The last time I was at Dixon Place, it was with a room full
of lesbians being molested by a man in a bumblebee costume. My return
visit Thursday night was decidedly more subdued. I was back under the
guise of a grand opening; surprising at first, seeing as Dixon Place
opened over 20 years ago in founder Ellie Covan’s East Village
living room, and the small-theater institution and performance-art
enclave moved to its current space on Chrystie Street in 2009.
Covan cleared up the confusion quickly when she took to the small stage
in the street-level lounge to announce the reason for our attendance.
She informed us that, at least for the night, we were there less in
support of the arts and more in support of alcohol. Or as Covan put it:
“Dixon Place’s new business plan.”Two months ago, Dixon Place Lounge, the
more intimate upstairs space of the subterranean theater, got a full
liquor license with the intended purpose of hawking enough hooch for
the theater to stay afloat without raising the price of tickets,
something Covan said she decided against when Dixon Place left her
living room, even though she says the theater’s overhead costs have
essentially doubled. But since opening earlier this year, the lounge
has created less buzz than the bumblebee man from my January visit.
we’d opened up on an avenue it would be a different story,” Covan
conceded between drags of her cigarette and the occasional interruption
of well-wishers on the sidewalk outside. “This is not exactly a
foottraffic area, and right now, the majority of our business in the
lounge is from people who are going to the theater.”
custom-designed space, which features wooden walls created out of
recycled flat boards from the building’s original days as a
light-fixture factory, stained-glass artwork by artist Joseph Cavalieri and
antique Persian rugs, has all the potential for becoming a popular spot
for a drink.The smaller space seats about 50 and was at capacity
Thursday evening as crowds congregated around the rich wooden bar
designed by Michael Howett, or sat at tables situated in front of the stage listening to Amour Obscur, a
trio of musicians with a vintage vibe that offered its own moment of
obscurity by playing an accordion-accompanied rendition of “Bad
Romance” by Lady Gaga.
Most of the crowd—a collection
of theater folk and Dixon Place regulars—knew each other and Covan by
name, mingling in the lounge eating pizza and sipping on champagne or
one of the lounge’s new signature cocktails.
Performance artist and regular Shelly Mars was
there, more than happy to raise a drink to Dixon Place for the night
and explain just what makes the place worth patronizing—other than its
new 2-for-1 happy hour.
“It’s a little more alternative. It
really is that kind of place that you can take a crazy idea,” she said.
“That’s why the lounge is great because it’s almost like the old Dixon
Place when it was just a little hole-in-the-wall. And you can still do
a lot with a hole-in-thewall in a more ‘bar’ atmosphere. I just like
the mixture.The mixture of performance, drinks and friends rather than
just a bar.”