FOH engineer Richie Clarke with (le) Poisson Rouge’s Avid Venue Profile console.
For 38 years, the Village Gate was a New York City landmark–a two-level club on Bleeker Street that hosted everyone from Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Allen Ginsberg (all on the same night!) to the likes of Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest. Closing in 1993, the legendary club was demoted to existence as a CVS pharmacy, with the basement level used for off-Broadway productions. Now, picking up where its famed predecessor left off, (le) Poisson Rouge has taken over the basement space to create one of the most unusual clubs in a city that prides itself on night life.
New owners David Handler and Justin Kantor aim to present everything from classical to indie rock, jazz and blues to international and Avant Garde. “Justin and I are musicians first and club guys a very distant second,” demurred Handler, giving a tour around the club. “We knew it needed to be a versatile space [due to] the kind of music that was going to be in here; we needed the room to be malleable.”
And it is, as seating arrangements and stage placement offer three basic set-ups and their variations. Holding up to 700 people, the 3,882 sq. ft. performance area is essentially square, so the stage was placed at an angle in one corner; beneath it lives a 16 ft. diameter circular stage which can extend the main stage or be completely isolated as an island in the middle of the room for in-the-round performances. A third option is a runway-style extension off the main stage, much like a fashion show.
While all this makes for a flexible, interesting performance venue, it could have made the space a nightmare for sound reinforcement. With that in mind, the co-owners brought in architect/acoustician John Storyk and his partner/wife, interior designer Beth Walters, of the Walters/Storyk Design Group. Handler mused, “I think the history of the club and the fact that we were going to need a flexible space for eclectic performances might have appealed to his sensibility. I think he realized he could flex it in a way, showing that he can create that kind of variable acoustics necessary for such wide-ranging performances.”
Additionally, WSDG associate David Kotch teamed with Paul Klimson, audio specialist of East Rutherford, N.J.-based Masque Sound, to create the system design; Masque also tackled the system installation.
Key to the system design was the need to create a system that could tackle the various staging permutations, including a 5.4 surround sound set-up. “We are really committed to doing surround,” said Handler. “We want to be able to do screenings in here, but even more importantly, a lot of music being composed by contemporary artists right now, particularly avant-garde classical composers writing music, is mixed that way. We didn’t want anything to be out of bounds for us creatively in terms of aesthetically being able to offer as wide a spectrum as possible.”
One hurdle was the noticeable lack of storage space in the venue; WSDG’s answer was to a mini-storeroom for everything from chairs to a Yamaha S6 grand piano under a raised VIP area. “We don’t like the name’s connotation, but yeah, it basically is; we affectionately call it The Opera Box,” said Handler.
Over another storage space sits the FOH mix position, where engineer Richie Clarke presides over a Digidesign Venue Profile outfitted with Pro Tools and Sonnox Oxford plug-ins–the first such console installed in an NYC club. A Meyer Sound Galileo loudspeaker management system and six Yamaha DMEs are used for processing, sending audio variously to more than 50 Meyer boxes hanging in various configurations around the room. A main array of 11 M’elodies is positioned over the stage, along with a ring of five additional M’elodie loudspeakers, eight M1Ds, and numerous UPJ-1P VariO and MM-4XP miniature loudspeakers, while low end is handled by 700-HP and 600-HP subwoofers.
Clarke doesn’t find the raised mix position to be an issue; he noted, “Being on a platform, I thought I’d have a false sense of the low end in the room, but it’s actually slightly reduced high end up here, just because of the direct alignment of the speakers. It doesn’t matter–it takes no time to adjust to it.”
Given the club’s predilection for classical and Avant Garde music, miking can be a concern, as much for keeping musical purists satisfied as for fully capturing an instrument: “I use both close and ambient miking,” said Clarke, “but the close miking is there just if it’s needed. I try to go with the ambient miking to keep the experience as authentic as possible. If you hit trouble spots, you bring in the close mic a little bit to make sure the performance doesn’t suffer, but I try to find the right balance.”
Does the surround sound work for such performances? “I mixed a classical set here a few weeks back that was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop–and yet it sounded amazing! There wasn’t anything lacking because you’re surrounded by the sound; it’s full, at even a low volume, which is really nice.”
Musicians can hear themselves via self-powered L-Acoustics wedges getting mixes from a Yamaha M7CL-48 console. The mic locker features a slew of Shure, EV, Beyerdynamic, Sennheiser, AKG and Neumann mics, along with Radial DI boxes and Shure wireless mics.
While opera and classical music have been a strong part of the repertoire, acts like They Might Be Giants, Rickie Lee Jones and John Wesley Harding have had residencies in the space. Fittingly for a Greenwich Village musical space so bathed in history, none other than Lou Reed played the grand opening show, his appearance a fitting stamp of approval for what might prove to be the next generation’s Village Gate.
(le) Poisson Rouge