New York City’s Webster Hall reopened with a Jay-Z show. (Courtesy BSE)

After nearly two years of renovations, Manhattan nightclub has fresh look and feel

After a closure of nearly two years, Jay-Z, Patti Smith, Vampire Weekend and more are introducing the revamped Webster Hall to New York audiences this spring.

“The venue has had an incredible history, but at the same time, it needed to go through a renovation where we could address some needs both visible and nonvisible so that the venue could be viable on a long-term basis,” said Brett Yormark, CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which jointly operates Webster Hall with AEG Presents regional partner Bowery Presents.

Jay-Z relaunched the concert hall with a show April 26. The reopening comes just over two years after BSE and Bowery Presents acquired the venue, situated in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood, from Lon Ballinger in April 2017. “He always looked at this as another child, Webster Hall, and it became very dear to him for obvious reasons,” Yormark said. “He wanted to make sure that if and when he did exit, he left it in good hands.”

Ballinger, whose family assumed control of Webster Hall in 1992, came to trust BSE with the space’s legacy. Built in 1886, the venue has long played a prominent cultural role for New Yorkers, from labor rallies and social functions in the early 20th century to greeting artists including Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger in the postwar era to, as The Ritz, hosting U2’s first United States performance in 1980.

“We’ve been able to maintain the history, the grit, the aura of what made Webster Hall so special,” Yormark said, “but at the same time we’ve been able to modernize and contemporize certain parts of it as well.”

Several of the modifications made to the venue were, as Bowery Presents co-owner Jim Glancy put it, “just to bring it up to 2019 standards.” For one, a new freight elevator will rectify Webster’s “notoriously horrible load-in” for artists while making the venue more accessible for those with disabilities. Attendees will have an easier experience overall, whether walking in through new street entrances, enjoying expanded restrooms or navigating added staircases.

But according to Keith Sheldon, BSE’s executive vice president of programming and development, even those basic changes required careful thought. “While we added some additional staircases and exits, we also wanted to maintain that same mazelike quality that adds an element of discovery that is certainly super unique,” he said.

Other changes were more substantial. Webster Hall’s first-floor performance space, the Marlin Room, is now a thing of the past, replaced by a lounge area so that concertgoers aren’t left chatting on the sidewalk. “People today like communal gathering spaces, ‘hang spaces,’ so to speak,” said Yormark, adding that the redone room gives Webster Hall “greater flexibility” for booking private events going forward.

The more glamorous experience will also extend to artists, who will find expanded dressing rooms and shower facilities. “What can we do for the artist who is making it their home for a night or two nights or three nights?” Glancy said.

And, perhaps most important, BSE and Bowery Presents brought in acousticians to help plot a fresh sound system by high-end audio manufacturer L-Acoustics.

As demonstrated by Webster Hall’s elite 2019 bookings and subsequent hires such as Mike Venafro, who will be the general manager after serving as regional general manager for several Bowery Presents venues in New York, the room is poised to resume its place at the forefront of New York’s nightlife.

“It’s the anchor. Not an anchor — the anchor,” Glancy said. “Webster was opened four or five years before Carnegie Hall. That’s mind-blowing! That’s where Webster Hall’s place has been in New York and where it will continue to be in New York.”