New Heathens

Kenny’s Castaways 1967 – 2012

Time to kickstart the blog again. From today's Times.

"After Decades of Acts Like Patti Smith and the Fugees, Silence for a Village Club"

by Nate Schweber

What distinguished Kenny’s Castaways from many other dusty and dim New York music clubs was the sign under which thousands of musicians passed on their way to the small stage at the end of the long room of brick and wood.

"Through these portals walk the famous," reads the purple neon beacon, hanging three feet below the 120-year-old pressed-tin roof.

For 36 years, those who were famous or, much more likely, hoping to become that way filled Kenny’s cavernous interior with their sounds. But early Tuesday the club, on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, will go silent, becoming the latest in a lengthening list of Manhattan music sites to close because of rising costs and dwindling audiences.

“We’ve been struggling,” Maria Kenny, one of the owners, said. “The rents have become so astronomical around here that mom-and-pop places just can’t make it happen.” Ms. Kenny said the rent had more than doubled in the last five years.

In 1967, Maria’s father, Pat Kenny, an Irishman who had recently immigrated to New York, opened Kenny’s Castaways as a supper club on the Upper East Side. A lover of all types of music, he wanted his club to showcase diverse, up-and-coming talent, not just established acts.

He thought of his favorite undiscovered local musicians as “castaways,” his daughter said, adding, “Hence the name.”

In the early 1970s, Willie Nile, a singer and songwriter who had recently moved to New York, went uptown to check out Kenny’s. He said he recognized a young man with a scruffy beard sitting at the bar: Bruce Springsteen, who had just released his first record, “Greetings From Asbury Park,” played some of his first New York shows at Kenny’s.

“When you walk in there, you can feel the years, you can feel the presence of all these wanderers, visionaries and dreamers who came in there,” said Mr. Nile, who was signed to Arista Records in 1980 after impressing the record executive Clive Davis with a set at Kenny’s. Mr. Nile, along with the Smithereens, will be on the club’s farewell bill on Monday night.

Kenny’s Castaways moved to Bleecker Street near Thompson Street in 1976 and proceeded to host raucous shows by folk, blues, jazz, rock, hip-hop and punk performers, among them Patti Smith, Yoko Ono, Willie Dixon and the Fugees. (This reporter also performed there several times.)

The photographer Bob Gruen remembers shooting video of the New York Dolls inside Kenny’s. “It was eclectic, warm and rustic,” he said. “Pat Kenny really knew how to throw a party.”

Sergio Riva, a restaurateur who bought the lease of Kenny’s Castaways, plans to convert the space into a gastro pub that will also feature music. To secure approval from Community Board 2, Mr. Riva said, he had to agree to noise-restricting concessions, including ending weeknight performances at midnight and building a new soundproof vestibule at the entrance.

“They’re trying to turn Bleecker Street into a quiet block,” Mr. Riva, 47, said. “The way we feel we’re going to be able to succeed is to be busier earlier in the day.”

Mr. Riva will call his new restaurant Carroll Place, after a name given to that stretch of Bleecker Street in the 1830s by the developer Thomas E. Davis, who sought to make the neighborhood more exclusive.

The building that has housed Kenny’s Castaways, at 157 Bleecker Street, has its own distinctive history. Not long after it was built, in the early 1890s, it became home to the Slide, an early gay bar that “unabashedly and without excuses” made no attempt to disguise its business, Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said.

Pat Kenny died in 2002, leaving the club to his children. For the last decade the club has usually featured three or more acts per night, some performing for the first time in public. While the musical styles and quality coming from the cramped stage flanked by bathrooms tended to vary greatly during regular hours, late at night professional musicians would often gather for spontaneous, relaxed jam sessions.

“You should ask Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith what they think about Kenny’s Castaways closing,” said David Miller, 58, an art handler who lives in the Bronx and was savoring a last pint at Kenny’s on Sunday afternoon.

He added, “This is precisely the kind of place that entices people to come to New York City in the first place.”

 (I'll chalk it up to "just coincidence" the fact that performances by me pre-dated the closing of yet another NYC rock 'n' roll club.)
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