth and Mercer Streets, where the club has operated since February 1974, showcasing a range of popular music, from Miles Davis to Bruce Springsteen.

"I certainly feel much more relief today than I did at the beginning of June when this thing reared its head," said Allan Pepper, a co-owner of the Bottom Line. "I feel a lot more relaxed."

Speaking for the new investor, Jim Collins, vice president of corporate communication at Sirius, said: "It seemed appropriate and logical for us to step in and try to save the club. Altruistic? Sure, but we feel it's a venerable institution intertwined into the New York culture and the music community and it deserves to be saved."

The $185,000 will be held by lawyers for N.Y.U. and the Bottom Line in escrow until all the details of the new lease and other improvements the university wants are worked out. If a new lease is not signed, the money will be returned to Sirius.

"We have four weeks," said Mark Alonso, the lawyer for the nightclub. "It's that simple. We're trusting that N.Y.U. is looking forward to negotiating in good faith."

The reprieve came late in the day, after a morning of negotiations between Martin Metzer, a lawyer for the university, and Mr. Alonso, with the consistent coaxing of Justice Jose A. Padilla Jr., the presiding judge.

Most of the talks occurred in a courthouse hallway, with Justice Padilla going back and forth from the bench to check on the progress.

The university wanted the money yesterday. "If they pay $185,000 today, this case is over," Mr. Metzer said.

But Mr. Alonso told the judge that the club needed more time to produce a check or wire the money, and that it wanted some details about a new lease.

Mr. Metzer protested. "The university has been carrying this tenant at a below market rent for some years," he said. He told Justice Padilla that the situation has "significantly adversely affected the university's educational facilities."

He continued: "If they're not prepared to pay the money, then we have a trial." Mr. Metzer called the promise of a last-minute payment "a wonderful spiel."

Mr. Alonso told Justice Padilla: "Someone's come forward to pay all the back rent. How often does that happen?" He added that if the university was serious about not wanting to close the club, "What's four weeks to wait to get all the money?"

Mr. Metzer told Mr. Alonso that the posting of money in an escrow account "doesn't help the university," but ultimately the university agreed to that part of the deal.

The rest of the tentative terms were not released or discussed in open court. The session ended with Judge Padilla's vague announcement: "O.K., we're done. For your information, the parties have agreed to postpone things under certain conditions."

Mr. Pepper said, "I'd like to thank N.Y.U. for taking a step back, helping us to try and resolve this in a way I always hoped it would be." Asked if this meant the Bottom Line was coming back, he replied, "To my mind, it never left."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

September 25th, 2003, 07:40 AM
He's never heard of Ringo Starr

I can understand a nineteen year old not knowing who Ringo Starr is - but not a nineteen year old musician.

December 4th, 2003, 08:04 AM

Judge Orders Eviction Of Bottom Line Nightclub

Associated Press Writer

December 3, 2003, 7:45 PM EST

NEW YORK -- A Manhattan judge has ordered the eviction of the Bottom Line nightclub from the Greenwich Village space it has occupied for the past 30 years.

Civil Court Judge Donna Recant found that the club, which had no lease and admittedly owed more than $190,000 in back rent, must relinquish its space to its landlord, New York University. The judge stayed the eviction for five days.

The music Mecca's lawyer, Mark Alonso, said Wednesday that he expected the ruling.

"But the thing that's the most galling to me is that NYU was saying they weren't suing for eviction," Alonso said. "They just didn't want us there."

He hinted that the club could reopen at another site.

"What makes the Bottom Line is not the building," he said. "It's the people who run it."

In June, the club faced eviction after falling behind 17 months in rent. But attorneys for the club and NYU agreed to postpone eviction proceedings with an eye to signing a new lease. The nightclub was operating by month-to-month agreement.

NYU spokesman John Beckman said the university was pleased that the judge had ruled in its favor but saddened that the Bottom Line would close.

"We take no pleasure at being at this juncture with the Bottom Line," he said in a statement. "NYU does not want to see the Bottom Line close, and we never wanted to go to court."

He added, however, that "it is simply not right to have a not-for-profit educational institution subsidizing a for-profit entertainment business."

Under a recent temporary agreement, satellite radio network Sirius posted $185,000 in escrow to cover the debt in the event a new lease was reached. In light of Recant's decision, the money will be returned to Sirius.

Recant's five-page ruling, made public Wednesday, said that "irrespective of the unfortunate impact this decision is likely to have, not only on the parties in this action but on the entire community, this court finds, in fact and in law, for the petitioner (NYU)."

The Bottom Line hosted many legendary music nights over its three decades, with performers from rocker Bruce Springsteen to jazz trumpeter Miles Davis playing the intimate room.

Reports of the club's possible closing prompted an outpouring of support from its thousands of patrons and performers including Springsteen, singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb and Tony Award winner Marc Shaiman.

Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press

December 4th, 2003, 08:35 AM
December 4, 2003

Bottom Line Club Is Given 5 Days to Pay Landlord


The Bottom Line, the venerable Greenwich Village nightclub where musicians from Bruce Springsteen to Miles Davis once played, was given five days to pay its back rent or face eviction from the corner of West Fourth and Mercer Streets, where it has been since 1974.

The ruling yesterday, by Judge Donna G. Recant in Manhattan Civil Court, seemed to be the final chapter in a long-running legal battle between the club and its landlord, New York University. The club owes $190,000 in back rent.

"No one is happy to be at this junction," said John Beckman, a spokesman for the university. But, he said, "over the course of many months, we gave them innumerable chances to try and resolve this, and they just didn't."

The club had fallen behind on rent payments over the past several years because of what Allan Pepper, a co-owner of the club, called economic malaise that deepened after the Sept. 11 attack. The university took the club to court and demanded that it pay back rent and negotiate a new lease. It presented a new lease to the club in September. Its terms would have raised the rent and required the club to make renovations.

In that month, several supporters of the club stepped in to help. Among them was a young Manhattan-based company, Sirius Satellite Radio. The company placed $185,000 in a bank account and said it could be applied to rent as soon as the club and the university agreed on a new lease.

They never did. Mr. Beckman said the club never responded to the lease proposal. He said the university has three other similar retail spaces in the area, each of which pays $65 a square foot, far more than the $25 a square foot the club pays.

Mr. Pepper said he tried to negotiate, but that ultimately, university officials were not willing to consider terms he felt the club could afford. Now the club has five days to pay, a deadline Mr. Pepper said he did not expect the club could meet.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

December 4th, 2003, 02:38 PM
I'm really starting to feel like there needs to be an organized push on the City administration to take some measures to counter the crush on the arts scene.

Historically writers, musics, dancers, actors, painters, sculpters, and so many artists flocked to NYC to make their mark on the world.

The Bottom Line closing is but another example of how the economics of the town is killing the arts scene. Gentrification forces low-waged artist further and further from the city core. Example: driven from Soho, they set up shop in Williamsburg and Dumbo. Now they're on the verge of being driven out of those neighborhoods too. It's just a matter of time for the Lower East Side.

And don't even get me started on Rudy threatening to close the Brooklyn Museum of Art cause they ticked him off.

I just think that New York is really going to lose out on the global scale. Just as TV & Film has fled the City for Canada, I think if the City doesn't look at ways to subsidize* the artists that keep the creative juices flowing, you'll see those artists gravitate to other cities where they can ply their crafts and NOT live in closet in the Far Rockaways and take the train for 2 hours to get to work. Places like Chicago.

And I think we'll all lose out, the art and culture of NYC is really one of the biggest tourist draws. People come to see shows, hear the bands, tour the museums and galleries.

*I have to say I use the word subsidize, but really mean the reality is dancer on Broadway will never make enough to keep up with a stockbroker, but we really should create a system that allows the artists a standard of life that's decent. We owe it to future generations to make such a system.

Sorry if I'm ranting.

TLOZ Link5
December 4th, 2003, 03:52 PM
People flock to New York for the cultural excitement. If gentrification continues at this rate, there won't be any artists or actors who live in New York to supply that excitement.

December 4th, 2003, 04:05 PM
People flock to New York for the cultural excitement. If gentrification continues at this rate, there won't be any artists or actors who live in New York to supply that excitement.

That's exactly my point thank you. I just fear that there's no one in power that realizes this. (Although I think Bloomberg is a supporter of the arts, I think someone needs to call his attention to it.)

TLOZ Link5
December 4th, 2003, 04:54 PM
It couldn't hurt to petition him. I'd sign.

January 23rd, 2004, 10:56 PM
January 24, 2004

The Bottom Line, a Historic Nightclub, Calls It Quits


The Bottom Line closed its doors after a court fight with N.Y.U. over back rent.

The Bottom Line, the Greenwich Village music club that was a launching pad for the likes of Bruce Springsteen and other rock stars, finally shut its doors on Thursday after almost three decades as a music industry landmark, its lawyer said yesterday.

The lawyer, Mark Alonso, said that the club had vacated its space on West Fourth Street, ending a long-simmering landlord-tenant fight that boiled over when New York University took the club to court last fall over its failure to pay more than $185,000 in back rent. N.Y.U. owns the building that housed the Bottom Line, a longtime showcase for unknowns and well-knowns that had fallen on hard times in recent years.

"There was no formal eviction," Mr. Alonso said. "We just turned over the premises.'' Of the club's owners and N.Y.U., he said, "They parted amicably.''

A spokesman for N.Y.U., Josh Taylor, said, "It's a sad day for everyone.''

