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New BYOB Venue Brings Classic Rock to West Chelsea

By Mathew Katz | February 28, 2012 12:11pm

CHELSEA — A tiny pop-up concert hall is bringing rock and bluegrass to West Chelsea.

Live At Studio 201 at 526 W. 26th St. is converting a photography studio to give music fans an intimate experience with some of their favorite artists.

The 3,300-square-foot space fits only 225 people, seated on folding chairs. Nobody will sit further than 30 feet from the elevated stage.

"We cater to '70s and '80s rock groups who have hardcore followers," said Tom Contrino, the man behind Live at Studio 201. "There's kind of an historical bent to it."

Contrino is a photographer who helped manage the famous Capitol Theater in Passaic, N.J., which featured shows by the Who, the Rolling Stones and the Eagles, among others.

The Chelsea vibe is more like a friend's basement than a concert hall, especially since Contrino has no interest in selling drinks — and instead invites audience members to bring their own booze.

"I'm in a building that's filled with galleries," he said.

"You go to any gallery opening and they're serving free white wine — and nobody's bothering anybody.

"So if you want to bring your own bottle, bring your own bottle — I don't know. I don't see it."

Contrino has leased Suite 201 in the West Chelsea Arts Building since 1996, using it for photo shoots. He recently decided to use it as a concert hall after old Capitol Theater friends pressured him and his business partner Steve Moran to open it for music.

"It's taking the West Chelsea Arts Building and adding performance to it," he said.

Since opening in December, Studio 201 has already attracted a handful of singers with cult followings, including the Sam Sherwin Band, McMule, and Steve Kunzman.

Folk musician and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member John McEuen is set to play a show with his sons there on March 30, and J.D. Souther will likely play sometime over the next few months.

"We're not looking for huge, huge names," Contrino said. "We mostly want small, intimate acts where people get to meet and greet with them."

Contrino said he's taking the venue a show at a time, but he filled the space for its first show, a reunion of old folks from the Capitol Theater, which was destroyed in 1991. 

Many of his friends have expressed interest in playing at Studio 201. He's also heard from some in the theater community who are interested in using the space to perform plays.

Contrino said the space won't be about loud parties. The venue's target audience is 40-60 years old, and most shows will be done by 11 p.m.

"I'm not looking for this to be a crazy club — there has to be some kind of redeeming factor to the music," he said.

"It's got to be music I like listening to — otherwise, no way."