by Lexi Bissonnette
What do Phish, Dave Matthews Band and The Red Hot Chili Peppers all have in common? Brownies 23 East- a 25-year-old music hall that’s about to get a face lift and transform to the Ardmore Music Hall, opening in September. All great music halls and venues have their share of history, fantastic shows and renovations in one way or another. Brownies 23 East is no exception to the rule.
Brownies originally opened in 1983 as the Sly Fox, nothing more than a bar off the Main Line. It’s first change came in 1989 when Steve Mountain, a bartender from the Sly Fox purchased the bar and turned it into 23 East Cabaret. The cabaret transformed the bar into a music room, serving for non mainstream and up and coming bands. They had no shortage of great guests including Phish, Dave Matthews Band, The Hooters and the Young Rumblers.
The venue’s second change came in 1996 when Joe Rufo purchased it and renamed it Brownies 23 East. Renovations to the interior and a change up in operations quickly made Brownies one of the area’s hottest college bars, raved about by review sites and travel guides. Brownies 23 East also had an impressive lineup musically. Rufo cited Los Lobos and Cheap Trick as two of his favorites.
Brownies 23 East is known across the Main Line for many of it’s promotions and non-stop action. Customers could purchase VIP bottle and lounge services along with a collection of beer. Brownies had something going every night of the week, from happy hours to bikini contests. It was always full of life, predominately of the college age.
But with time comes change. For Brownies that means a full round of renovations and revamping to put it on the map for a different audience, and not just the college kids. Being renamed The Ardmore Music Hall is perhaps the most notable change. The stage, seating, sound system and beverage selection will be getting an upgrade.
The Ardmore Music Hall will be managed by Bryan Dilworth of Bonfire Booking and Rich Kardon of Point Entertainment. In charge of operations will be Joe Rufo of Brownies 23, who recently purchased the building back after selling in 2009.
“We really felt the room needed to be rebranded and re-imagined. The location will continue to have the history, but we don’t want anyone to feel it was the room it was previously; we wanted to broaden the demographic,” says Kardon, the production manager for Point Entertainment.
“There won’t be any crazy drink specials or bikini contests. It’s going to be a music venue, not a college nightclub,” says Rufo. The doors will open at 8pm and will feature more of a restaurant as well as craft beers and wine with the show.
“The objective is to keep the room active and happening every night of the week,” Kardon adds. But for the beginning, the Ardmore will be open three to four nights a week.
Along with physical changes to the building customers will also see a drastic change in atmosphere, one that lends itself to not only an older, but a broader demographic. And while the crazy college VIP packages might not be available at Ardmore, Kardon has no intention of his customers not feeling like VIPs. ” I’d like to say my goal is to treat everyone like a VIP,” he explains. One idea he has that is not set in stone is a special area that customers can rent out. “We are reaching out to an older demographic, so we have to look to create something special for them.”
Rebranding this popular venue has been in the works on and off for a few months. Rufo has always wanted to change things up for the music hall. “It was like, okay, we’re going to move forward with it,” says Kardon.
Bonfire Booking, agency for the Electric Factory, Underground Arts, and MilkBoy; and Point Entertainment book the acts. “We have different relationships with different agents and different genres that we work within,” Kardon says about how the booking agencies will be handling working together in finding acts.
Kardon is setting no limits or boundaries for the new hall. “The focus will be on top quality acts. Whether its local, established, or upcoming- we’re going after it all.”
While a lot of things are being played by ear for now to see how the hall operates, Kardon assures that there is a long term plan and the overall changes will be unmistakable. “It’s not going to be Brownies, there’s no question about it, there will be no confusion.”
Kardon and Rufo both have high hopes and excitement for the project, from renovation until the end. “The Point, Point Entertainment’s last venue, was an unplugged music room. This room will enable us to be both, a listening room as well as room that can rock.” Kardon says enthusiastically.
Rufo is ready to kick it up a notch and happy to be more than a college nightclub, as he said drink specials just weren’t something he was enjoying anymore. “I expect it to be a room that’s seriously considered as a significant venue for musicians and adults who just want to come out and see a great show,” he says.
Renovations aren’t underway just yet but Ardmore Music Hall already has a few shows booked. Johnny Winter will be there November 8th and Steep Canyon Rangers on November 22nd. Brownies 23 East closes its doors with Splintered Sunlight on July 26th. That means the renovations can begin shortly after with an opening date set for the second week of September.
“It’s going to be a busy summer,” jokes Kardon.