In the first of a series on Musical Haunts, Lizzyspit takes us to The Bitter End, New York City – a stand-out venue steeped with rich, rock n’ roll history.
When I toured NYC in 2009, there was one venue I was desperate to play – The Bitter End. Located at 147 Bleecker Street, Greenwich city. The ex-ice cream parlor now in it’s 50th year has seen some of the most iconic artists, (and some not so well-known artists including me) grace it’s stage.
Electric, eclectic – you can spot it a mile away. Eager queues form early under the vintage awning, excitedly chatting as they wait to enter the red-bricked palace. There is always a crowd. Once through the door, a musty, beer-soaked smell hits you. Breath it in – this place has musical ghosts, their sounds ebb through the walls.
Before the 60’s, you’d go there for a sundae, not rock n’ roll. In 1968, the End met song-plugger Paul Colby – who fast became the club’s driving force. Colby started at Benny Goodman publishing back in the 50s. Working up the ranks, he built relationships with artists like Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington through to Bob Dylan (pictured below at the venue in 1961), Curtis Mayfield, Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone – many of whom played at the Bitter End.
In 1968 he took over as ‘chief booker’ and became owner in 1977. By now, it was a fully-fledged music venue, boasting an impressive list of acts. Over a period of 40 years, he and his little black book, turned it into one of NYC’s most individual venues. All this, AND he also became a successful interior designer too!
Many artists have used the venues intimate atmosphere to record live records. Curtis Mayfield’s first live album was recorded here, as too were records by The Isley Brothers and Randy Newman.
In addition to the live music seen and heard at the club, The Bitter End has played an important role in New York comedy history. Everyone from Lenny Bruce to Joan Rivers, Sandra Bernhard and Woody Allen performed used the venue as a testing ground for their early routines.
And if rock (or comic), royalty doesn’t interest you, even without the history, the place has a character. Colby’s interior touch is there – the quirky decor and brick walls contribute to it’s vibrant, beating heart, alive with music and frisky fans. As always, he places emphasis on exceptional up and comers – those who, based on his experience, are firmly on the road to ‘making it big’.
As an artist, the history is enough to entice. As a music-lover or night-lifer, you can expect a night different to any other across the city. Carefully chosen, lovingly crafted, a night at the Bitter end will be tattooed onto your mind, no matter how much you drink.