For the last year, with the concert business mothballed by the pandemic, small clubs and theaters have warned that their survival was at risk, and dozens of venues across the country have shut down.
But with concerts now coming back, something that might have seemed unthinkable just a few months ago is happening: Not only have old venues reopened their doors, but entirely new ones are sprouting up, buoyed by the hope that concert-hungry fans will help the industry come roaring back.
On Sept. 30, Brooklyn Made, a new club in Bushwick, Brooklyn, will open with two nights featuring Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Everything about the space is planned as deluxe and high-concept, from the Moroccan lamps adorning the 500-capacity performance space to the adjoining cafe and rooftop deck. Visiting artists will find an impossibly luxurious spread, including a private pool and use of a loft apartment with striking views of the Manhattan skyline.
It is one of a handful of changes to the post-pandemic New York concert scene, including the return of Irving Plaza, the landmark rock club off Union Square that will reopen in August after a two-year, multimillion-dollar renovation.
For Brooklyn Made, the club’s very existence is a bullish bet on the return of live music and the nightlife economy in New York, said Anthony Makes, a longtime player in the New York concert world who is one of the principals behind the new club.
“I believe in the future, and I think everyone’s going to come back,” Makes said on a recent tour of the space, where construction machines were still whirring, but the sunny artist apartment, one level up, was an oasis of quiet.
When Brooklyn Made opens its doors — other fall bookings include Greg Dulli (Oct. 2), Trombone Shorty (Oct. 4-5), Turnover (Oct. 12-13), Steve Earle (Oct. 16) and Band of Horses (Oct. 18-20) — it will be the latest independent operator in a local scene dominated by two corporate powers, Live Nation and AEG Presents.
To stand out in a hypercompetitive market, Brooklyn Made wants to cater to concertgoers as well as to artists. For fans, the club will present itself as an all-day hang in the heart of hipster Brooklyn, with a cafe open from morning till night; the live room will feature up-to-the-minute lighting and sound.
Kelly Winrich, of the Americana band Delta Spirit, is Makes’s partner in Brooklyn Made. He said the club’s hospitality for artists — four green rooms, along with the pool and apartment — will help it stand out to musicians whose touring life can otherwise be a blur of undistinguished black-box spaces.
“Some venues know how to do it right; some don’t,” Winrich said. “When they do it right, it makes a world of difference for an artist coming through.”
Money makes a difference too. The club has already developed a reputation among talent agents for aggressive offers. Makes said that in many cases Brooklyn Made will pay artists virtually the entire face value of tickets, an arrangement more common among superstar tours than in the razor-thin margins of the club business.
“We are basically giving them the gross of the ticket sales,” Makes said, which he called “unheard-of in this modern era of doing business.”
Makes, 52, who set up his promotion company last year, is the former president of Live Nation’s New York office, and he has also worked at the Bowery Presents, which is half-owned by AEG. Brooklyn Made will now compete with those companies for bookings.
Irving Plaza, a rock venue since 1978 — and where one person died in a 2016 shooting during a T.I. concert — has gotten a major face-lift inside, with new bars, new bathrooms and improved sight lines. Its rough-around-the-edges vibe was always part of its charm, but Margaret Holmes, the general manager of the club, which is owned by Live Nation, said the changes will only improve the fan experience.
“It still feels like a rock club to me,” Holmes said, where fans will be “up close to the stage, close to your favorite artists.” She added: “But it just feels nicer.”
Irving Plaza will return Aug. 17 with the country singer Ashley McBryde. Other shows include Noah Cyrus (Aug. 27), Ben Folds (Sept. 12) and the rapper J.I. (Sept. 16). In a sign of just how hard it is for midsize venues to secure unique bookings, the alt-rock stalwarts Guided by Voices will play both Irving Plaza (Sept. 10) and Brooklyn Made (Dec. 31).
Brooklyn Made’s building, at 428 Troutman Street, has been a subject of local mystery for years. A former warehouse, it was purchased in 2011 by Charlie Kaim, the proprietor of the Maracuja bar in Williamsburg. Kaim spent eight years renovating the Troutman building, intending to create a venue called the Bushwick House of Music.
Last year, as the pandemic hit, a frustrated Kaim decided to sell. “Time for some young blood in there,” he said in an interview.
Winrich’s family bought the building in November for $9.4 million; in a separate transaction early last year, Winrich also took over Maracuja.
Makes and Winrich, 37, will operate Brooklyn Made through their partnership. Brooklyn Made Presents, their promotion company, also books the United Palace in Manhattan and CMAC, an amphitheater in Canandaigua, N.Y.
Like some venues in New York, Brooklyn Made is waiting to open its doors until pandemic restrictions are eased and it can operate at full capacity; Makes and Winrich expect that to be in the fall, if not before. But just in case a full reopening takes longer than expected, they say they are well financed and can wait.
“We’ll be ready to go and the world is ready to go,” Makes said, “no matter how long that takes.”