In 1966 and '67, when out-of-town bands came to NYC, they would do shows at places like Ungano's and the original Peppermint Lounge, that were really holdovers of the Copacabana era and not so very unlike this "vibe" (maaaan) at all. [He's referring to the scene at the Hard Rock Cafe during its launch party for Little Steven's Underground Garage.--Ed.] (Once they turned on the three-dollar color-wheel lights, that is.) The only difference here is that the Hard Rock Cafe has a fifty-foot ceiling and the lights cost three THOUSAND dollars each.
According to featbase.net, a site devoted to Little Feat (who played there on January 4, 1971), it was a "basement club" with an occupancy of 200; "[it] closed around March 20, 1971, and then reopened on Staten Island as Ungano's Ritz around May 21, 1971." This second venue was in an old 2,000-seat movie house, the Ritz Theater, at 251 Port Richmond Avenue.
Both the club and the theater attracted a surprisingly impressive array of the era's talent, including:
- The MC5--their NYC debut, on the heels of a junior high gig in Great Neck, L.I. a few nights before. This MC5 page contains the text of a 1969 Changes article by Mike Jahn, offering a rare physical description of the club: "Ungano's is an average size club with a big back room checked off by four mirrored pillars. The stage is along one wall. Opposite it is a small raised gallery for the press. It takes a club with imagination to put the press in a raised gallery with a Dayglo light that makes their underwear show through their clothes."
- The Stooges
- The Flamin' Groovies
- The Kinks
- Badfinger--see more memories and photos here and here.
- The Vagrants
- Mountain--Jimi Hendrix jammed at a couple of their shows in September 1969, once playing Felix Pappalardi's right-handed bass upside down. Another Hendrix jam session at Ungano's is described here.
- Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band
- The Allman Brothers--NYC debut, August 4-6, 1969, and more gigs in 1970.
- The Grateful Dead
- Tony Williams' Lifetime, featuring John McLaughlin, Jack Bruce, and Larry Young.
- Fleetwood Mac
- Uriah Heep
- The Faces
- Chelsea (Not to be confused with the British punk band of the same name--these guys included Peter Criss, pre-KISS.)
- Van Morrison
- Golden Earring
- Black Sabbath
- Bird bands Crow and Raven
- The Heard--never *heard* of 'em, but the pics at this link are super-cool.
- Plum Nelly
A Staten Island local on cinematreasures.org remembers seeing "Alice Cooper, Mountain, Black Sabbath, Yes, Capt. Beefheart, MC5, King Crimson, The Kinks, Fleetwood Mac, Deep Purple...even Vanilla Fudge" at Ungano's Ritz. He adds, "The Ritz concerts did not last to due 'contract riders' put into place in the early seventies by NYC concert promoters. They insisted that the musicians performing at their place could not book additional shows within a 50 mile radius of the venue nor within a month surrrounding the show. This essentially killed the bookings for national recording acts at the Ritz Theater." Apparently the building went on to become a roller rink, but since 1985 it has been occupied by Pedulla Ceramic Tile. What became of the basement of 210 W. 70th Street is unclear. The building as a whole was, and may still be, the Bradford Hotel, but seems to also house various other businesses.
[UPDATE 5/6/2010: Here are a couple of Ungano's ads unearthed by a long-time Internet pal of mine, the eagle-eyed Rob B. Jeez, this piece seems skimpy--I should really see if more info has come forth. The daughter of one of the proprietors contacted me quite a while ago, offering answers to any questions I might have...unfortunately I was too shy and too preoccupied with non-blog matters at the time to fully take her up on it, and I fear the offer may have expired by now.]
UPDATE 3/15/2012: Here is a revised and improved post on 1969 Ungano's ads.