For anyone mourning the loss of The Trocadero, the home to indie-everything in Chinatown that has been lionized, eulogized and obituary-ized, know this: the true end to Joanna Pang’s Troc is today, July 30, as last night marked the very last Movie Monday in The Balcony with a screening of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
With that finale, the question that has been begged repeatedly and mulled over, over-and-over, really does have weight this morning: What now? What happens with 1003 Arch Street?
Joanna Pang certainly isn’t talking, and nor am I bugging her to do so. After her one official chat with me for Variety, she made it clear that she was taking a break from all things Troc and press for a while, and would instead concentrate on her Walnut Street bistro, Chatayee Thai, and the refurbishing of her long held North Star Bar.
Considering its final breaths, Dave Kiss — a one-time Troc promoter currently bringing shows to Underground Arts, PhilaMOCA and Kung Fu Necktie — discussed several ideas as to why the Arch Street legend closed, beyond changing tastes in neighborhoods (East Kensington and South Philly rule at present) and getting nuzzled out of bookings due to big guy booking muscle.
“There were no in-house salespeople to focus on producing revenue in the venue’s interest,” stated Kiss. “Towards the end, it was easy for me to do a show at The Troc because a) there was little competition on the calendar and b) there was a high-quality production staff that took care of the nuances of producing a show. Events with alcohol sales generate more revenue than the kid-focused shows, live podcasts, and comedy shows they seemed to be doing as of late. Overall, it seemed that the Troc lacked a clear strategy to generate the revenue it needed to sustain operations.”
Still, Pang has to put the past behind her, and do something with it, all 14,516 square feet of tattered glory.
What she probably isn’t doing with the Troc is selling it off, or out, easy. A long time fixture in the Pang family legacy, Joanna recalled that she used to play there as a baby when her father Stephen — a legend in Chinatown real estate — held the note on the burlesque house-turned-martial-arts cinema that came alive, again, as a music venue in 1986 when Ricky Blatstein and Stephen Starr paired up to restore The Troc to its former glory. Pang has been proud of the family jewel and how she ran it, once she got hold of it.
What might the Trocadero Theatre sell for dollar-wise? Neither Pang or anyone on-or-off the record would discuss costs. As the property for neighboring Space 1026 sold for between $1.6 million (according to Redfin) and $3.3 million (according to Zillow), it’s fair to say that the larger square feet-sized Troc could net a comparable price.
But who has that cash lying around?
“In a perfect world, The Troc would stay independent and be owned by a non-corporate entity that would let independents like myself host events there at a reasonable rental fee,” said Kiss. “Knowing what I know about the Troc and Philadelphia, it needs someone with deep pockets that Philadelphians can rally behind. We have many great local companies with ties to the beverage industry or sports teams that could do something super creative with the venue.”
Let’s rule out condos and Wawa’s, please. PLEASE. Then again, corporations of a size such as Wawa — a Wells Fargo or a BB&T that have naming rights and responsibilities over their individual local venues — might be some option when it comes to aiding and maintaining a chunk of Philadelphia history.
Both AEG/Bowery Presents (with the old Electric Factory space, renamed Franklin Hall) and Live Nation (nearly back-to-back openings of The Fillmore and The Met) could be tapped out at present when it comes to fresh venues, and might not be looking to spend, and/or refurbish. Then again, not having presence in Center City is a shame, considering that, as of next month, NYC’s City Winery infiltrates our fair city just blocks away from The Trocadero at the old Gallery space on Market Street, soon-to-be-known as Fashion District Philadelphia.
Do the local concert giants really want NYC promoters coming in and snatching up a prime location — an historic location — in their town right up from under their noses? Wouldn’t that be the whole “No New Yorker” movement writ large? It would almost be better if, either AEG/BP or Live Nation just bought The Troc so that no one else could for the time being, and redecorated/rehabilitated the space slowly. Certainly, that has been the plan with North Broad Street’s Uptown Theater — buy it, and spruce it up as the money comes in.
Perhaps outside-the-city concerns such as those who own and/or Ardmore Music Hall, The Colonial Theater and such could use a downtown presence to go with their suburban sprawl.
There is the Stephen Starr factor. As long as I’ve known him, the concert promoter-turned-restaurateur has posed the easily rectifiable question of “Wouldn’t the Troc look amazing as a grand supper club?”
Well, yes it would. He was telling-asking me that as far back as when he had just left the concert biz and placed The Continental in Old City. Starr always thought the Troc would make an elegant old world supper club, turned Striped Bass into Butcher & Singer for what he hoped would be the same effect (serving old world dishes such as Lobster Thermador and Baked Alaska to test the waters), and, recently, mentioned that he would give The Troc another look during a recent end-of-days feature in The Inquirer. The Troc’s high ceilings, gilded amenities and balcony area could be refurbished much in the same way the old Corn Exchange property at 16th & Chestnut was turned around as a Del Frisco’s Double Eagle, complete with balcony seating, sky high ceilings and a vault. And if Starr doesn’t do all this, perhaps the team behind Alpen Rose, Izikaya and such – Michael Schulson and Nina Tinari – would consider The Troc. Certainly, they are on a buying-opening spree and theatrical new spots of theirs such as Giuseppe & Sons and Double Knot bear witness to the married restaurateurs’ sense of drama.
Patrick Rodgers of Dancing Ferret, the promoter behind many an industrial show and Dracula’s Ball, had Pang’s ear for well over a decade. In the last days before Pang decided to shutter The Troc, he had an interesting plan based upon a subscription model, something that would allow her to retain ownership.
“My thought was to have a subscription-based model where a Troc supporter would pledge $X per month toward keeping the building open, in exchange for a food and drink credit at the venue,” stated Rodgers. “The credit would have the added bonus of encouraging those supporters to actually go out to the venue on a regular basis to redeem their credits, which would result in higher sales. The process got far enough along that Pang approved my idea to independently pursue it, only to change her mind the following day.”
Knowing the building’s inner workings, both from a literal and figurative level, makes Rodgers uncertain as to what can be done with the Troc’s campus.
“Unless it is operated as a performance space, massive amounts of renovation would be necessary, which would be very costly given the building’s protected historic status,” said Rodgers. “Running it as solely a concert venue probably wouldn’t work out better for anyone else than it did for Pang. Operating it as a non-profit community theatre / event space /concert hall could work, but, only if there was an individual or group running the venue that was very aggressively pursuing a diverse array of rentals. If we’re being unrealistic, I’d love for someone like PECO or Comcast to step in and make that happen. The building is deeply woven into the fabric of the Philadelphia entertainment community and its closure is truly a loss to the city.”