The Bitter To The Bitter End?

I’d like to thank New York City Feelings for reminding me that The Bitter End, NYC’s oldest rock club, is still alive…and, I would hope, somewhat well and perhaps still rocking. In fact, it was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on July 23, 1992. Time and tide, and associated eventualities, often caused me to lose track of some of my favorite haunts from bygone ages–The Bitter End being one of them.

Nevertheless, like me, a rather stoic antiquity in the depths of Park Slope, Brooklyn, the Bitter End is also stoically weathering its own state of antiquation in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. Nostalgically situated on Bleecker Street, a street trodden by creativity in all its various incarnations, the club was opened in 1962 by Fred Weintraub. But it was Paul Colby, Weintraub’s booking agent and manager, who was destined to make The Bitter End legendary.

Colby had worked as a music publicist for such giants of the music world as Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington; he later did production work for the like of Miles Davis and Tony Bennet. He possessed an extraordinary sense for the music business; a talent for determining the infinite nuances of music trends and popular tastes. He took over ownership of The Bitter End in 1974 and, for 24 years, guided the club through one of America’s most eclectic if erratic social revolutions; quite successfully, the club went from hip bistro to cultural mainstay.

With Theresa Sareo at The Bitter End, NYC

Major albums by such stars as Peter, Paul and Mary, Randy Newman, Curtis Mayfield, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, The Isley Brothers and the Serendipity Singers have been recorded live at the Bitter End. Continuing in that tradition on May 16, 1996, Tommy James recorded his latest Compact Disc, Tommy James’ Greatest Hits: Live from the Bitter End proving that this is one nightclub that does not take refuge in the past.

“The best play at the best,” says owner Paul Colby and while it is true that some, like Bob Dylan, will probably not come again; and some, like Harry Chapin or Tim Hardin or Phil Ochs tragically can never come again, the Bitter End is still, at 147 Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, waiting for that next star to light up the skies. History of The Bitter End

However, you can’t go home again, no matter how hard you shake, rattle and roll…even if it’s to a club that’s attained landmark status. I doubt if anyone (including the proprietors) guessed that The Bitter End would’ve been around until the bitter end. Most of the musicians that I saw perform there are either gone (like Harry Chapin and Phil Ochs) or (even worse) attempting to prolong a now senescent career.

Whereas competing clubs, like the Village Gate and Folk City, inevitably yet dignifiedly resigned themselves to dust, my spies tell me that The Bitter End has resigned itself to mediocrity: nondescript bar bands cranking out insipidity, etc. Then again, most of today’s clubs are composed of nondescript bar bands…why not go to The Bitter End, perchance to catch the faint murmuring of legendary sounds reverberating off its walls?


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