After nearly two years of renovations, New York’s Webster Hall will reopen in the spring. They have yet to announce the first show, but Patti Smith is booked for May 1st and other acts slated to play include MGMT, Sharon Van Etten, Chris Robinson Brotherhood and Built to Spill. According to a press release, the improvements to the club include “central air conditioning, expanded restrooms, additional stairwells for smoother entry and exit, and the venue’s first-ever elevator.”
Webster Hall was built in 1886 and hosted everything from masquerade balls to labor union rallies, weddings and lectures in its early years. The building was bought by RCA Records in 1953 and it became one of their key recording studios. It’s where Elvis Presley recorded “Hound Dog” shortly after signing to the label, and everyone from Frank Sinatra to Harry Belafonte and Louis Armstrong also used the facility. On February 2nd, 1962, Bob Dylan played harmonica at a Harry Belafonte session there, marking the very first time he worked in a professional recording studio.
In the 1980, Webster Hall was reborn yet again when new ownership took over and dubbed the main performance space the Ritz. It immediately became one of the main concert spaces in New York and booked the likes of the Pretenders, Kiss, Prince, Tina Turner and Eric Clapton. On December 6th, 1980 — just two days before John Lennon was murdered — U2 made their North American debut at the club. According to legend, a mere 25 people came to the show.
Here’s video of Lou Reed playing “Walk on the Wild Side” at the Ritz on July 16th, 1986. “This is also known as the Honda Scooter song,” he told the crowd, referencing a recent commercial that utilized the song. “Some people think that’s a conflict of interest since I’m wearing a Harley shirt, but I keep telling them that was for fucking scooters, for Christ’s sake. And I gotta pay the rent, too, and can’t you take a fucking joke?”
The cavernous Webster Hall facility also hosted wild dance parties and many purists are worried that the new corporate overlords at BSE Global and Bowery Presents will clamp down on the fun, but they insist that isn’t their plan. “It was a very democratic club that was all about variety,” BSE Global executive vice president of programming Keith Sheldon told The New York Times. “We want to bring that variety back when we reopen.”