158 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10012
Hours: Music times vary
Subway: A,C,E,B,D,F,M to West 4th St
Written by: Jason Siegel
Le Poisson Rouge, French for ‘The Red Fish,’ was so named as a bit of a joke. When co-owners David Handler and Justin Kantor were brainstorming venue names, they were aiming for pretension. It was a conscious effort to belie the true nature of their endeavor: to deliver, eclectic, varied music to the masses. Being classical musicians themselves, David and Justin are passionately committed to their genre, but in a decidedly unpretentious way.
A tilted, fish tank greets patrons as they descend the broad staircase to LPR. The large room is sleek and black, without engendering too much darkness. Red highlights—Le Poisson is ‘rouge,’ after all—spice up the visual aesthetic. The main stage faces the room diagonally from the corner and a roll-out stage tucks underneath when not in use. This smaller, moving stage allows for varied seating configurations, much like a black-box theater. Black couches and bar tables line the back wall, and modern-styled chairs and tables fill up the space directly in front of, or around, the stage. The bar serves as a multi-use space—for drinks at night, as a cafe by day, and continually as an open, art gallery. Past the gallery, two vast, medieval thrones with fish-shaped arms guard the bathrooms.
Acoustics are paramount to LPR’s design; the performance space was engineered by legendary architect John Storyk, who designed the world famous Electric Lady Studios for Jimi Hendrix, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and private studios for numerous artists: Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen, among others.
David and Justin, consider Le Poisson Rouge a ‘gateway club.’ LPR has entertained audiences with a plethora of musical styles: opera and other classical forms, indie rock, hardcore metal and rap, along with additional fringe genres. David grins, recalling, “five to seven hundred people, twenty- and thirty-somethings, standing through a forty-minute-long symphony, beers in hand…pierced and tattooed to the nines,” for the New York premiere of sacred music composer Arvo Pärt’s newest piece.
David and Justin are adamant about their ‘no-limits’ policy on the types of genres featured at LPR; their only condition is that the music be magnificant.
Le Poisson Rouge occupies the same building that once housed the Village Gate, a Greenwich Village mainstay from 1958 to 1993. The Village Gate hosted such remarkable acts as Jimi Hendrix, Allen Ginsberg, Dizzie Gillespie, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin. So, as David puts it, LPR has “a lot of ghosts in here… really good ghosts.” In the interim, the space served as an off-Broadway theater and a night club.
Upon graduation from the Manhattan School of Music in 2004, David and Justin began looking for the perfect space in which to open a modern, funky venue. The Greenwich Village, once an über-bohemian and gritty neighborhood, further transitioned during the ’90s and ’00s into an upscale version of its former self. This evolution in the neighborhood suited David and Justin’s pseudo-pretentious idea for a venue and also inspired them to ensure the continued production of rich music in the Village. Fast forward a few years: David and Justin received the keys to the space in the fall of 2007, remodeled the entire interior in a few short months and opened LPR in the summer of 2008.