There will be some big pimpin’ going down when Webster Hall, the newly renovated East Village nightlife institution, reopens its doors with New York rap ruler Jay-Z rocking the stage Friday night.
The “B-Sides 2” concert — in which the “Empire State of Mind” MC will perform songs that he rarely does live — will mark Jay-Z’s first show at the venue, which has been closed since August 2017.
It’s sure to be another memorable moment at an events, concert and club space that has had plenty of them since opening in 1886.
Like the ageless rocker that it is, Webster Hall has had its share of setbacks — a huge fire in 1949 destroyed the original roof — and a few face-lifts over the years. Its latest nips and tucks include the installation of air conditioning — no more sweaty summer nights! — and its first-ever elevator: Now all that equipment will no longer have to be heaved up those winding stairs to the main ballroom.
Although the marble stairwells have been preserved, additional stairwells will help the party flow, while a remodeled lounge area makes room for more chilling and cocktailing. There’s also a new entryway on 11th Street (between Third and Fourth Avenues), but the iconic marquee remains the same.
As a new era at Webster Hall is set to begin, here’s a look back at some highlights of its 133-year history.
After opening in 1886 as a social hall where locals could hold events such as wedding receptions, the club later became known as “The Devil’s Playground” for hosting costume balls, drag balls and other risque affairs.
Gams and glam
It was rumored that gangster Al Capone once owned the hall, which operated as a speak-easy during the Prohibition era. The club also became known as “The Devil’s Playhouse” for hosting costume and drag balls and other risqúe affairs, such as a contest for “Best Legs” in 1922.
All-star studio sessions
From 1953 to 1968, RCA Records operated a studio out of the club, with the likes of Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra laying down tracks there, and cast recordings such as “How to Succeed in Business.” In 1961, Harry Belafonte used the studio to make his “Midnight Special” album, which featured Bob Dylan’s first professional recording, playing harmonica.
The Ritz years
In 1980, Webster Hall was transformed into the Ritz, the storied New York rock club. All-time greats such as U2, Tina Turner, Prince and the Police played there before the Ritz relocated to the Studio 54 site in 1989.
Madonna’s pajama party
In 1995, Madonna held her infamous pajama party at the club to launch her “Bedtime Stories” single. The event aired as an MTV special, with the Material Mom reading an actual bedtime story to fans.