Music News

The Oriental Theater is back on the block

Just a year after taking over the Oriental Theater, 4335 West 44th Avenue, the owners of 3 Kings Tavern have thrown in the towel and put the historic 700-person venue up for sale. Jim Norris, one of those owners (and now also part-owner of the new opened Rockaway Tavern), says they tried but couldn't quite it make it work. "I'll admit defeat," Norris confesses. "I couldn't figure it out one bit."

Scott LaBarbera, who owned the Oriental from 2005 to 2009, says he has the option of taking the place over, but is waiting to see what happens now that the venue is on the market. "I'm still pondering getting back in it and involved, but I want to see what shakes out of this," he says. "I have a lot passion about that space. If I can't do it, I hope somebody can get it going again."

"I'd really like to see somebody who has some capital who can do some minor improvements in there," LaBarbera continues. "I think that it would take about $50,000 to get what I think needs to get done. The building is still in pretty good shape."

Built as a movie theater in 1927, the Oriental showed films daily for decades, but hit a rough patch in the '50s during the rise of the suburbs. In an effort to boost attendance in the '60s, the theater was given a facelift with plush seating, new carpeting, fresh paint and a bigger projection screen. But soon the screen went dark, and over the next few decades, the Oriental slid into disrepair.

A few attempts were made revitalize the space in the '90s, LaBarbera says, but none of the owners had the vision or staying power to capitalize on the theater's substantial assets. After LaBarbera took over the building in July 2005 with a team of investors, he gave the Oriental's interior an overdue facelift. He also brought in an eclectic selection of acts, including blues legend Johnny Winter, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, jazz guitarists Bill Frisell and Nels Cline, Little Feat, Ivan Neville, Fleet Foxes and comedians Doug Stanhope and Todd Barry. In 2007, Jay Bianchi came in as a partner and booked jam bands similar to those that performed at other venues in his Quixote's empire.

But that wasn't enough to keep the place solvent, and so he sold it to the 3 Kings partners. LaBarbera will help operate the Oriental while they have the venue on the market; Kentucky-based cellist Ben Sollee is slated to perform there Sunday, September 5.

Club scout: After being seized for non-payment of taxes in February, the Oasis Cabaret and Grand Paladium (both at 1300 West 62nd Avenue) will soon be back in business. According to Felix, the fellow who answered the phone at the venues and preferred not to give his last name, the previous owner has been removed and the title transferred to the mortgage company. Within the next few weeks, he says, Oasis will be back in business as a gentlemen's club, and several promoters have expressed interest in holding events at the Grand Paladium. But that could present another challenge: Right now, Pecos Street near 1-76 is closed due to construction, making it tough to access the place. (There's another entrance on 62nd, if you approach the venues from the east.)

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon