The Closing of Lakeside Lounge…OY VEY!

Hey folks, it’s Shannon Brown from NYC country band Trailer Radio blogging at you live from NYC.

Today, I’m gonna give all you hillbillies out there a little vocabulary lesson.  The word of the day is “kvetch” (kuh-VETCH).  It’s a slang term that means “to complain or grumble” and is derived from the Yiddish word “kvetshn” which means “to squeeze, press”.

After living in NY for a while, Yiddish words have a way of sneaking into your everyday language and after 10 years they say you’ve earned your right to kvetch.  And kvetch I shall…because all day long I’ve tried to enjoy a nice spring day but everywhere I go there’s a bazillion shmendriks (stupid people) spreading their mishegas (craziness) all around.  It was beautiful outside and all 8.5 million New Yorkers were at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, eating hotdogs, driving on the West Side Highway, and meeting a friend for coffee at the exact same moment.  I felt so squeezed it made me wanna plotz (explode).

Alison Jones, Chip Robinson, Phil Chimino and Eric Ambel at Lakeside Lounge 2010.  Copyright Lakeside Lounge.

I talked to another fella this week that is also being squeezed… or squeezed out, rather…though he didn’t kvetch at all.  His name is Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, a well-known guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer who has worked with Joan Jett, Steve Earle, the Del-Lords, the Yayhoos and many others. He is the owner of  Cowboy Technical Services in Brooklyn and co-owner of the beloved  Lakeside Lounge, a live music venue in Manhattan’s East Village, which is closing its doors tonight–squeezed out due to the rising costs of running a bar in their neighborhood (the bar’s expenses have quadrupled since opening in 1996).

Every musician in town that I know is deeply saddened at Lakeside’s closing.  The iconic venue featured live music every night of the week, a jukebox filled with classic tunes, a photo booth where you could capture the moment while cavorting with your buddies.  Many, many bands have come through Lakeside’s doors from the well-known (Bottle Rockets, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone, Steve Earle & the Dukes, Jewel and the up-and-coming Alabama Shakes) to local faves including a number from the NYC country & Americana community (Frankenpine, Karen Hudson River Band, Jack Grace Band, American String Conspiracy, Maynard & the Musties, and many more).

Eric is indeed a busy man with lots of irons in the fire.  But he was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time to talk about Lakeside Lounge.

Shannon Brown:  You opened Lakeside in 1996.  What made you decide to open a bar?

Eric Ambel:  I’d been in NYC since 1983.  My friend, Jim (The Hound) Marshall, and I had started promoting shows and events at other places like Brownies. And I helped design the sound and stage for Mercury Lounge.  After helping other clubs we decided to have our own place; an alternative to places that have five bands a night.  A place featuring one band per night, where they were treated well, and played on good equipment.

SB:  You wear a lot of hats – guitarist, songwriter, producer, bar owner.  Which of these do you identify with the most?

EA:  I identify with doing it all; playing, being a session guy, being a producer, being a bar owner, being the booker – it gives me a unique perspective.  I know what it feels like to be everyone in the room.

SB:  What’s it like booking a venue in NYC?

EA: Booking is incredible amount of work… It seems like there’s 100 unread emails in the inbox all the time.  It’s daunting, but I always listened to the stuff that came in, including bands that were totally out of the blue.

SB:  Musicians whom I know feel NYC is an especially difficult place for bands.  What do you feel are the challenges specific to being a musician in NYC?

EA:  It’s hard to find practice space.  In a small town you can set up at home and the way you start there is more casual.  In New York, you’ve gotta have money to pay for rehearsal space.  And it’s difficult to move your equipment around the city.   The challenge is to keep things small and light weight.  And it’s hard to find places to play.  Lakeside booked a lot of bands for their first ever gigs.  My own band played there, now I’m gonna be back to square one looking for gigs myself.  I don’t know where I’m going to play!

SB:  Tell us about some of the bands that have played the Lakeside Lounge.  Are there any specific nights that stand out in your mind?

EA:  The Bottle Rockets played opening night of Lakeside.  We got the bar together so fast and the bartenders were asking me about prices for drinks and this and that.  They asked how much to charge someone for a Long Island Ice Tea, which has a lot of liquor in it.  I told them if anybody orders that one just throw them out the door.  The Bottle Rockets fly in from Missouri and the first thing they ask for is a Long Island Ice Tea…

A few years later The Bottle Rockets came back and packed the house.  They were playing “Queen of the World”, it was snowing lightly, and the band couldn’t see out the windows. But there was an old couple outside waltzing on the sidewalk.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings played classic rock songs at Lakeside one night and they played really late.  Hearing them play a Steve Miller song was pretty fantastic as you’re walking home.

SB:  When Lakeside closes what’ll happen to the jukebox, the photo booth and the artwork?

EA: The photo booth will go back to the couple who owns it.  The jukebox is owned by another company, but the records inside will go back to The Hound.  The artwork was done by a painter named Steve Keene.  I’m going to keep the artwork and the gear.

SB:  Would you own another bar again?

EA:  Don’t know…I was doing it while doing everything else.  When I was recording with Steve Earle I was also updating the Lakeside website and booking bands.  I need to take some time to take a break.

On Monday, April 30 at 9pm, Eric and The Roscoe Trio will take the stage for the final performance at Lakeside Lounge.  After that he plans to focus on producing albums at his studio, Cowboy Technical Services.  On behalf of the musicians in NYC country community, I want to say a sheynem dank (thank you very much) to Eric for his commitment to treating musicians with respect and giving us a top-notch place to play.  The Lakeside Lounge will be sorely missed.

Coming up…

May 2,   I’ll Be John Brown plays Wicked Willy’s (Manhattan)

May 3,   North Country Fair: Women in Brooklyn Country event at Bar Matchless (Brooklyn)

May 8, Trailer Radio plays John Brown Smokehouse (Queens)

~ Shannon Brown

To share this article, copy this link:…oy-vey

West Virginia native, Shannon Brown, was deported from WV to NYC on account of her snarky attitude and propensity toward impatience. She is now the front woman for country band  Trailer Radio whose mission is to bring authentic twang to Yankee ears. She can’t resist shoe shopping, taking snapshots of crazy NYC happenings, scratching mini-dachshunds, taste-testing martinis around the city, and anything that has to do with bacon.

Outlaw Magazine. Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Americana, Punk. As long as it is real, it is OUTLAW. Overproduced mediocrity need not apply.