BY EVERYNIGHT CHARLEY CRESPO | Rue-B, a storefront jazz club at 188 Avenue B since 1999, weathered the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, a year and a half after lockdown, Rue-B has closed due to failed lease negotiations. The owner and his staff emptied the venue on Mon., Oct. 18.
“Business was not going so well before the pandemic,” Michael Camacho, the owner of the Rue-B since 2014, told this reporter in an exclusive interview. “Then the pandemic hit in March 2020, and we were forced to close our business temporarily.”
In the ensuing weeks, Camacho invested in a curbside shed and, on June 15, Rue-B was among the first restaurants in New York City to book musicians again. Local talent, including Benny Benack, Stacy Dillard, Miss Maybell & the Jazz Age Artistes, Grady Tesch, Erica Mancini and others, performed nightly inside by the window for customers dining outside in the shed. The venue began recovering from lost income, and musicians were getting gigs.
“Business improved when we reopened,” Camacho said. “At this time last year, business was good. We wanted to expand the business into the storefront next door, which had been empty for five years, construct a connecting hallway and have full use of the backyard. My lawyers and the landlord settled on an agreement in October 2020. Due to the moratorium on evictions, we did not pay rent, waiting for the landlord to sign the agreement. The landlord reneged on the agreement and did not sign the contract. A year later, realizing that we were not getting what we agreed, we closed the entire operation.”
The state gradually eased dining and entertainment restrictions this past April and then again in June, and the local restaurant industry came out of COVID hibernation, Camacho noted. Now the public had more options for music and dining. Business at Rue-B was not as lucrative anymore.
“Business tailed off,” he said. “In the beginning, the state required that people had to buy food. When the restrictions were lifted, people stopped buying food, which impacted our business.”
Camacho moved the musicians further into the room so that they could play for both indoor and outdoor audiences. But business did not increase significantly. The space where nationally known jazz musicians like Francois Moutin and Paul Bollenbeck had played was coming to an end.
“For the past seven years, I put all my heart, soul, creativity, finances and music history into Rue-B,” Camacho reflected.
Earlier in life, he was a budding entertainer and enjoyed commercial success with a hit single, “Let’s Go All the Way,” in the mid-1980s as half of the pop duo Sly Fox. While operating the club, he sometimes sat in with the musicians, even singing a capella doo-wop with the Blue Moons.
“I and my staff are sorry to disappoint our community by closing Rue-B,” Camacho concluded. “Maybe, if I find the right space at a reasonable rent, I might open a new Rue-B on the Lower East Side.”
For more of Everynight Charley Crespo’s coverage of New York City’s music seen, check out his blog, The Manhattan Beat.