Rock ’n’ Roll Doesn’t Pay the Rent Anymore

Robert Kremer used to fancy himself as sort of the next Hilly Kristal.

“We get CBGB’s business!” he proudly informed The Observer last summer.

The longtime proprietor of the Pussycat Lounge on Greenwich Street, who is sometimes likened to the actor Bob Hoskins with a Russian accent, was referring, of course, to the famously run-down yet highly revered rock ’n’ roll venue on the Bowery, which was opened in 1973 by the unlikely godfather of the New York punk scene, the late Mr. Kristal, and closed in 2006 after a lengthy legal dispute over hefty rent hikes.

Picking up some of the sonic slack in CBGB’s wake, Mr. Kremer was hosting up to six bands a night, six nights a week—some nights even double-booking!—in his upstairs “Catbar” on a makeshift stage cobbled together with tables from the defunct restaurant he used to run in the same space.

At the time, he claimed to be profiting more from the bands than from even the topless dancers strutting the catwalk downstairs in his old-timey gentleman’s club.

“Our main business, believe it or not, is from the music,” Mr. Kremer insisted. “The musicians, more than anyone else, do drink.”

Six months later, he’s not singing the same old song: “The rock people, they don’t drink enough!”

Or, at least, not frequently enough, or in consistent enough numbers, as far as Mr. Kremer is concerned. The club began regularly bumping bands this past December in favor of a DJ and two-for-one cocktails.

A pair of electric guitars still hangs above the cash register, but no one seems to plug ’em in anymore, save for the occasional Saturday night.

“I figured people would love to see [live bands] compared to everything being canned and, you know, the iPod,” Mr. Kremer told The Observer this week. “We get some bands, every couple of weeks they’re here. One day, they draw a mob. The next day, not even their girlfriends show up!

“I’m not the only one that’s having problems with the live bands,” he added.

Indeed, many live music operators have experienced even bigger problems in recent years: In addition to the shuttered CBGB, Tonic, a respected stage for avant-garde musicians on the Lower East Side, closed last April, citing skyrocketing rents and a “debilitating” regulatory environment.

The Continental, another mainstay of the East Village punk scene, where such legendary performers as Iggy Pop and the Ramones once played, abandoned live music in September 2006 in an attempt to simply stay afloat. The venue now focuses on the basics of bar survival: cheap drinks, a pool table and sports on TV.

Trigger, the club’s owner, complained to The Village Voice about all the overhead involved with the bands: “sound people and booking people, advertising, maintaining and repairing the PA and other equipment. It’s expensive, and for every great night there are 10 or 15 slow ones, because the arts scene, especially when it comes to rock ’n’ roll, just isn’t what it once was.”

 

LIVE ENTERTAINMENT VENUES in Manhattan, in general, continue to fold in the face of increasing operation costs and intensifying real estate and regulatory pressures.

This past October, Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction, a staple of the Lower East Side’s burgeoning burlesque scene, shuttered its doors after just two years in business. Its owners said steep mortgage payments were eating into the entertainment profits. The building is on the market for $4.9 million.

Rock ’n’ Roll Doesn’t Pay the Rent Anymore