It was reported in the blog, EV Grieve on July 14 and in The NY Times on July 19th, that Banjo Jim’s is being sold. Its liquor license is transferring to new owners, who intend to “depart from the bluegrass theme and opt for an “artisanal” motif, which may not fit with the large banjo on the current sign over the bar’s front door.”
Speaking for Banjo Jim’s, Ky Hote, writes, “the sale is not a done deal yet, although at this point it is very likely. But we don’t know the timetable of when it’s going to happen yet, either.
Unique in Manhattan, Banjo Jim’s is known to me as one of only two venues in NYC’s five boroughs where almost any given night you can hear good live American roots music. It attracts both top and near-top names, and sponsors special events like the recent Hazel Dickens Tribute.
Incidentally, this website and Banjo Jim’s are related only by a kindred feeling for American roots music. It’s only by accident that both our names contain “Jim.” The actual Banjo Jim (James Casmire Kaminski Croce) died in a car crash in 2003. He was the husband of the bar’s current owner, Lisa Zwier-Croce. It’s reported she is sad to let go of the business, as the live music venue was a way for her to honor her husband’s memory.
I’m sad, too. Banjo Jim’s is a very cool place that consistently offers excellent music. And it’s among a tiny number of rare venues that keep me busy entering events onto this site’s calendar. BJ’s only rival is Jalopy in Red Hook, Brooklyn, an absolute gem of a joint. But its remote location is a tragic disadvantage for those who live outside Red Hook and lack a car.
What’s a roots music lover to do now? It’s a given that real estate is heartlessly expensive in this town. And bluegrass/oldtime fans aren’t lavish spenders in bars. Does a successful business model exist for a roots music venue in this town? Or must these places be relegated to remote corners of the galaxy, like Jalopy in Red Hook or The Floyd Country Store in way-off-the-beaten-track Floyd, VA?
Is there a subsidy, sponsorship or grant anywhere that could help a savvy homespun entrepreneur? Or is a solvent lover of American roots music waiting in the wings, an aspiring East Coast Warren Hellman? He’s the inspiring philanthropist who picks up the tab annually for San Francisco’s free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival!