Two weeks ago, I wrote about why culture isn’t more of a cult: why, through merchandise, we don’t see more insider pride and, as a result, free advertising. One usually can’t even get into a hall’s gift shop without buying a ticket to a concert there. Lincoln Center is my favorite place in the world, and I couldn’t tell you where the gift shop is, or if there is one. Wait – it might actually be underground, near the subway? The Carnegie Hall gift shop is upstairs to the left and around the corner by the Ladies Room. The Metropolitan Opera gift shop, though, is literally right in front of you when you walk in–it couldn’t be closer to the box office. Every time I’m at The Met at any time of day, there are people in that gift shop. Now that we’ve covered shopping, let’s turn to my great other loves: eating and drinking. You know who else likes eating and drinking? Everyone. But most concert halls don’t provide an opportunity to do anything in them or at them if you’re not seeing a show.
My sister and I went to The Fortress of Solitude at The Public Theater last night, and we were completely bummed that there was a private party so we couldn’t eat dinner at The Library. Why, in one of the most restaurant-saturated areas of one of the most restaurant-saturated cities, would we want to eat at a theater? Because The Public has done what every few presenting organizations have: created a physical space and a culture around the space that makes you want to be there, even when you’re not seeing a show. I’ve had drinks at The Library before a performance, and then dinner there after – why leave such an energized, culturally engaged place to fight for bar space elsewhere? I’ve gone in to buy tickets in the middle of the day, and there will be people working and having meetings in the upstairs landing that overlooks the lobby, where they have playful chairs and tables (and, importantly, outlets). Last night, I think there were two plays on and a show at Joe’s Pub, their recently renovated cabaret space. An airport-esque announcement reminded people in the lobby and bathrooms that one of the shows was about to start so you didn’t get confused by the number of patrons still hanging about. Also included in the renovations? Totally enormous bathrooms. Which…matters.
The Metropolitan Museum (whose Twitter feed recently won the Internet), too, is place where I want to hang out because there’s more than one thing to do there: admission is pay what you will, there’s a rooftop bar and a rooftop exhibition spring through fall, there’s a tree at Christmas, there are concerts, there are free tours, there are restaurants, there’s a cafe and there are three gift shops. The Met Museum garners a devotion inherent to the organization that goes beyond a specific exhibition I want to see there.
When my friend James and I were in Iceland last March, we spent an hour plus at the main concert hall in Reykjavik, Harpa. There wasn’t a concert we wanted to see, but we walked around the building and went to the five or so shops, including a record shop, which actually seemed to be the most appropriate place for one. We took pictures from inside and outside the building and had coffees. We meant to go back for drinks–again, not because we were seeing a concert there, but just because we wanted to hang out there again–but didn’t get to it. Too much Northern Lights to see! But we meant to, and we would have.
The KKL, home of the Lucerne Festival, has done a better job than any cultural center I’ve ever visited of opening up the concert hall, essentially through catering, to locals and tourists who might not otherwise be aware of it. The KKL also has two rooftop bars–one on top of the other, which is amazing–and a cafeteria that serves full dinner before and after performances. There are several convertible lounge spaces for private events. When I was there two summers ago, there was a set-up outside for food (Swiss version of a BBQ) and wine, and patrons in black tie coming out during Walkure intermission sat a long picnic tables next to passersby’s who wanted a sausage. The paying patrons became free marketing deputies: “What’s going on inside?” anyone else couldn’t help but ask. These three halls present different performances, but the point is, they’ve created a social culture in and around them beyond the Culture they’re presenting on stage that makes you want to go there no matter what’s happening.
In fairness to Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall does have the Apple Store floor to ceiling glass windows (seamless transition from outside to inside) and a cafeteria/coffee shop/bar just outside the lobby. And there are always people there. I long, of course, for the three Lincoln Center balconies overlooking the plaza to be open all day. I live 9 blocks away, and I would still go there to work!
The performing arts are social. You’re putting on real clothes, going out into the world, seeing a thing, and hopefully wanting to talk about it. I’m spending money before and after for sure, so let me spend it at your venue. Do art worth talking about, but then also give patrons a place at which to talk about it. And if there’s a convenient place to have lunch at your venue when there’s not a concert on, I might just start to wonder what goes on there besides the soup of the day.