Irving Plaza – the name is known internationally and has played host to some of the biggest names in music. The building has a chequered and varied history. It has been used as a Polish army veterans HQ, was declared bankrupt and closed in 1986 the nearly got turned into condos on more than one occasion. The venue is also used by evangelical christian group Hillsong Church, but thankfully it’s the alter of music at which most people worship here.
The venue is located at 17 Irving Pl, a block away from Union Square’s 4,5,6,L,N,Q or R subway connections. If you’re feeling flush then you can get some decent beer beforehand at the Headless Horseman around the corner at 115 East 15th Street.
There is a box office at the venue, which is open from 12-6:30 Monday – Friday and 1-5 on Saturday, or any night a show is on. A word of warning, however, as there is a $2-$5 fee applied to each ticket sold. You can also purchase tickets for events at Gramercy Theatre, Roseland Ballroom & Hammerstein Ballroom.
Upon entering the venue, there’s a coat check, the bathrooms and a snack bar. The FAQ says that backpacks must be put into the coat check at a cost of $3… the ballroom is upstairs (take a right immediately as you enter if you just want to go straight up). At the top of the stairs is a hallway where the merch is usually sold.
The ballroom (including obligatory disco ball) has a capcity of 1,025, which is smaller than its nearby rival, Webster Hall.
Livenation promote events at the venue, which means you can buy “VIP” tickets to shows as well. This idea makes my stomach churn somewhat. Offering early entrance to the venue, a VIP area balcony view and if you’re really lucky, a poster from the show… all these kind of things seem far removed from the essence of a live concert experience. In today’s alienating world of pre-sales, secret passwords and all kinds of malarky, it just makes me long for a sticky beer floor and a sweaty room with a handful of diverse peers who aren’t just there because they have the right credit card.
Rant aside, there is one quirk about the venue I do enjoy: Before and between bands we are treated to a trippy film projection with additional psychedelic swirls. The last time I went featured Young Frankenstein. It would be even better if they played the audio for the films as well, but it’s a nice distraction.
On the occasions I’ve been here the sound has not been particularly good, it’s boomy with poor separation. Maybe I’ve been unlucky or maybe it sounds better up near the mixing desk which is up at the balcony, but who wants to be up there?
It’s not all doom and gloom, what I have observed are friendly and helpful security staff, I know these things can generally change from person to person and gig to gig but I’ve noticed that the staff in front of the stage will often look after possessions under the barriers, and tend to keep an eye out for the audience’s wellbeing.
There is a big bar at the back of the ballroom, but they don’t have any beer on tap. This is excusable for tiny venues but if you have a full-sized bar in a venue this size and not have any beer on tap… I’m a bit lost for words to be honest. What you’re left with is overpriced cans of bad beer, poured into plastic cups. This is my idea of concert venue hell.
Irving Plaza could certainly give a better concert experience, from bad beer to poor sound, one wonders if it is trading off past glories. But to be fair, if they continue to host the likes of King Tuff, Jesus and Mary Chain, Built to Spill, et al, then I’ll keep coming back.
Keep an eye on our listings for upcoming events.