Robert Prichard moved to NYC in 1983 and immediately found himself in the throws of the nightclub industry, working the door at Pyramid Nightclub on Avenue A. By 1993 he had opened his own arts space, Surf Reality’s House Of Urban Savages, in a loft on Allen and Stanton Streets. Another 10 years later, in 2003, he was priced out of the neighborhood--and he'll now rise from the ashes over in Long Island City. Along with Michael Waldman, he's set to open the Queensbridge Theater, which they describe as a rock n' roll supper club. Prichard recently told us about what to expect from the new space, and what his old neighborhood used to be like.
When will the Queensbridge Theater open? Providence willing and the river don't rise we'll open for Valentines Day 09.
Having been priced out of Manhattan, where do you see the Lower East Side/East Village area in 5 or 10 years from now? Think SoHo. The community board is already telling bars and lounges that are up for Liquor License renewals that they will only give their support if the bar agrees to closing at 1 a.m. Look for more boutiques, national & international chains like Gucci and expensive restaurants.
In your opinion, will venues like Mercury Lounge be able to stay afloat? Mercury Lounge will survive 5 years. I do not know if they can survive 10. Depends on their landlord. If they own their building then, no problem. I am concerned for the Living Room and Cake Shop.
Do you have any stories from the good 'ol days in Manhattan? Like when cigarette smoke was the least dangerous thing about an East Village Night Club? As a doorman at the Pyramid in the early 80s I carded Madonna, Tom Cruise and The Beastie Boys at various times.
What is the music and arts scene in LIC like? We have PS 1 of course. This is a world class institution. There's the Noguchi Museum and a place called The Chocolate Factory. We have world class graffiti on display at the 5 Points building. Great music at the LIC bar. There's a place called the Creek that features music, storytelling and performance. I just attended a meeting with local promoters and musicians and Queens based press. We are starting to organize and collaborate. Think of it as a LIC/Astoria scene. We are here and we are about to make some interesting sounds and noises. Astoria features The Hellgate Social Club where once a month you can see Rock A Billy Burlesque. The Ladies do their routines to live rock a billy music. Is that cool or what?
What types of events do you have planned for the theater? Nightclub by night, dayclub by day. During the day we will be available for community events and after school programs. There will be Rock n' Roll as well as every other form of music. Theater. Performances of all kinds both eclectic and mainstream. Everything from Circus to puppets to performance art to stand up comedy. We intend to let local producers have their slots as well. We will feature national headliners, NY headliners and local artists. We intend to be a resource for artists, promoters and the community at large.
How will it be different from other venues? Nightclub by night, dayclub by day is already a different model. We will have a restaurant and a cabaret license. How does the combination of dancing and breakfast sound to you? Do you enjoy fresh bread? Our walls will feature local artists work. Typical day: We will open at 6:30 am to serve and deliver breakfast to the local light industries. During the day we'll be available for lunch, community events, classes and after school programs. Perhaps there will be a sound check or 2. Then dinner and some sort of light entertainment. After dinner, we'll clear out the tables and chairs and start the live music. Then there will be headliner around 11pm followed by dancing and breakfast until 4am. Who else rocks a scene like that?
What are some of your favorite things LIC has to offer? PS 1. LIC Bar. Us. And a wonderful view of Manhattan.
Please share your strangest "only in New York" story. That would be unprintable. However: The other day I was on my bike on 21st St. in Manhattan; ahead of me was a yellow cab followed by 2 police cruisers. The cab stopped in front of the 13th precinct as did the 2 squad cars behind. 2 undercover cops got out of the cab. I knew they were cops because they had shields on chains around their necks. As i passed by one of the police cars I asked one of the uniformed cops " If an undercover cab cop busts you do you have to pay the fare too?" "Absolutely!" was his reply.
Which New Yorker do you most admire? All the people who walk their talk.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? We used to be the city that never sleeps. Now Manhattan is turning into a bedroom community for bankers and their ilk. Manhattan used to be a place where one rented. Now you have to own. The result is young and unestablished artists can no longer afford to live and showcase here. It's ultimately a very shortsighted policy. If the current dynamic does not change, at some point maybe 20 years from now, all of Manhattan could be one big Upper East side... the result will be stasis and stasis = death... cultural death...like those Avalon complexes on Houston St, Bowery and Christie. I show those "buildings" to my out of town friends and explain it like this: "See what we have here is our own little outpost of the Upper East Side right here in the East Village. If We ever have the need to see what the Upper East Side is like we do not even have to leave the Village; Avalon has brought The Upper East Side down to us." They had to tear down a row of 19th C. row houses to put up that glass box called Avalon Bowery... one of those houses used to be a very famous 19thC bar called The Suicide Saloon... a place right out of a Caleb Carr novel. So if I could, I would change that dynamic that puts real estate at the top of the list of what's important and crucial.. I would make NYC an artist friendly city that never sleeps. The way I hear Berlin is now...
Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? When the outsiders, the freaks, the artists, poets and free spirits are no longer welcome, I'll be gone too.
Do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter? Ben Stiller was interviewed on my stage at Surf Reality by a towel puppet called Mr. Towel.
What's your current soundtrack to the city? TV On The Radio
Best cheap eat in the city. Hasn't opened yet...it's called The Queensbridge Theater Cafe.