The death and rebirth of the Bowery Poetry Club

The much-beloved Bowery Poetry Club is closing this week, undergoing a ginormous renovation and shift in focus. It’ll open in the fall as a supper club, and I’ve heard that on Sundays and Mondays (or is it Mondays and Tuesdays?), it’ll be its old self to whatever extent it can be.

A huge portion of the BPC community is devastated by this news, understandably. Bowery is one of the last safe havens in New York for transgressive artists, poets and musicians to work out and celebrate their creations. It’s one of the only places that you can walk into on any given night and run into one of your heroes accidentally.

I stumbled in myself in early 2003, shortly after the Club opened, where Moonshine was working behind the bar and said to me, “Whatcha need, sugar?” I was home. I soon found myself with a volunteer job that turned into an incredibly low-paid and incredibly stimulating job running the Club’s outreach and administration. It was my first steady gig after I quit working 9-5, and it both made me insane with overwork, and absolutely delighted me with its non-monetary rewards. 

But non-monetary is sort of the kicker. As Bob Holman, the Club’s founder and proprietor, has famously said in many places, “We thought the poets would drink enough to support the shows. They don’t.” I don’t know the details, but I know they tried a bunch of different income models involving for- and non-profit organizations. It looks like nothing worked: capitalism won this round.

So, I, too, am beyond sad to see this massive shift happen. But the sign painted over the door, pictured above, says it all. (It was coined when Bob and I were working on the publishing the event calendar one week, and we didn’t have any of the info for a show we desperately wanted to include—ticket prices, doors-open time, show time, show length, etc.) Especially in New York, we can’t count on anything sticking around, and we have to focus on treasuring what we have in each moment. In that way, it’s either the most Zen city in the world, or the most id-driven city in the world. Or both.

Here’s hoping both the Club’s rebirth brings along lots of the history of this magical space, and that a new space welcoming the bleeding, racous edge of culture can still be born in the the five boroughs.

PS— See you Tuesday night, yeah?