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Shiny happy people, ousted: the open-mic crew at the Larkin Lounge. Photo by: Joe Putrock

Adieu, Venue
Is it the Larkin Restaurant and Lounge—or just the Larkin Restaurant?

By Kathryn Lurie

Shock waves rippled through the Albany music scene as people checked their e-mail boxes last Sunday and Monday mornings. The news was confusing and upsetting: On Saturday night, post-show and with absolutely no notice, the new manager of Center Square’s Larkin Restaurant and Lounge, Dave Serrao, pulled Larkin booking manager Dan Goodspeed aside and informed him that not only was Goodspeed fired, but all shows booked at the Larkin were canceled. So Goodspeed, and the acts he had booked—which amounted to more than 100—were suddenly displaced. No details were given, and Goodspeed (who is also the brains behind local-music resource was forced to shoot an e-mail out to the masses on the BUMlocal e-mail list, stating briefly that he knows no more than what he was told, and that his exchange with Serrao marked his very first encounter with the new manager.

“My first conversation with Dave was the one where he told me he was getting rid of the music there,” Goodspeed says. “It really was a total surprise. It’s been my opinion, and still is, that the music is what brought people to the Larkin regularly, it’s what the Larkin built its name and reputation on, and it won’t easily recover from its removal.”

The Times Union reported on Tuesday (May 4) that Serrao, who has been in charge at the Larkin for about three weeks, said, “The focus was not on the restaurant, where it should have been. The focus was on the music; that should be secondary.” Serrao was also quoted as saying that the music was “getting a little stale,” which did not sit well with many musicians and patrons.

“Stale?” asks local musician Bryan Thomas. “I hope he wasn’t referring to the quality of the performers. I did a show with Katie Haverly at the Larkin in early April. If you can sit through her set and call it stale, you don’t have a soul.”

Goodspeed adds, “I’m not sure what [Serrao] based his decision on. I don’t remember him attending any Larkin shows.”

The new manager’s attitude toward the music is surprising to many, since the room is tremendously popular among local and touring musicians and patrons alike. The music aspect of the restaurant has garnered several awards, as well—in the 2003 Best Of issue of Metroland, the Larkin won awards for Best Open Mic, Best Piano Bar, and Best Music Venue (Red Wine); in the 2001 Best Of issue, when local jazz maven Adrian Cohen was booking the lounge and managing the restaurant, it won Best Booked Venue.

Asked what he thought of the current changes taking place at the restaurant, Cohen says, “Although the venue’s booking approach in the past two years didn’t exactly cater to the potential of the business as a whole, I’m certain that with some serious discussion that could have been altered to better suit the new management’s ideas.” He went on to say, “You know, the room was working very well at a certain point as a music venue and as a banquet room, so I just don’t see the conflict there,” referencing the TU’s report that Serrao wanted to examine why the upstairs room was not regularly being used as a banquet room instead of a music room.

“If, as a manager, Mr. Serrao needs to focus more on the resturant end of the business, then respectfully, he should do that,” points out Michael Campion, musician and Larkin regular, “but not while alienating the entire community of anyone who has been on tour, seen or played a show at the Larkin.”

Although the scant and sometimes conflicting information has left some with the impression that the upstairs lounge has closed for good (Goodspeed’s e-mail stated it was closing “indefinitely”), Serrao says that at some point in the future, music will once again be welcome, but he needs to acquire the necessary permits for live music before it can be allowed. When asked if he had any idea when that would be, he refused to give any more details.

As for the extremely popular Thursday night open mic run by Goodspeed and local folk legend Paddy Kilrain, the kids are going to have to drive a bit farther for the weekly teeth-cutting ritual: As of next Thursday (May 16), the open mic will take place at the Van Dyck in Schenectady. It is still unclear when and if Nate Buccieri will resume his thriving Wednesday night piano bar, although he is planning on returning to the Larkin when music is reinstated.

In the meantime, the public can expect a complete overhaul of the Larkin as they know it—there will be an almost entirely new staff except for the chef, Serigne Sow, who seems to have the patience of a god. And for now, sadly, music is kaput.

“Whatever changes they do make,” Cohen says, “I very much hope they maintain their focus on the Larkin as a neighborhood place that is welcoming and inclusive to all types of people.”

Kathryn Lurie is a former employee of the Larkin Restaurant and Lounge.

We Lost Two Lark Street Music Venues in a Week?

Sad, but true: Bombers’ Sunday night Unstuffed Acoustic Music Series has been extinguished, also, as of last Wednesday (April 28). Local musician Brian Bassett, who was booking the series, was required to cancel all future shows—however, this time it was not because the owner shut the music down. Owner Matt Baumgartner was denied the zoning permit required to allow live music in the upstairs bar. Although the semi-new music series was strictly acoustic and only occurred one night a week, neighborhood residents voiced concerns at the zoning board meeting that the music would create an undesirable scene with undesirable noise. Baumgartner was not shy in expressing his frustration: “It’s an embarrassment to live in a city that limits the arts,” he says. So, as they say, another one bites the dust.

—Kathryn Lurie

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