Q&A: Nublu Owner Ilhan Ersahin On His Club's Re-Relocation, Its 10th Anniversary, And Why Musicians Hang Out There
Reedist Ilhan Ersahin seems reluctant to make too big a deal out of the fact that nublu, his multi-culti Avenue C nightspot, was shuttered for much of last year. On a recent evening, as he moved casually about the room in preparation for a blistering late-night appearance by the Sun Ra Arkestra, Ersahin was clearly much more interested in what the club's distant past augured for its future.
Nublu reopened in January after securing a new liquor license from the city, but it's almost as if the spotknown as the kind of musician's hang that attracts an internationalist breed of fashion-forward cosmopolitanswas conserving its energy for the various reunions and events in its month-long 10th-anniversary celebration, currently under way. The scene was customarily head-twisting: The Arkestra's 88-year old leader Marshall Allen was onstage setting up in full costumed regalia as a youthful crowd grooved to electro-beats spun by Turntable on the Hudson's DJ Nickodemus. On the way to a better vantage point near the stage, avant-bassist Henry Grimes and his wife could be spotted pausing briefly in front of the wall painting of legendary record man Ahmet Ertegun. Amadeo Pace of Blonde Redhead was chatting at the bar. Things seemed to have picked up right where they left off.
We have to talk about what happened last year...
Do we? [laughs]
For much of that time, you had sort of set up a nublu annex on First Ave.
Yeah, under Lucky Cheng's. Some people think we moved nublu, but that wasn't the case. On the one hand, it was because I was traveling a lottouring, bringing nublu festivals to Brazil and getting things ready for nublu Istanbul, which is gonna open in September in Turkey. Some of [nublu's] bands, like Mauro Refosco's Brazilian group Forró In The Dark or the nublu Orchestra conducted by Butch Morris, play the club every week, so basically I wanted give the musicians a place to gig and to keep my staff working.
Why was the original space closed?
[Sighs] It's complicated. The city revoked our liquor license because it was discovered that there's a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall across the street. It's used infrequently [maybe two times a week], and even though I've lived in the nublu building since my partners and I first acquired it in 1996, I didn't really know that place was formally considered like a synagogue or mosque.
Basically, someone in the neighborhood brought this information [a violation of the state's "200-foot rule"] to the Liquor Authority's attention, and it started an investigation. It's very mysterious because the document with the complaint doesn't seem to exist anymore [he's tried to obtain a copy], and I know it wasn't the Jehovah's Witnesses because they've actually written letters of recommendation for us. People feel the block itself is much safer since we've been open. It's no longer dark, we have doormen until closing time and there's now a 24-hour deli on the corner.
What was the process for reinstatement?
We just had to reapply. One thing that's different is that when the lawyer applied for the first one, none of us understood about the hall. I don't think that was clearly stated on the first application. It is now.
This month's celebration marks nublu's 10th anniversary...
Yeah, but I have to say that I had none of these aspirations at the beginning. Do you remember how dismal it was downtown after 9/11? I'm from Sweden and it was my dream to be in NYC, but at that time I contemplated leaving the States. Nublu was started as more of a rehearsal space. It was always open to the public, but I got the first wine and beer license basically so my friends could have a drink while hanging out between jams and stuff. The club was only s'posed to be open a couple days a week, but then it just kinda took off. I think it became a more serious place before even I was ready for it to become one. [laughs]