The term “think outside the box” is overused. For most it means adding an extra sparkler to bottle service or chocolate covered cherries for the table. But Marcus Linial decided to step as far outside the box as possible when he shut down his music mecca Shine, gave it a gorgeous makeover, and reopened it as Canal Room on September 16, 2003.
With Shine, Linial tried everything; all formats, all crowds but he found himself competing with better financed clubs in better locations. Even once he relaunched the space as Canal Room a cool live band venue he still found himself fourth in line on the totem pole for talent. More established venues with bigger capacities grabbed everything worth booking. He needed something different and that is exactly what he found.
Linial invested in cover bands and found a niche. He dressed them up, treated them like rock stars and had a hit. Monday, September 16 marked 10 years as Canal Room following five at the same location as Shine.
Marcus Linial is an example of how to survive against tough odds and how to thrive when survival isn't enough. He was able to create a fun experience for his clientele, in an industry where “fun” is often forgotten as operators take service so seriously. Nightclub & Bar checked in with Linial to find out his secrets of success.
Nightclub & Bar (NCB): Ten years is forever in clubland! How did you survive all the obstacles?
Marcus Linial: It’s been ten years as Canal Room however I’ve been on the building for fifteen. I owned Shine for five years prior to opening Canal Room in its place. So, you’re right it feels like forever. One of the main obstacles was figuring out who we wanted to be. At the time in 2003 I wanted to be the hot spot cool lounge and also be a live music venue. There was no focus on one thing and that’s what hurt us. When we (Sam Lott my partner of 19 years) first opened Shine there was a great organic new team being built by myself and Stuart Braunstein (he was a huge part of bringing me into the downtown scene) but with Canal Room I didn't build the right team…actually the plan was no team and just expected people to discover us over in no man's land on Canal St. When that didn't happen I grabbed some promoters; some good ones and some not so good ones.
The truth is the clubs real face took place in 2006 when we hired our first tribute band. How un-cool is that? No one else other than BB Kings was doing it. We couldn't survive the live music world. We were fourth in line to get the national acts. I then decided to start working with tribute bands and who knew it would turn out the way it did. I can’t give all my secrets away but I worked with bands that most agents and venues wouldn't touch. It wasn't cool...but I’m not 25 or 35 for that matter and cool was not my focus. I love live music, I love hit songs, so I took an LI 80s cover band that was playing for part of the door, gave them a budget for all new outfits and created a “show.” I also treated the bands with respect and passion which most venues’ hosting cover bands didn’t do.
One of the things that I am very proud of is the Jessie’s Girl Show every Saturday night. Almost 5 years running, we sell out every Saturday night. Time Out NY called it “one of the funnest things to do on a Saturday night” and I totally agree.
NCB: Canal Room is in Tribeca one of the city's most affluent and influential neighborhoods with a community board that is notoriously tough on clubs. How do you interact with the powers that be?
Linial: Its funny we really are in no man's land. Canal St. is at the tip of Tribeca and across the street from Soho. The community board likes us because they don’t hear about us.
NCB: What is different now than ten years ago?
Linial: First thing is my rent. It’s a lot more. Quick funny story: we had boarded up windows on Canal St. for 15 years. We just installed new glass windows and started looking to rent them out to help pay the soaring rent prices. Lexus is our first customer. You have to think outside the box every day in this business. Fifteen years ago there was Spy, Chaos and Shine. Back then you could open and become the one and only place but now that seems impossible.
NCB: What did you do for your 10th Anniversary Gala?
Linial: The event was twofold; we celebrated ten years but also showcased our “Back To The Eighties Show with Jessie's Girl.” Constantine Maroulis (star of Rock of Ages and American Idol) joined our show. It’s a big compliment to the band and Canal Room to have him on board. He's a great guy. This was also the big pre-opening night performance for everyone to see.
For the event I invited a lot of old school friend because you have to remember where you came from. I’m proud of the people in my industry like Noah and Jason, Rocco, Amy and you Steve! We all have our own things going on and we don’t see each other often but we are all still in the game and I am happy to share what I do with them and all the folks that came.
NCB: Where will the next ten years take you?
Linial: My focus has been to create “shows.” We now have a weekly Saved By The 90s Party with The Bayside Tigers…it went weekly in June and sells out every week. My other company Fun Music Artists is my passion as well. I want to grow that business. I want to take my shows national and bring them to other big cities. I’m building brands with Back to The Eighties Show, Saved By the 90s, The Fun Music Kidz Show and my newest The Reminisce Reggae Show.
Congratulations on 10 years to Marcus Linial and his wonderful Canal Room!