Rock Meccas of NYC: What Are They Now?

Frank MastropoloCategories:Music

In the 1960s, New York City was the center of the recording industry and home to a wealth of small clubs and theaters that hosted the cream of rock music. Fans could catch bands on their way up at smaller venues with moderate ticket prices.
But 1969’s Woodstock festival changed the industry and superstars began to demand huge fees to appear. Small venues could no longer compete with huge arenas and stadiums for name acts. In a 1971 letter, promoter Bill Graham explained that he would close both Fillmore East and West because of  “the unreasonable and totally destructive inflation of the live concert scene.”
“I continue to deplore the exploitation of the gigantic-hall concerts, many of them with high-priced tickets… it turned into the music industry of festivals, 20,000-seat halls, miserable production quality, and second-rate promoters.”
Most of the rock venues of the ‘60s and early ‘70s are now gone; some demolished, others occupied by businesses that could afford New York’s rocketing rents.  Rock Cellar Magazine visited 10 of the sites where so much memorable music was performed to see what they’ve become.
[All Recent Photographs are by Frank Mastropolo]

Trude Heller’s started as a swinging Greenwich Village discotheque in the early ‘60s; go-go dancers lined the walls as glitterati like Salvador Dali, George Hamilton and First Daughter Lynda Bird Johnson frugged on the dance floor. Run by tough-as-nails entrepreneur Trude Heller, rockers like Duane and Gregg Allman, Cyndi Lauper and Peter Criss of KISS got their starts here; headliners included Otis Redding, Ben E. King and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. By the late ‘70s the disco craze fizzled and the hot spot shuttered.
Today Lenny’s, the popular NYC sandwich chain, has taken over the site on the corner of 9th St. and Avenue of the Americas.

Photo: Frank Mastropolo/Rock Cellar



For a 375-seat basement club that didn’t serve liquor, the Café au Go Go featured an impressive roster of stars, including the Doors, Cream, Blood Sweat & Tears, Procol Harum, Jefferson Airplane, Richie Havens, Moby Grape, the Youngbloods and Them.
The club opened in 1964 as a place to hear folk, jazz and comedians like Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Richard Pryor. Bruce’s infamous bust for obscenity almost put the Greenwich Village club out of business soon after it opened in 1964; as electric rock grew in popularity in 1965, more rock bands were showcased. When the much larger Fillmore East opened in 1968, the au Go Go’s influence diminished; the Bleecker Street club closed its doors in 1969. The au Go Go site today is a Capital One bank.

Photo: Frank Mastropolo/Rock Cellar



The Night Owl on 3rd St. near MacDougal St. was another Greenwich Village music mainstay. The Lovin’ Spoonful apprenticed here before signing with Kama Sutra Records; the folk-rock band’s debut album featured the instrumental Night Owl Blues as a tribute. James Taylor worked the cramped club with his first band, the Flying Machine; the Blues Project and the Blues Magoos also appeared.

Photo: Frank Mastropolo/Rock Cellar

The Night Owl survived the ‘60s, but not as a music venue; it became a head shop and sold buttons, t-shirts and comic books. Bleecker Bob’s Golden Oldies, where Paul Simon, Keith Richards, David Bowie and Robert Plant shopped for records, took over the site in the 1970s but may be gone by the time you read this. Named for irascible owner Bob Plotnik, this last refuge for vinyl disc lovers can no longer pay the rent and is scheduled to close in 2013.



After decades as a movie theater, the Academy of Music in the mid-1960s began to stage rock concerts. The 3,500-seat venue on 14th St. at 3rd Ave. attracted big names; the Stones played here in 1965 during their first US tour along with other British Invaders like the Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits and Manfred Mann. In the ‘70s, the Academy picked up for the shuttered Fillmore East as The Band, KISS, and Genesis appeared.

Renamed the Palladium in 1976, the hall hosted U2, Bruce Springsteen, the Ramones, the Clash and Ozzy Osbourne. Studio 54 owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager recreated the Palladium as a nightclub in 1985; by 1998 it was devoured by the voracious New York University, flattened and rebuilt as student housing; Trader Joe’s now occupies the retail space.

Photo: Frank Mastropolo/Rock Cellar



When Max’s Kansas City opened its doors in 1965 on Park Ave. South at 17th St., New York’s art and literary crowd made it their clubhouse.
Regulars included Roy Lichtenstein, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Running a bar that caters to artists is a good way to go broke but when pop art’s Andy Warhol and his celebrity posse set up residency at Max’s, its success was ensured. Max’s was Ground Zero for the Glam Rock scene, with David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop and the New York Dolls in attendance. Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground regularly played Max’s; Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and Country Joe McDonald also performed there.

When Glam Rock faded, Max’s lost its cache and closed in 1974. Max’s soon reopened as a punk rock club, with acts like Sid Vicious, the B-52s, Devo and Madonna, but by 1981 its doors closed for good. The site is now Bread & Butter, a panini shop.



In late 1973, Hilly Kristal opened punk rock mecca CBGB in a cramped space under a Bowery flophouse.
CBGB was originally supposed to showcase the music that gave it its name, Country, BlueGrass, Blues, but soon featured bands like the Ramones, Blondie, Television and Talking Heads, who name-checked the club in Life During Wartime: “This ain’t no Mudd Club or CBGB.” A rent dispute led to CBGB’s closing in 2006 with a final concert by Patti Smith. Fashion designer John Varvatos opened a store in the East Village space in 2008; its walls display original posters and graffiti from CBGB’s toilets.



The Anderson Theater, on 2nd Ave. at 4th St. in the East Village, sporadically staged rock concerts in the late 1960s. The old playhouse hosted big-name groups like Traffic, the Grateful Dead, the Yardbirds and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, but it ran out of steam in the early 1970s and closed. In 1977, Hilly Kristal revived the hall for a few more years as CBGB’s 2nd Avenue Theater with acts like Talking Heads and Patti Smith. Most of the theater space was later demolished to become apartments. The marquee is gone but the 2nd Ave. façade remains; the empty retail space below gives no hint of the site’s history.

Photo: Frank Mastropolo/Rock Cellar



Great Gildersleeves opened in the late 1970s, giving punk rockers like Iggy Pop, Public Image Ltd (PiL) and Johnny Thunders an alternative venue to the already established CBGB a block south. Gildersleeves also featured Elvis Costello, the J. Geils Band, Marshall Crenshaw and the Beastie Boys. After the club closed in the early 1980s, it became one of the most notorious flophouses on the Bowery. Renamed Kenton Hall, it was taken over by Project Renewal and in 2001 converted into a shelter for homeless men on methadone maintenance.



Musicians and fans loved the cozy confines of the 400-seat Bottom Line in Greenwich Village at the corner of 4th and Mercer Sts. The club opened in 1974 and for three decades stars like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Hall and Oates, Carly Simon and Dire Straits appeared. Lou Reed recorded his LP Live: Take No Prisoners there. In the end it came down to the bottom line; its owners couldn’t pay more than $185,000 in back rent to its landlord, New York University, and closed in 2004. NYU expanded its Village footprint by turning the site into more classrooms.



The list of rock royalty that appeared at the Fillmore East belies the fact that it was only open for three years. The 2,700-seat hall on 2nd Ave. at 6th St. in the East Village, once the Loews Commodore movie theater, opened in March 1968. Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Allman Brothers, Sly and the Family Stone, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Joe Cocker, the Byrds, Derek and the Dominos and Van Morrison performed there. At its closing, Bill Graham said, “In 1965 when we began the original Fillmore Auditorium, I associated with and employed ‘musicians.’ Now, more often than not, it’s with ‘officers and stockholders’ in large corporations – only they happen to have long hair and play guitars.” Graham, who died in 1991, didn’t live to see the Emigrant Savings Bank take over the Fillmore’s lobby area in 2007.


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  • Laura says:

    Great article! Really brings me back to the nitty gritty days of early rock n roll. The accompanying photos are tremendous. I was wondering if there is anyway to contact Frank Mastropolo directly , I’m interested in purchasing iconic photos. An email address would be very helpful. Thank you so much.

  • Tom Finn says:

    You didn’t mention the most exciting club of all.
    Steve Paul’s The Scene, on West 46th street just off 8th Avenue. From 1965 – early70’s.
    Nightly jams by Jimi Hendrix and just about every up and coming group and entertainer (Singers) it was truly far & away the best.

    • Steve Hann says:

      Hi Tom
      If I remember correctly I met you in Village Oldies, where I worked alongside Steve Martin. Good to see a name from the past

    • Nancy says:

      It was an adult video store. When guiliani came in it was forced to have part non-adult material. The whole place has been torn down and is now another disgusting luxury hotel.

  • Ed Kleinman says:

    Great pictures. They bring back a load of memories. I worked one summer at the Cafe Au Go GO and when I was a roadie and tour manager for The Blues Project, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Elephants Memory and a few others given we were all based out of NYC, we played most if not all of those venues.
    Again thanks for taking me back. A lot of the memories are in my book “Joint Venture, a backstage rock and roll journey”, available at (couldn’t resist adding my book which covers 18 years on the road.
    Thanks again for shakin’ the dust off of my brain and recalling some amazing great times with great musicians!

  • Dave says:

    Great article

  • Doc says:

    How about Cafe Wha?

  • Great tradition of great NY clubs. All gone now. I played all of them. The problem is that nothing replaced them. Nowhere left to play anymore. It’s a city of the rich now!

  • Doug says:

    I remember moonbeam had a bad ass drummer.and was there a Bonnie Parker band ?These bands played at Gildersleeves I was there late 70s to early 80s was there the night the Angels had a fundraiser for Big Vinny.That place was like a saloon from the old west.

  • Julie Jacobs says:

    Anyone remember a short-lived club called Ungaros?

  • Steve Hann says:

    Do you mean Ungano’s?

  • Jojo says:

    How about Steve Paul’s Scene and Unganos?

  • Wendy says:

    We played Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs. Did a Thursday at Max’s I think it was – Thursday or Friday and worked our way up to a weekend with Hilly at CBs. Great article – I’d just been trying to remember stuff. Does anyone remember the name of the deli/restaurant near the Fillmore?

  • Tom says:

    ‘Great reminiscing about all these clubs and concert halls I played over the years, but it’s hard trying to explain to young people how cool I was when these places no longer exist!

  • mike says:

    Missing are Rockbottom on 8th st and The Cavern tri level club in Tribeca in the 80’s. Also — Hurrah and Trax on the upper west side.

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