Goodbye Webster Hall, NYC Will Miss Your Grimy Hedonistic Glory!4 min read

Legendary Webster Hall is closing and will reopen as a sterilized soulless shell of its former debaucherous splendor.

Another big room NYC club bites the dust leaving the city starved for big room venues. Within Webster Hall’s sacred grimy walls of old NYC, men partied the night away at Alegria, Madonna told bedtime stories, Elvis Presley recorded “Hound Dog,” a speak easy operated during prohibition, and gay men threw drag balls back in the roaring 1920s! It will never be the same again.

The independently owned club has had an illustrious 126-year history of hedonism. It survived multiple fires, prohibition (as a speakeasy no less!), the Great Depression and Bono, but we have a feeling 2017 marks the end for Webster Hall’s streak of debauchery.


The iconic venue’s closing leaves high-production gay party, Alegria, looking for a new home. “Thank you to Webster Hall’s management for 10 years of support and a great venue to work with,” Alegria owner Ric Sena released in an email statement. “A place our community felt safe to party and enjoy memorable times. We will miss you guys.”

Although Sena notes the new Webster Hall is slated to reopen in another two years, there is no guarantee the future owners will want a party like Alegria in this space—or at what cost. “Until then we will do our best to find venues where we can deliver quality events and where everyone feels safe and respected,” Sena continued. “I promise you guys that I will always put quality first and try my best to keep delivering events like you experienced [at Alegria Pirates of Pride 2017] and in the past 17 years.”

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Webster Hall will close in August

The legendary East Village venue will shut its dingy doors on August 9th. It will most likely reemerge a sanitized soulless shell of it’s former gritty New York glory sometime in 2019. We’re hoping it’s new incarnation will be less insulting than the cultural reincarnation abomination that is CBGBs Café in Newark Airport.

Since 1992 the Ballinger Brothers owned and restored Webster Hall, installed state-of-the-art audio, video, and lighting technology and recreated the original color scheme.

“Sad but true, the legendary and world-famous Webster Hall has been sold and will close as we know it for its final club night on Saturday August 5th, 2017,” Webster Hall GM wrote in a post.”

 

Webster Hall may retain the same name when it reopens but it is planned to be extensively renovated as planned in its sale to AEG and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment (the company that owns Barclays Center). Booking will be managed by Bowery Presents, which AEG also acquired last year, and it’s not certain what character of events they intend to book.

Webster Hall is a New York Landmark

webster hall landmark

Since 2008 Webster Hall has been designated a New York landmark. Although they can’t tear the building down, they can change its independent character, which has always lent the space a beautifully grimy feeling of “real” New York. Webster Hall has had many incarnations since it first opened back in 1886.

“The space has hosted everything from debutante balls and society dinners to wrestling matches, political rallies, union meetings, and bohemian costume dances,” according to the Greenwich Village Historical Society.

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Webster Hall was probably the first Gay Club

Drag Ball Webster Hall 1920s

Drag Ball at Webster Hall 1920s

Before some of your grandparents were born, Webster Hall was already full of gay guys socializing and throwing Drag Balls. During the 1920s, the venue hosted several drag balls. “The events were very successful in shaping the culture of the Village and creating a gay enclave in the neighborhood; it was one of the few times when transvestites were allowed to openly dress in drag,” according to Professor Brooks.

It was partially because of Webster Hall’s acceptance of gays that the gays created a gayborhood in the Village. Although there were already gay bars in NYC at this time such as The Slide (157 Bleecker st.), dubbed the “wickedest place in New York,” Webster Hall was the first major venue where gays and lesbians would congregate and arrive in full drag, which was illegal at the time under anti-cross-dressing laws.

Webster Hall is Sacred Cultural Ground

madonna junior vasquez kurt loder 1994

Madonna with Junior Vasquez and MTV’s Kurt Loder at Madonna’s Slumber Party at Webster Hall on March 18, 1995

Madonna threw a legendary Slumber Party and invited all of her friends, press and DJs to Webster Hal in 1995. Elvis Presley recorded “Hound Dog” on  one hot afternoon of July 1956.  In 1953 RCA Records owned the venue and they completely refashioned it with state-of-the-art technology to use it as their East Coast recording studio.

At Webster Hall, RCA studios would go on to record albums of many famous musicians, such as Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennet, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong. It also recorded many broadway songs from Carol Channing’s original Hello, Dolly!Fiddler on the Roof, and Ethel Merman’s Annie Get Your Gun,” according to WebsterHall.com.

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