EAST VILLAGE — The last time Bob Holman performed at the Bowery Poetry Club there wasn't a chandelier in the middle of the room. There weren't white columns and white walls with elegant murals painted on them either.
On Monday night, Holman, the club's founder, read a collection of poems from his recently published book, "Sing This One Back To Me." It was his first time performing there since the Bowery Poetry Club closed for renovations in July of 2012.
"It was a big hit," Holman said. "I got blisters on my fingers from signing books."
Bowery Poetry reopened in March at 308 Bowery with a shorter name and a new design, with the dark, brick walls replaced with white columns and French-style murals. Its graffiti-filled bathrooms now have modern faucets, white walls and doors that actually close.
"It's a bit French Royalty and mock New Orleans whorehouse," Holman said. "People are transported into another planet when they walk in."
The dark performance area, once filled with rows of plain wooden chairs is now a dining room lit up by an elegant chandelier and arranged with small tables covered in white cloths.
At the bar, a large, blue velvet couch rests on the wall facing a new marble bar top.
"It's the same table," Holman said. "You can still feel the gum under it. We just put a marble fitting on it."
A brand-new stage — where Holman performed Monday night with Paul Susso, a West African storyteller who contributed to his book — was set up along the wall near the center of the room. With the stage in the middle, every seat in the house gets a great view.
Susso flew in from Gambia hours before Monday's show began to perform with Holman. The two were center stage as Susso sang in Mandinke — a West African language — while Holman translated with the same intensity. Susso also played a 21-string harp/lyre hybrid called a Kora.
The changes to Bowery Poetry go beyond the name and aesthetics.
For years, Holman struggled to keep the place open seven days a week. His concentration would go toward coming up with new business models instead of poetry.
Now, Bowery Poetry is sharing the space with Duane Park, a burlesque and jazz venue that was previously located in TriBeCa.
Duane Park now uses the Lower East Side space Tuesday through Saturday, while Bowery Poetry has it from Saturday night to Monday.
This allows Holman to focus on poetry and developing projects in a sustainable way, he said.
"Once people find this is the old Bowery in new digs, we will have a hit," Holman said.