THE DOM/STANLEY'S/BALLOON FARM/ELECTRIC CIRCUS—23 St. Marks Place b/w 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Although the official address for these clubs is usually given as 23 St. Marks, they were housed in a row of affiliated buildings at 19-25 St. Marks—and the row had a long, convoluted history well before it was a gleam in Andy Warhol's eye. [...]
From what I gather, there were two different (yet related) mid-'60s bars in the same 19-25 complex. Stanley's was smaller, and since it's usually described as being "downstairs" I'm guessing it was situated in the basement. I'm not quite sure which floor the Dom was on—photos from the era show the Dom's entrances at the ground level, but it's often described as being on the second floor. It took its name from the Polski Dom Narodowy, and presumably occupied what had been the Polish Home's (and Arlington Hall's) ballroom space. Those same photos show "Polski . . . " signs on the first above-ground floor (with separate doorways accessible from stoops), so I assume the Polish National Home maintained some facilities at 19-25 while the Dom was in action. [...]
[Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey] were looking for a space to put on a series of multimedia happenings, replete with films, light shows, dancers, and their new "house band," the Velvet Underground. There had been tentative plans to associate with a new discotheque built inside an old airplane hangar-turned-film studio on Long Island, to be called Andy Warhol's Up. But the disco's owner, Broadway producer Michael Mayerberg, apparently balked at the dark glamour of the Factory crowd and the scary sounds of the Velvets; he opted to call his place Murray the K's World and open with the established Rascals instead. [...] On a suggestion from artists Jackie Cassen and Rudi Stern (who had leased the Dom for their Theater of Light events), Warhol and Morrissey scoped out the Dom, liked what they saw, and rented the place for April, 1966 at a cost of $2,500. The result was the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. [...]
Stories conflict as to how the EPI ended its initial stint at the Dom. According to Sterling Morrison's interview in the March 6, 1970 issue of Fusion [reprinted in All Yesterday's Parties (Cambridge: Da Capo, 2005)], the Velvets were supposed to have a three-year lease on the Dom, but upon returning to New York after a mid-'66 tour, "[W]e went back to our room since that was our thing. We owned it for three years, and when we came back we discovered it was now called the Balloon Farm. Actually our lease had been torn up and the director of the Polish home had been bribed and bought off and so our building had been taken away from us."
Popism and Factory Made make no reference to a three-year lease. "The experience of playing in the heat of Chicago in a club that had no air conditioning didn't go over too well with the E.P.I.," says Warhol in Popism, "and since the Dom didn't have air conditioning either, Paul told Stanley [Tolkin] that we would wait and rent it again when it got cool . . . In the fall when Paul went back to rent the Dom, Stanley told him sorry, it was already rented. Al Grossman and Charlie Rothchild opened it as the Balloon Farm and asked the Velvets to play there anyway—upstairs—and they did, since they didn't have anything else to do. In the basement there was a bar with a jukebox, and Paul managed that, off and on, into the next spring and charged admission." Nico began a solo engagement downstairs at Stanley's, initially singing to cassette-taped backing tracks of the Velvet Underground, but eventually accompanied by a series of guitarists, including "Tim Buckley, Jackson Browne, Steve Noonan, Jack Elliot, Tim Hardin—[Paul] promising them they could do a set alone if only they'd play a little for Nico while she sang."
I haven't been able to locate much info on the Balloon Farm incarnation of the club. Supposedly its name came from a comment Bob Dylan had made about seeing imaginary cartoon speech balloons above the patrons' heads—since Albert Grossman was Dylan's manager I guess it could be true. In turn, the band behind one of '67's wickedest nuggets, "A Question of Temperature," apparently did name themselves after the club—but I'm not sure if they ever played there. The Mothers of Invention did, but apart from them and the Velvets I haven't been able to track down other performers. And at some point the club may have reverted to its old moniker—the best VU site lists a Dom engagement from March 15-22, 1967.
At any rate, the Grossman era was short-lived. Sometime in mid-1967 (dates conflict but are usually cited in the May-July period) he sold his lease to Jerry Brandt, who oversaw its transformation into the Lower East Side's premier psychedelic ballroom—the Electric Circus.
152 BLEECKER ST nr SULLIVAN
Extant 1908, oper Bertini & Rosetti (Trows)
ALTS [Altns Bldg Docket, Dept Bldg] 1914, $1000, archt Geo J casazza:
Expired by limitn
Extant 1914 (MPTL [Motion Pic Th. List]), 1921. Seats 298
Amusement Licenses Denied.
Bertina Roseth, Castle Theatre, No. 152 Bleecker street, Manhattan, from February 1, 1910, to April 30, 1910; deposit of $150 to be refunded.
The Cafe Au Go Go
NEW YORK—CIRCA 1965: Crowds line up outside of The Little Fox Theatre and The Cafe Au Go Go at 152 Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village circa 1965 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Gary [Kellgren] was a visionary. He told me a couple of things in the beginning even before the design began. He said, "Tom, I want a a studio that looks and feels like a home living room, not the sterile hospital look and feel." [...] Gary wanted a living room environment and a living room feel, which came with massive acoustic implications that resulted from the insertion of these new materials into a three-dimensional space. 3rd Street was designed with Gary's wishes in mind, and the acoustic implications of the thing was all very new to me.
Record Plant had the first 24- track in town.
Immediately before Record Plant I was involved with Ami Hadani at TTG. We both had previously worked together for Phil Ramone at A&R Studios in New York on 48th Street, with Don Frey, who was his partner, and Art Ward who was pretty much the owner. [...] Prior to that, I was with MGM in New York with the famous Val Valentin who was Director of Engineering for Verve and MGM for years.
