Being the connoisseur of free things that I am, I knew this opportunity was not to be missed. The next morning I made the trek down to the Lower East Side. I had never been to Tonic before, but as soon as I walked in I could feel of its importance and history--something not unlike the way it felt to walk into the late CBGB. (R.I.P.) Tonic has been a home for artists such as Moby, John Medeski, Regina Spektor, Thurston Moore, and Yoko Ono.
I spent the next hour rummaging with other treasure seekers through the dark wreckage that was once called Subtonic, an underground extension of the venue. Moldy glasses of alcohol sat atop dusty amps. Chairs without legs lay in a pile beside a typewriter that looked as if it had been thrown off the Empire State Building. It was truly an experience to behold. I walked away with a new nightstand, some cool light fixtures, some LED lights, some CDs, and some old music magazines.
While unscrewing one of my finds from the wall, I began to hear the screaching of a saxophone from upstairs, followed by other noises I'm not quite sure how to describe. Then followed the sound of applause. By the time I made it upstairs with all my loot, the club was filling with an interesting assortment of fans, many of whom it was obvious had returned after having partied there the night before.
It became a sort of open mike affair. Artists would share their parting words and perform a song or two. A cellist performed a bizarre number reminicent of the saxophonist's screaching. An older woman sang a haunting farewell piece a capella. A couple played some African xylophones while chanting. It was stunning.
It was then that I learned of the larger story. Tonic is the latest in a string of important clubs that has been closing down in recent months due to skyrocketing rent costs. These venues, each having contributed to giving New York its authenticity and unique culture, can't afford to stay open amidst the many developers building luxury condos. Tonic is a textbook example; a giant glass building just went up on the same block.
I was impressed with the folks at Tonic. I got to chat with the owner and a few enthusiasts of the club. While I had to leave early to get on with my day, many of the people there were planning on staying at the club well into the afternoon as long as police would let them. They even had a box full of protest signs ready.
It's sad when investors cash in on the hard work that artists and residents put in to making neighborhoods safe and desireable. If you take a look at the website for the condos, look at the way they advertise the neighborhood. While other nearby LES venues such as Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom are pictured, Tonic is nowhere to be found. How ironic.
I hope these developers realize that the as they run these artists out of the city they too will one day go out of business. Without artists, New York will cease to be New York.