Robert Prichard hopes to illuminate Long Island City with some emphatic Times Square-style signage.
“I’d like it to be visible from the 59th Street Bridge,” he said. “First, it flashes ‘Queens,’ then ‘Bridge,’ then ‘Theater,’ and then ‘Queensbridge Theater.’ And then maybe an arrow that lights up and points down to our loading dock.”
Mr. Prichard, 52, has long had a flair for the dramatic. This is the same guy, after all, who nearly a decade ago led a conga line up Avenue A in protest of the city’s antiquated cabaret laws.
Nowadays, he’s participating in a perhaps farther-reaching kind of procession—the ongoing exodus of artists, musicians and other creative types abandoning Manhattan in droves.
Adopting the slogan “Downtown Has Moved to Queens,” the former Lower East Side stalwart is partnering with developer Michael Waldman to open what he called a “rock ’n’ roll supper club, similar to a Bowery Ballroom or a Mercury Lounge with a restaurant—a first for Long Island City, a first for Queens.”
Scheduled to open this summer, the 5,000-square-foot Queensbridge Theater, located at 37-31 10th Street, may be somewhat unique in concept. (After the nighttime entertainment ends at 4 a.m., the proprietors intend to open back up just three hours later for breakfast, with homemade bread baked fresh on the premises.)
But it isn’t exactly the neighborhood’s first nightclub.
A large “EXILE” sign still remains on the site of an old discotheque by that name, located just a few blocks away on 11th Street, which, during its brief stint in business nearly three decades ago, reportedly chartered buses to transport patrons from Manhattan.
These days, Mr. Prichard and Mr. Waldman don’t think they’ll need shuttle buses, as patrons and performers will probably be driving in from elsewhere.
“That person who spends 30 hours a week sewing their own costume or creating some weird panorama—those people can’t afford to live in Manhattan anymore,” Mr. Prichard said. “A lot of them live in Queens or Brooklyn or the Bronx or even Jersey. As Manhattan gets richer and richer and the real estate gets more and more expensive, fewer and fewer artists can afford to stay there. Then the places that want to support the artists, it doesn’t make sense for us to be there, either.
“We want to bring in artists and performers on all levels,” added Mr. Prichard, who plans to book the space not only for concerts, but also for Off Broadway plays, art exhibits—even after-school programs: “We want to offer the community the facilities we have during the day,” he said. “Bring in musicians and teach the kids how to play music and then put ’em up onstage.”
It sounds like a bit of a stretch in a part of New York City where nightclubs tend to veer toward more adult-oriented entertainment. Particularly around Queens Plaza—nicknamed “the new Times Square”—Long Island City is busting with strip clubs.
“At one end of the 59th Street Bridge, you’ve got Scandals, and at the other end, there’s Scores,” noted Mr. Prichard, laughing. “I know that from riding my bike—no ex-girlfriends there. Not yet anyway.”
But there’s also a public school just a few blocks up 10th Street from the forthcoming theater, he pointed out. “And there’s another one two blocks away,” he added. “I think there’s plenty of opportunities to engage the community.”
IT IS A neighborhood in transition—albeit a different one from the place that Mr. Prichard used to call home. “This is more of a real estate frontier,” he said. “The Lower East Side, circa 1993, was more of a cultural frontier.”
An Army brat who attended high school in Alexandria, Va., Mr. Prichard got his first taste of the live-music business working at the seminal Washington, D.C., rock venue the 9:30 Club before moving to New York in 1983 with the hopes of becoming an actor.