Queens Heavy Metal Club Celebrates a Year of Headbanging

By Katie Honan on February 14, 2014 6:23am 

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 Blackthorn 51 is one of the last clubs like it left in Queens.
Elmhurst Metal Club Keeps Music Going
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ELMHURST — A few nights a week, a small, nondescript storefront off Queens Boulevard opens its doors.

From inside comes a deafening roar and bowel-shaking growls.

It isn't a slaughterhouse or a torture chamber, but Blackthorn 51, one of the few clubs in the city that is devoted to heavy metal.

The club on 51st Avenue was founded last February by metal-scene veteran Nicki Camp, who spent decades booking shows at clubs across the city, including the now-defunct Don Hill's and the Limelight.

Now, it's celebrating its first anniversary with a series of shows all month, while also raising a set of devil horns to the borough's decades-old metal scene, which sprouted up in clubs and bars that have all since closed.

Around the city, metalheads can get their fix at Gussy's in Astoria, Duff's in Brooklyn, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary, The Acheron and Stage 48 in Hell's Kitchen.

But Blackthorn 51 is the only venue of its kind in Queens and riffs on the metal scene of decades past.

Camp, who lives in Forest Hills, books shows with Kevin Castle, who used to work at the famed Castle Heights club in Jackson Heights, which hosted top acts like Mastodon, Dehumanized and Hatebreed until it closed in 2002.

Fans had more options in Queens then and Camp said the current scene is reflective of a change across the city as well as with the fans themselves, who can see live music online.

"Years ago, people went out every night. Now they have too many options and they don't have the money," he said.

And while sites like Facebook have helped connect musicians with fans, they can just be another distraction from the scene, Camp said.

"People made it their business to find out what's going on," he said. "Now you have to chase them."

Before Blackthorn 51, the space had also been a rock club called Arena that Camp said he worked in for a while before it had to close. It was also a dance club called The Lemon Tree Lounge.

The landlord offered him the space in 2012 and after renovating parts of it, including upgrading the sound system and completely redoing the bar, he opened it as Blackthorn 51 last February. The Blackthorn name he took from a bar where he worked at in the Bronx, he said.

"The first year was good," he said, noting that opening in Queens has its "pluses and minuses," with the main plus being the rent.

"I wouldn't even try to open in Manhattan," he said. "Rents are completely out of sight."

People still come for shows, and he noted that he doesn't get any walk-in crowd.

"I can't treat this place just like a local bar," Camp said. "You have to make a decision — to make it an event space or a local bar."

The price for advance tickets for shows at Blackthorn are usually around $15, with prices at the door slightly more.

Camps said he works with other promoters who book an occasional hip hop, reggae or R&B show, but most of the three to four nights a week of shows are booked with rock and metal.

A recent Friday night lineup featured local bands, including BrainDead from The Bronx, Anesthetized from Queens, and Pyrexia, a death metal band from Long Island.

 

A Metallica cover band is scheduled to play on Feb. 15, and Camp said he'll bring in more national acts — like Michale Graves from the Misfits, scheduled to play on March 30 — as the year goes on.

Outside between sets, fans passed out fliers for upcoming shows, both at Blackthorn 51 and at other New York bars and clubs.

Joe Provisiero, 39, lives in Ozone Park and is a regular at the club, he said.

He and another friend, Dr. X, 42, both play in a band called Immortal Suffering, which began in 1992 and reunited last year after a 15-year hiatus.

They were grateful for Blackthorn 51, they said, and Dr. X, who declined to give his real name, added that it's "a good little club."

It saves them the trip to Manhattan or Brooklyn to see shows, but it also makes them nostalgic for a time when Queens offered more.

They both rattled off a list of now-shuttered clubs and bars where they played and saw bands since the 1980s — Voodoo Lounge in Bayside, the Red Zone in Middle Village, Cheers in Ozone Park.

L'Amour East, an offshoot of the iconic Bensonhurst club, was housed in a large space blocks from Blackthorn 51. It's now a food warehouse.

"There's nothing but this place now," Dr. X said.

"It's a shame. It was good back in the day."

Blackthorn 51, 80-12 51st Ave., Elmhurst, features shows three to four days a week, mostly on weekends. For more information on upcoming bands, visit their Facebook page.

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