Monday, July 11, 2005

A far cry from Jenny Lind

NIGHTINGALE'S BAR, 213 Second Avenue (NW corner of 13th St. & 2nd Ave.) Rejoice--despite my penchant for tracing a locale's evolutions, you'll get no longwinded essay about the historical transitions of this place. I have no idea what establishment preceded Nightingale's, nor do I know when it opened as such. It's often described as a dive, but I never found it to be particularly sleazy or scumbuckety. It was more of a plain, nondescript type of neighborhood joint--ugly brown facade (I could be wrong but ISTR the front sign misspelled as "Nightengale's"--probably a remnant of a beer-soaked false memory, though), long bar on one side, postage stamp-sized "stage" about four inches higher than the floor on the other, pool table at the back. It offered live music just about every night of the week, usually without a cover.

The bar's main claim to fame is that it was one of the main hubs for the city's late '80s-to-early '90s neo-hippie jam band movement, fostering outfits like Blues Traveler (who wrote a song about the place), Joan Osborne, the Spin Doctors, and God Street Wine. NOT MY SCENE, but since the Hunter dorms housed a surprising number of its fans, I couldn't help but be exposed to it--especially that fun-filled semester when I had two of its biggest proponents living on either side of my dorm room. One was a gorgeous Italian-as-in-from-Italy gal who was widely rumored to be John Popper's primo-numero-uno groupie. "Why is this beautiful chick wasting the best years of her life on that fat harmonica-fweeting f**khead?" I'd often ask myself, as she would blast yet another 15-minute harmonica solo off some live bootleg Traveler tape. Meanwhile, the guy on the other side seemed to subsist on a steady musical diet of either the Dead or Bob Marley played at plaster-loosening volume. They were really nice people and I got along with them well, but Bongwater was about as wanked-out as I usually wanted to get back then.

Somehow I did make it to Nightingale's fairly regularly, but not for any of the aforementioned bands, thank you very much. Luckily its booking policies encompassed more styles than jam-band noodling. Got to give a shout-out here to my dear friend Pete, a fine rockabilly-influenced guitarist for whom it was a pleasure to be a cheering section; he performed there often, with his sibling-oriented rockabilly duo Rudy and Ludlow and with the indescribably cool Skepticats. There were sporadic garage-type gigs during the '90s--at one of these I was enraptured by the powerhouse pipes of Jahna Rain, then of the Innuendoes and now of the Demands, the Miscreants and the Coal Gems. Most legendary, at least among the garagenik set, were the Fleshtones' series of residency gigs in '98 and '99--read some reminiscences here, here, here, and here.

Apparently Nightingale's closed down for a while before re-emerging as the Nightingale Lounge, presumably under new management. I haven't been to this new incarnation, but I gather it's more upscale/DJ-fied, and caters a lot less to rock & roll types.

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