Has the Iconic Apollo Theater Become Victim to Gentrification?
1 year ago
While Paul McCartney plays the Apollo, indie lovers flock to the Café
Harlem is changing. Longtime residents’ complaints of gentrification have festered strongly since the turn of the century, as the undisputed capital of black America brandishes higher rents, expensive new condos and trendy wine bars. Can an organic Whole Foods supermarket be far behind?
And as Harlem changes, so, too, does the storied Apollo Theater, its stalwart music hall. Paul McCartney headlined a sold-out show there last December. Yet in a move that says more about the evolving tastes of the community than the steady influx of white residents, the club launched its ambitious Apollo Music Café series last spring, showcasing an eclectic roster of independent black music acts.
Stepping inside the doors at 253 West 125th Street (to the right of the actual Apollo Theater) and climbing two flights of stairs, patrons walk into an intimate space filled with round tables and mood lighting. Retrofitted as the Apollo Music Café back in February 2011, the Apollo’s third-floor sound stage—with a capacity of 150—recalls shuttered Greenwich Village venues like The Bottom Line and The Village Gate. Grilled shrimp sliders and BBQ ribs whet the appetite; wine and spirits wash the appetizers down. On ambiance alone, it’s clear the Apollo Music Café serves a different purpose than its big brother next door.
In 2003, director James Spooner’s Afro-Punk documentary shed light on the modern-day black-rock tradition. African-Americans who make up the afro-punk community feel largely alienated from the hip hop and R&B stylings, which comprimise the vast majority of the customary Apollo Theater lineup. Singer Tamar-Kali—a Brooklynite rock guitarist full of body piercings, tattoos and sex appeal—closed out the spring season of the Apollo Music Café with a sold-out audience. That season began with Joi, the Atlanta-based songstress who once fronted female musicians named Heroine (double-entendre) and recorded with the infamous black rock band Fishbone. The Music Café is not your parents’ Apollo.