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Remembering the Ritz

There are a number of legendary rock venues in our neighborhood, many an integral part of the 1980s NYC club scene. One of the leading ones was ‘The Ritz,’ located in Webster Hall, designated a New York City landmark in 2008, on East 11th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues.  The Ritz opened on May 1, 1980, and it was one of the first clubs to use video in conjunction with music, utilizing a 30 x 30 foot screen (something other clubs around the country would copy). Over the course of its near decade-long tenancy on East 11th Street, the Ritz hosted legends such as U2, Iggy Pop, Tina Turner, Guns N’ Roses, Depeche Mode, Prince, The  Talking Heads, and Sting, just to name a few.

Webster Hall

Webster Hall was built in 1886-87 (the eastern annex in 1892), and over its long history has served Greenwich Village and the East Village as a venue for social meetings, labor rallies, receptions, and balls. In 1980, Jerry Brandt, a legend himself in the music business, chose the site for his new club, the Ritz. In a recent interview, he described the club’s place in the New York City music scene: “The 80s were defined by rock n’ roll, attitude, the clothing and the drugs. The Ritz propelled the 80s with the greatest rock n’ roll bands in the world. The Ritz was the premier venue in New York City.” An article in The Villager from 1981 had this to say about the club:

The biggest, most ostensibly legitimate club is the Ritz at 11th Street and 4th Avenue. It’s no lie calling the Ritz an old Puerto Rican dance hall – it comes complete with mirrored walls, Spanish/English bathroom signs, marble stairs and a monstrous sparkly whatchamacallit hanging ominously from the ten-mile-high ceiling. Yikes! All I can think about is the sword of Damocles. At the Ritz, the bigger-is-better theory applies. A giant video screen plays dream-state film splices between acts. Hypnotic Souixsee and the Banshees at 16 times real-life size. A night at the Ritz can be expensive and/or overcrowded, depending on the act, the night of the week and the weather. If the Rolling Stones are REALLY going to play in one of New York’s downtown clubs, it’ll be the Ritz.

MTV made its debut at the Ritz and would go onto present Live at the Ritz on a seasonal basis. This series featured performers including Run DMC, The Smithereens, the Cult, Iggy Pop, Great White, and the infamous Guns N’ Roses show from February 1988 which Rolling Stone said: “captured the band at its most primal.” During the playing of ‘Paradise City,’ Axl Rose dove into the sea of fans and it took three stagehands to extract the lead vocalist who emerged shirtless (really? he actually had been wearing a shirt?), without jewelry and scratched up. Slash meanwhile played an intensely feverish solo sprawled on his back.

In 1989 the Ritz moved to 254 West 54th Street, former home of Studio 54, leaving the East Village. Webster Hall was reopened as a club in 1992 and reassumed the historic name, ‘Webster Hall.’ Recently, under new ownership, it has been subject to extensive interior renovations as well as some limited changes to the exterior (click HERE for information on those).

27 responses to “Remembering the Ritz

  1. I saw many great acts at the Ritz but the most memorable was Prince in a leopard skin loin cloth. I’ll never forget that night.

    1. My name is Steve. I live on vegas now. I went to many many shows at the Ritz. But the best one I saw by far was the Neville Brothers. Was dating a gorgeous blond from Norway and i just took a chance and went there and we danced the night away . What a band and what a show! Kid Creole and the Coconuts was great too. Power Station, Nick Kershew Amy Mann all fantastic. Richard Butler from the Furs showed up on stage one night I believe with Nils Lofgren.
      Great performance

      One if the coolest places ever. Especially because it was standing only and you could dance.

  2. Sarah,
    Thanks so much for this. So interesting and so well-written. I live around the corner from Webster Hall (in the International Tailoring Co building on Fourth @ 12th St) and I read this post with such interest.
    Learned a lot about Webster Hall in one of its heyday period.
    I will share it wih our residents in our building.
    Your work is so appreciated@ Not just in this but all you and your team at GVSHP do for we who live in Greenwich Village.

  3. your picture of the front door is actually the front entrance of the studio 54 Ritz, not the E 11th st one. I worked at both venues for 12 years.

    1. I was the general manager of the Ritz on 11 th Street. That is Not the front door of studio 54. Richard I’m surprised that your memory is gone … or maybe not …

    2. No Richard, that photo is the Ritz on 11th Street… I was the general manager from opening day …
      Bill Brusca

      1. I worked at the Ritz as barback on the 80’s when bill brusca was manager, he hired me,and Vincent from law and order worked the front door,..I went on to be bouncer and maintenance supervisor. I worked with Neil cohen on till Felix carcano got involved, and it became a high scale strip club.. it was nothing like the 80’s…… the best years of the Ritz.. Richard, Bill brusca is right

      2. Hi Bill, I’m writing a book, part of which concerns my time of visiting then living in the city, early 80s till 2004. Lots of memories of the Ritz. The Professionals. The Cure. The Cult. Many other events. Wondering if I can ask you a question – trying to remember a thing or two. Cheers. ( copperland@earthlink.net )

  4. How could you NOT be in on the New York music scene, and not know this place! Seeing The Stray Cats play here, and being in on the night it was recorded! Hanging out in the balcony with anyone and everyone in the music business! Nothing but the BEST MEMORIES!

    1. I forgot about the Stray Cats! I was there for that, too. But being five feet from Billy Idol on stage was definitely my highlight memory of the place. So many fantastic acts! So many fuzzy memories…

  5. I played there many time with Fats Deacon & The Dumbwaiters.. So many great shows.. Such an honor to play on that stage…

  6. Senior in HS, decided to go to the club one night. Irish band making their debut??? we weren’t sure how good they would be. Was U2. Fairly good. My entire young life in the 80s was there. Great stuff.

  7. Great memories of shows in the 80s
    I worked for SunSound Audio. As I’m writing this I’m listening to a cassette of Southside Johnny 10-28/88.
    Thank you Charles for the room mix assist and the crew for carting all that equipment 32 steps up. We added extra handles on the cases to help.

  8. I worked at the Ritz in the 80s . I did the VIP room and the tables best years of my life .worked with everyone from Tina turner to Sinatra guns and roses etc. If you new the Ritz you new the cat club on Wednesday night

  9. I worked in the box office from ‘85. So many great memories. So many great people. Def a special place at a special time. Amazing co-workers. We were a lucky bunch..❤️❤️

  10. Was friends with the light and sound crew- from 82-84. Used to hang out every day after school- do my homework and then leave after doors “closed”. Wash and repeat. Best times of my life and lucky yo see so many artists.

  11. I saw so many bands there in the 1980s and 90s with my friends we used to go up to the balcony wait for the press to leave the table seats baguettes and then sit down and watch the show and see everything great View great place great times the Ritz danceteria and scrap bar my favorite places in the 80s who agrees?

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