There are certain vanished institutions here in New York that are forever rhapsodized. From the glorious glass ceilings of the original Pennsylvania Station and the Polynesian splendor of Trader Vic’s at the Plaza (shuttered in 1993 by Donald Trump for being “tacky”) through the cramped, punky squalor of CBGB and the lush, red velvet expanse of the Ziegfeld Theater, while the establishments in question are forever gone, images and anecdotes about their significance seem forever woven into the history of the city. Nobody can actually visit these places anymore, but there’s still plenty of documentation of their existence to be pored over.
This, however, is not the case with every lost venture. There are certain businesses, locations and concerns that seem to have been entirely forgotten – wiped clean from the pages of the city’s lore, as if to suggest that they were never here to begin with. For NYC-centric bloggers like myself, whenever we find a mention of one of these lost places, it’s practically an adrenaline rush.
One of those spots -- for me, at least -- is The Marquee at 547 West 21st Street.
I’ve written about the Marquee here quite a few times, notably here, here and here. In the grand scheme of things, it was a venue that couldn’t have been open for more than four or five years, morphing from a ramshackle club called Sonic into the more streamlined Marquee, so named after the storied London venue. While it didn’t exactly play a culturally pivotal role in New York City nightlife like, say, Studio 54, The Mudd Club or the afore-cited CBGB, the Marquee made a name for itself as the premiere New York City destination -- in the early `90s -- for up-and-coming British bands. More intimate than midtown rooms like the Academy off Times Square, the New Ritz (in, essentially, the very same space as Studio 54) and the Roseland Ballroom (all three now gone, of course), the Marquee acted as the perfect staging point for buzzy, indie bands from the UK.
I waxed rhapsodic about all the bands I saw there on those earlier posts, so I shan’t bother re-hashing it all here. Suffice to say, it was a regular stop for me during that era. Then, as quickly as it appeared, the Marqee was gone. The building remained (captured at the top of this post, circa 2006, by one Michael Minn), but it suddenly turned into a Latino dance club called El Flamingo. Shortly after that, it became the home of a supposedly bawdy re-imagining of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” called “The Donkey Show.” After that, it turned into a sleepy art gallery. Then, in about 2013, the building was razed in order to accommodate yet another frankly ridiculous glass goddamn condo.
With all this in mind, you can imagine my glee upon seeing an article in The New Yorker somewhat recently (published in November, but I only saw it last week) that details a show that -- while maybe not "seminal" -- was a big deal at the time. Dubbed "The Time My Band Opened for Blur," this story by one Thomas Beller recounts the time his band was the opener's opener at the Marquee. I was at this very show, with Blur as the headliner and the Senseless Things as their opener. While I'm sure I witnessed at least a song or two of Beller's band's set, I have zero recollection of them. In any case, it's worth a read. For another account of Blur's first visit here (including that Marquee stop), you should also check out this piece in The Fader.
For my money, I was a huge fan of Blur at the time. I remember first hearing their first American single, "There's No Other Way" on the same night I first heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I was at a bar on Second Avenue called The Dragon Bar (later a gay bar called Dick's and, later still, the 12th Street Ale House). I was an immediate fan of the former track, less so the latter. By the time they made it to New York and played the Marquee, they were playing new material, and I remember lead singer Damon Albarn being rather energetically inebriated. I did a bit more searching and found these two pics from that very show. Dunno if I made it into either shot, by I was indeed there.
CODA: I started penning this post last week, but had to meet some friends in Chelsea on Saturday night. They couldn't come up with a suitable venue, so I suggested Half-King on 23rd and Tenth Avenue. On my walk over, I found myself again near that strip of West 21st Street. Not only is my "sense of place" for it gone, but this once deserted backwater is soon to become a very busy byway indeed, now that this horrible fucking thing is going up on the former site of the Marquee.
Unlike, say, hardcore mecca A7, there is no plaque left behind to honor the Marquee. Outside of conversations with wistful rock dorks like myself and the odd article like the ones above, you’d now never know it had ever existed. When construction is completed on 551 West 21, I'll doubt there'll be any citations that bands like Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Swervedriver and Blur once played in the space that will, by then, probably be a state-of-the-art laundry room.
That scene is just gone.