A new ownership team is set to take over Sidewalk Cafe next month, with possible changes in store for the 33-year-old East Village bar and its famed folk-adjacent open mic nights.
EV Grieve reports that the club was recently sold to new owners, Laura Saniuk-Heinig and Alyssa Sartor. Both bring industry experience—Sartor co-owned August Laura in Carroll Gardens, while Saniuk-Heinig manages the Bar Room, an Upper East Side gastropub—and an apparent desire to make some updates to the corner of 6th Street and Avenue A, including renovations and a possible name change. They say that live music will continue in some form or another, though "exactly what kinds of shows, we do not know yet."
Currently, the venue hosts one of the city’s longest running open mics, frequented by a range of emerging artists and impressive alumni broadly associated with the antifolk movement (a scene that former manager/booker Lach is credited with founding). Regina Spektor, Beck, Kimya Dawson, Jeffrey Lewis, and plenty others were and still are regulars at the backroom live music showcases. Up front, a low-key restaurant offers a decent burger and notably cheap happy hour ($4 drafts and wells) and plenty of sidewalk seating—and also, in my experience, the possibility of becoming entranced in a sweaty, crowded set on the way to the bathroom, and finding yourself sticking around for much longer than you originally intended.
Since 1985, the venue has also hosted a biannual Antifolk Festival, though it’s unclear whether the next one—tentatively scheduled for February—will happen. Somer Bingham, the talent booker at Sidewalk who operates the fest, told Gothamist she expects to hear one way or another when she meets with the new owners next month.
According to a Daily Beast story from over the weekend, news of the sale seems to be setting off alarm bells for staff and performers. In a piece lamenting the likely "poshing" of the "gnarly hang-out," Anthony Haden-Guest spoke with multiple longtime Sidewalk faithful, who were preparing for the worst for a space they likened to the "acoustic CBGB."
Others, meanwhile, are more optimistic about the survival of the open mic, or at least the scene its long nurtured. Brook Pridemore, a songwriter who recorded a live album at the venue a few years ago, told Gothamist that "it's remarkable that Sidewalk has held on longer than a lot of 'cooler' venues. It'll probably continue to hold on."
"It was never really about the room," he added. "It was about living up to the legacy that was happening around you, keeping up with your peers and forming a bond that's thicker than blood...When you think about it, the real Sidewalk was the friends we made along the way."
Saniuk-Heinig and Sartor could not immediately be reached for comment.