(Above: Richard Barone at the Mercury Lounge, Feb. 4)
The Mercury Lounge reached its 25th anniversary, an ancient venue by New York rock club standards. According to New York magazine, “just about every successful band” to come out of New York City in the early 2000s got its professional start performing at the 250-capacity rock club. The Strokes built a career there through repeated bookings, and the booking agent at the time, Ryan Gentles, even quit his job there in order to become the band’s manager—a position he still holds today. The club’s small stage hosted numerous local bands that would go on to headline arenas, including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, and the National. International and national artists including Ed Sheeran, Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys, Broken Social Scene, Mumford & Sons, and Dua Lipa showcased early in their careers at the Mercury Lounge.
Located at 217 East Houston Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the five-story tenement building dates back to 1900, and reportedly housed the servants to the Astor mansion on Fifth Avenue, connected by underground tunnels. Garfein’s Restaurant occupied the storefront space in the early part of the 20th century, and from 1933 to 1993 the storefront housed Shastone Memorials, which displayed tombstones in its windows. In 1993, the street floor became the Mercury Lounge.
An intermittent series of concerts dubbed “25 Years of Mercury Lounge” will highlight the club’s silver anniversary in 2019. Richard Barone, Laura Cantrell, Peter Stampfel, and Gary Lucas—all stalwarts from the club’s early years—performed at the new series’ opening night on Feb. 4; surprise guests that night included Emily Duff and Michelle Shocked. Between live music performances, the Empire State Soul Club DJs, who played the opening night at Mercury Lounge 25 years ago, reunited for the first time in years to play the room for this event. Vapors of Morphine, a group featuring original Morphine members Dana Colley and Jerome Dupree, performed later in the week, as did the reunion of Ambulance LTD. Other special events recalling the venue’s early years will be booked throughout 2019.