And musicians whose careers had been given a boost at the Bottom Line mourned its closing. "This is a kind of a grieving period for all of us,'' said Will Lee, a guitarist in the band on "Late Show with David Letterman.'' "It was a fight everybody didn't want to lose, but I guess it's over.''

David Johansen, who was the lead singer of the New York Dolls in the 1970's, said the 400-seat club with the postage-stamp-size stage had somehow been more than just a place to perform. "It's been essentially my living room,'' he said. "I was very comfortable on that stage. I never really had to think before I walked out; it came naturally to me.''

The club's shutdown came six weeks after a judge set a deadline for it to pay its back rent or face eviction, a deadline the club missed. N.Y.U. went to court saying that the club's owners had ignored a university proposal for a new lease that would have raised the rent. N.Y.U. officials maintained that the Bottom Line, which opened in February 1974, was paying about half what comparable retail space now goes for.

Allan Pepper, who opened the Bottom Line with a partner, Stanley Snadowsky, did not answer a request for comment that was placed with Mr. Alonso yesterday. In September, Mr. Pepper said that the Bottom Line's business dropped off after the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. He said that he had covered the payroll and taxes with about $50,000 in insurance money and emergency aid. He also said the club had paid its monthly $11,000 rent regularly since June.

There had been talk of finding new backers, of arranging a payoff schedule on the back rent. But yesterday, there was only a goodbye message on the club's Web site, www.bottomlinecabaret.com . It thanked fans who had shown support for the club by signing petitions, buying T-shirts and attending performances.

"The Bottom Line has always been about the music, and we find fulfillment in knowing that we have stayed the course and remained true to our vision," the message read.

Bottom Line regulars agreed with that idea as they reflected on the closing. "I just think it's really the end of an era and a type of approach to presenting music that I hope will not die out entirely," said Terre Roche of the Roches, a group that began appearing at the Bottom Line soon after it opened. "Allan had his own way of doing things, and he stuck to his guns."

And the club, she said, "wasn't just about what was popular - he presented things that you wouldn't think would be on the same stage."

A generation ago, the Bottom Line was a make-or-break stop for new musicians and a stomping ground for established acts. "For myself, that was a major experience for my group, playing at the Bottom Line," Ms. Roche said. She had a party for her 50th birthday there in April. "I'm very glad to have been able to do that before they closed."

Many musicians had anticipated the closing even as they dreaded it. "We never knew what day the ax was going to fall," said Richard Barone, the director of "The Downtown Messiah," a modern interpretation of the Handel masterpiece that had been staged at the club for the last six winters. "We all knew it was coming."

Mr. Barone said that when he heard on the radio that the Bottom Line had closed, "my first thought was New York had lost a sacred place like Lourdes or the Taj Mahal."

"This was where I saw all the rock gods I came to New York to be near: Captain Beefheart, Lou Reed, the Roches," he said.

Ms. Roche said she had hoped the club would be rescued. "You figured somebody was going to step in," she said. "Allan helped foster us by giving us gigs on a regular basis, so I feel a real debt of gratitude to him and the club. I'm going to miss it."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

January 24th, 2004, 11:49 AM
I've never heard of the Bottom Line before, but from what I've read, it seems like it was a great place.
Were they not doing enough business, or was NYU just putting the rent to high?

This is big blow to the city's cultural and artistic scene, but from what I have heard (read), things seem to be improving. I thinking that the increase in tourism would help, also.

January 24th, 2004, 01:21 PM

January 26th, 2004, 01:14 AM
January 26, 2004


The Bottom Line, a Place Where the Music Always Came First


Modest to the end, the Bottom Line closed quietly on Thursday. There was no big farewell concert, no tearful leave-taking. The owners, Allan Pepper and Stanley Snadowsky, didn't wait for New York University, their landlord, to follow through on its right to evict the club. They packed up and left just weeks before the club's 30th birthday.

The Bottom Line owed more than $185,000 in back rent and could not agree on a new lease with N.Y.U., which was demanding a $1.5 million renovation and an initial 250 percent rent increase when negotiations broke down. Lately the club had gathered sponsorships and promises to pay off its back rent (from Bruce Springsteen, Viacom and Sirius satellite radio, among others) on the condition that it work out a new lease, and it had offered to set up programs for N.Y.U. students. But with eviction looming, the club stopped booking shows in mid-January.

For a music lover the place always seemed too good to last. The Bottom Line was a grand anomaly among clubs: a place where the music came first. In the end, it seemed, its owners weren't greedy enough.

The Bottom Line amply earned its fond place in the memories of a generation of listeners. Discreetly and consistently the Bottom Line put musicians in front of audiences who came for no other reason than to pay attention to the music. The room was dark and high-ceilinged with rainbow-muraled walls, and the stage receded into the background of a performance.

