I know everybody.
Well, not really, but I know a lot of people. If you subscribe to the 6-degree rule, I know everybody. Some are interesting…most are not.
The other day, I was walking down 8th street heading west near 6th Avenue with a couple of old friends from school who I hadn’t seen in way too long. En route to French Roast for a slightly-too-early-in-the-day beverage, we noticed how many empty storefronts surrounded us.
During our lifetimes alone, 8th street has seen some massive change; from groovy to gritty and everything in between, but empty it has never been. Collectively, we launched into the standard native rant about gentrification, higher rents, and the homogeneity of what was once a dynamic, urban culture, as we neared the iconic Electric Lady Land. Yup, Jimmy Hendrix’s very own baby, just past where the old 8th Street Playhouse (of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame) no longer exists.
As nonchalant as if she were saying, “look, another Starbucks has opened,” one of my companions began telling me an amazing story about a place called The Village Barn; a place I had never heard of, which of course interested me all the more, jaded jerk that I am.
Crazy stories about bygone New York stuff, to me, are like the million different rooftop views of the city; they never get tired.
Apparently, The Village Barn existed well before my time, and Electric Lady Land lives in its former home. My friend recounted a bit about the amazing music scene, and the fascinating history of her grandfather, Meyer Horowitz, and his family’s life in and around the club in the 1930’s and 40s. I had to hear more, so she put me in touch with her mom — my friends rock.
I learned that, back in the day, Meyer had a 99 year lease — an unusual vehicle in NYC — which I have only ever heard of in Tudor City. The owners never wanted to sell. He opened The Village Barn in 1930, as one of 3 venues that he owned, but The Barn was his favorite, and it was a real success by all accounts.
The Village Barn was a ‘night club,’ but a family friendly one, where he would regularly have his own family. In fact, my friend’s mom noted that she spent most of her childhood in The Barn.
In her words, “You could get dinner and drinks (during the depression my father did a $1 dinner, and had people lining up to get in!) and a floor show (usually a singer, a dancer, and a comedian, plus a 6 or so piece band, square dancing, turtle and hobby horse racing, and then regular ballroom dancing in between the shows). We had dinner there most nights, and I brought tons of friends and dates there. There were some notable people who performed there, though my favorite was Zippy the Chimp who roller skated and did tricks!”
When The Barn eventually closed, Ruth recounted, “A club called Generation opened in the space. It did not last very long, but that was where Jimi Hendrix discovered the space. My parents and I were invited to the opening night of this new club. We went and the opening act was BB King…opening for Janis Joplin! It was quite an event.”
While natives lament the ever changing landscape of the city that bore them, I can’t help but recognize a certain grace and sophistication in the transience of NYC culture. Yes, I am afraid that a Village Barn, or a Bleeker Bobs, or a Sammy’s Bowery Follies will never be again, but I am also humble enough to know I can’t even imagine what amazingness will find its way to that same location on 8th street, or on Jackson Avenue, or in Sheepshead Bay fifty years from now. Every generation hates the things they love that are lost to time; New Yorkers aren’t unique in that. We just are lucky (and un-lucky) enough to have so much more to lose.