Jon Pareles has a nice remembrance of the Bottom Line, which closed its doors for the last time on Thursday:
- 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.
….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.
….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.
….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.
….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. [NY Times]
Nice job Jon: just the right tone of explanation and wistfulness. It’s always sad when a place that holds so memories goes away.