That all started back in New York with Phil Ramone. We had speakers at A&R that were the standard studio stuff of the era that only went down to about 63 Hertz. Phil kept saying that something wasn't right on the bottom end and he was right. Acoustic instruments require 40 Hertz at the bottom end for monitoring and if you truly want to hear the fundamentals of bass drum, the acoustic bass with a bow, you need your monitoring system to allow all that to happen and to be realized. You can't do it if your speaker stops at 63 Hertz. You don't hear 50, you don't hear 40, you don't hear 45, all that information is gone. When I got to TTG in Los Angeles they had a spate of monitors that were similar to what they had at A&R. Ami (Hadani) said to me, "Are you going to follow through on this monitor thing?" To which I said, "We have to, we really have to. Especially in a room of this size, we've got to. You're going to have low frequencies laying around in the room." I knew all that from my days at JBL. I had worked for JBL for seven years in the 1950s and I knew a little bit about how rooms responded to sound. Ami asked, "All right, how do you want to start it?" I said, "Well, you've got to increase the speaker box volume, you've got to add a second woofer to it, that's where I began, and perhaps we should turn the monitor vertically. How about two woofers, just one active, one passive, or both active in parallel, and we can energize that, and put the tweeter, a driver in range above or the middle between the woofers. Let's experiment." Ami said, "All right, fine, go ahead." So, we did. I didn't really have any sophisticated equipment for testing and listening. Seat of the pants, we put together our first monitor, and, yeah, it got down to 40 Hertz, actually 38 Hertz. Then I said, "All right, let's do this," so we hung them up. And sure enough, it really did work. It was a vast improvement, instantly. It was a small industry in those days. Someone would pick it up the phone and say, "Hey, have you heard this? Have you heard about what's going on over at TTG?" The news in the industry traveled fast in those days. The guys picked up the phones, as maintenance people often do, as the owners do, and as the producers do, and they talked to their friends on the other side of the nation. LA talked to New York all the time, New York talked to Nashville. People were coming from different parts of the country to hear what we had. We had people in there from the south, musicians from Louisiana, from Alabama, and from Nashville, and we had New Yorkers in there too. Of course, everyone in LA was becoming aware that things were changing. Among the people who came through TTG in those days was Jimi Hendrix who, I think, was the one who originally told Gary about the monitors we had built.
You recall in the late-sixties the industry was eight- track; there was an endless demand for more tracks; the more engineers used track bouncing to compensate for more tracks, the more the noise would go up. There was 12- track one- inch in those days, but the separation track wasn't very good; you would have high-frequency bleed from one track to another. The only answer was to double the tracks (8-to-16) and widen the tape (1-to-2 inches). It was more mechanics than electronics and it was going to take some time. Eight months later, TTG had the first working 16-track two-inch machine in Los Angeles. To take an Ampex 300 transport, which was designed for the weight of a half-inch reel of tape, and take that up to two-inch, required substantial changes in the transport. Those were done one-by-one-by-one during that eight-month learning curve until finally I got it right. All I needed then was some two-inch tape. So, I called Jim Mullins at 3M and explained what I was doing, that I was interested in the acetate more than the mylar because of the stretch problems; especially on a two-inch format, mylar was just too unstable; especially in the rough handling in the studio environment, the acetate made more sense; at least you could splice it if it broke. I sold Mullins on the idea that the industry was crying out for more tracks and that the only way to give that to them was with two-inch tape, which would first give us 16- track and possibly 24-track. [...] It was an interesting time. When we first got the 16-tracks running, the three machines, two recorders and one player, over at TTG in 1968, I remember Wally Heider, who was a friend and who was then doing all the remotes in town, said to me, "Tom, I'm losing my clients. They're going to you guys and you lock them up because of your 16- track. It's not fair." I said, "So, what do you want?" He said, "Give me two recorders and a player right now." A month and a half later, we got Wally those three machines. And it spread from there.
Herb Cohen was in Los Angeles, managing a club called the Purple Onion. Over the next two years he turned it into a folk club, thus antagonising the owner who wanted his investment tobe a 'classy' collar-and-tie establishment. Borrowing money from Theodore Bikel, one of the singers he'd been booking into the Onion, in 1958 Cohen opened his own coffee-house/folk club, the Unicorn.
In 1955 Victor Maymudes (1935-2001) and Herb Cohen opened the Unicorn Folk Club on Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles. The Unicorn was the first coffee house in Los Angeles, it had live music and poetry. People would read and play chess. It was a place where rebellion had a place to grow.
Judy Henske (1991) ["Only a Henske: The Judy Henske Story" by Paul Zollo. SongTalk, Spring 1991]: "Herbie Cohen had booked Lenny Bruce in the Unicorn, which was this big coffeehouse up on the Sunset Strip. It was next door to where the Whiskey is now. It was pretty big and it was painted black inside. It was supposed to be really hip, like it had pictures of nude women, but upside down. Sailors used to come in there on weekends and start fights and stuff. But he booked Lenny Bruce in there. And Lenny Bruce's audience was the hippest, meanest audience that I think was of all time in show business. And Herbie also at that time had the hippest waitresses. They were mean as snakes, these women were. And they had all been married at one time to one famous jazz musician or another who had fallen from grace in one way or another. So they were extremely hip. These waitresses would go by you and give you these terrible chilling looks with little eyes of stone."
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos