When is a club not just a club?

by Jason Gross

9 November 2008


There’s going out to shows and then there’s going out to clubs.  When you go to a show, you’re going to a place, any place, to see a band like you like.  When you go to a club, you’re picking out a particular place to be because you happen to like the space, regardless of who’s there.  That’s a crucial difference that many clubs take for granted, usually at their own peril.

Think about it.  How many clubs do you go to because you like the atmosphere or the set up?  Now think about where you see concerts.  Are those the same places that you like to hang out? 

For me, the answer is no.  There’s a reason for that. Even if a club books good bands, that doesn’t mean that you’d go there to hang out if you weren’t into whoever’s playing that night. 

For me, an example is Blender Theater in NYC.  It’s right around the corner from me so it’s super convenient.  It’s got a pretty good set up where there’s a small section of stadium seating in the back and a downstairs lounge with a bar.  If an act that I’m even slightly interested in happens to be playing there, I’m inclined to go because it’s convenient and I like their set up. 

The present (and soon to be former) location of the Knitting Factory in NY is the same way.  They have three levels of performance spaces, including bars on each level so you have at least two chances to see a decent show there or if you like, you can just hang out at the upstairs bar for free and not see any of the shows (sad to say, they’ll soon be moving to a much more confining place soon).  The Tonic was like that as they had a lower level (the Sub Tonic) that was great to hang out and hear a good DJ.  Both the Sub Tonic and Knit let you in even if you weren’t gonna see a show in the main space, which is a big plus.

Compare that to larger, less personal venues like Manhattan Center or Roseland.  You only get in there with the intention of seeing a show and once inside, there’s no good out-of-the-way place to hang out with friends- you pick the spot where you’ll watch the show and that’s about it.  If a really good band is playing at either of those venues, I’ll definitely go but I’m inclined to be at either place otherwise.  I don’t think that they’re necessarily bad venues but at the same time, they don’t do anything to try to grab you.

With so many clubs going out of business, maybe that’s one of their problems- they don’t realize that it’s not just the acts that should draw you into a club and that they have to offer something more.  That extra thing could be atmosphere, having good DJ’s or good places to hang out or even places to be elsewhere where you don’t even have to see the show. 

Then again, the Knit’s new space isn’t going to have any of those qualities unless they renovate a lot plus the Tonic is gone while M.Center and Roseland have both been around for a while and don’t look like they’re going anyway.

Still, for other clubs that are struggling to stay afloat, they might wanna consider other ways to attract crowds.  Esp. in tough economic times like now, having good acts might not be enough.

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