With a capacity of 400, the club was large enough to present nationally and internationally known musicians. Yet it was also intimate enough to confer bragging rights on the fans who saw Mr. Springsteen, Dolly Parton, João Gilberto or the Police perform there.

The Bottom Line did the small but essential things right. Performances started promptly and were heard through a trusty sound system. The audience was comfortable, since the Bottom Line had a fixed number of seats and tables. Yet diehard fans could still get in because the club sold tickets for standing room at the bar on the night of the show. Nearly every seat provided clear sightlines to the stage despite the infamous black pillars holding up its ceiling.

The club maintained good relationships with musicians, some of whom, like the guitarist David Bromberg, came back year after year. And it had a no-smoking policy well before the city's other clubs were forced to do the same.

In the economics of clubs, bands are usually paid from admission receipts, while club owners make their profits on food and drink. It pays to keep people waiting and drinking, and to nurture a bar scene. But the Bottom Line didn't squeeze out its audiences' last dollars. While the club served alcohol and some well-greased food, it wasn't a neighborhood bar with a stage tucked in, or a restaurant with an entertainment annex. It wasn't a lounge, a dance club, a hangout or a posing ground for hipsters, either.

It was, as billed from the start, a cabaret. During performances, conversations stopped, and waitresses became less than aggressive about pushing the next round of drinks. Last call came before the music was over. People went to the Bottom Line to see what was on the stage that night, and they left (or were sent home) shortly after the last encore. On nights when there was no show, the club was closed.

When the Bottom Line opened in 1974, it quickly became a showcase for acts being touted by record companies. Corporate credit cards paid a lot of drink tabs and admissions, particularly in the club's first two decades. Executives, media representatives and freeloaders occupied the reserved tables in the back; fans were in the front, close to the musicians.

It was an era of folk-pop singer-songwriters, and the Bottom Line was perfect for them, although it also presented performers as disparate as Miles Davis, the Ramones, Ravi Shankar and the contemporary chamber-music quartet Tashi (on a daring bill with the avant-garde jazz saxophonist Anthony Braxton).

The Bottom Line was a civilized place to hear music for audiences who wanted to sit and listen. And that may have contributed to its troubles. Most rock clubs have moved away from the cabaret model, as concertgoing has become more of a contact sport.

Folky guitar strummers, pop balladeers and jazz groups still prefer quiet, seated audiences. But they have been outflanked and outnumbered by indie rockers, hip-hop acts, punks, metal bands, rhythm-and-blues acts and jam bands, all of which are used to making their audiences move.

Young music fans don't mind being shoulder to shoulder at a concert, bouncing or even moshing to the beat. The setup turns a performance into a social event. Of course standing audiences are a bonanza for club owners, who can pack more bodies into the same space. That in turn allows a club to offer bigger fees to bands, sometimes with lower admission prices, competition the Bottom Line probably couldn't match. Record-company showcases have moved to clubs like the Bowery Ballroom, which has a handful of tables on a balcony above the dance floor.

In recent years the Bottom Line had less-than-packed houses and an older crowd. Its bookings had been relying on longtime stalwarts like David Johansen, and on series like In Their Own Words, an informal songwriters' roundtable, or Required Listening, a showcase for new songwriters, that it presented with the public-radio station WFUV.

The club didn't latch onto some other performers who might have suited the cabaret setting, like neo-soul songwriters (though it recently presented Anthony Hamilton), and it clung to its longtime routine of two shows a night by the same performer. (Joe's Pub, a smaller cabaret, often has a different performer at its early and late sets, then turns into a disc-jockey lounge after 11 p.m., while Fez, another cabaret, is the basement extension of the Time Cafe, a busy bar and restaurant.) In hindsight the Bottom Line probably could also have sought sponsorships before its back rent mounted so high, or hired itself out more frequently as a broadcast studio.

Fast-rising new bands are likely to appear at standing-room clubs like the Bowery Ballroom, the Mercury Lounge, the Knitting Factory, Northsix, Southpaw, Sin-e or Lit; bigger places like Irving Plaza and Roseland are also standing-room clubs. Yet there should have been room in New York for one major club that was not single-mindedly striving for the cutting edge.

The Bottom Line was still the right place to hear Jane Siberry's mystical pop-folk songs or Ute Lemper's chilling modern cabaret interpretations. With the club gone, New York is considerably less hospitable to folk-circuit regulars as well as to the British trad-rockers that the club never abandoned. Its shows full of local stalwarts, like the annual "Downtown Messiah" and its era-by-era pop retrospectives called "The Beat Goes On," are unlikely to find a more congenial place to resurface.

Like all venerable clubs that close their doors, the Bottom Line takes with it the peculiar confluence of real estate, acoustics, bookings, memories and lingering physical vibrations that added up to transform an empty room into a landmark. I'll miss it, and so will New York.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company