|Steve Walter, Mark Bego and David Salidor (l-r)
(Photo: Derek Storm)
Industry Profile: Steve Walter
by Bob Grossweiner & Jane Cohen
Steve Walter is the manager and the prime owner of one the most successful rock and roll showcase nightclubs in New York City: The Cutting Room, located in Chelsea on West 24th Street. One of his co-partners is the actor Chris Noth ("Sex and the City" and "Law and Order"). In a city known for its nightlife and superstar venues, in the past seven years, The Cutting Room has played host to an incredibly varied list of musicians and comedians in many genres, including rock, pop, jazz and folk. It is also a prime venue for up-and-coming performers.
Such varied artists as Neil Young, Donovan, Buddy Miles, Sting, Joan Osbourne, Jimmy Webb, Judy Collins, Melanie, Kenny Rankin, Peter Tork of The Monkees, Alanis Morrisette and Mary Wilson of The Supremes have appeared on its back room stage. When Alexa Ray Joel made her Manhattan singing debut in front of her proud parents—Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley—it was The Cutting Room which played host to her. Even comedy icon Joan Rivers regularly tries out her new material at the club.
Steve is proud of the accomplishments that his 200 capacity club has racked up since it opened in November 1999; Joe Viola & The Candy Butchers was the opening night attraction.. In decades past, it was The Bottom Line, Tramp's and Fat Tuesday's that were most known for showcasing top talent. In the five years since The Bottom Line closed its doors, The Cutting Room has taken over the crown and has consistently attracted some of the biggest stars of the entertainment business. And, it was Steve who has been there to play proud host. The Cutting Room is also a restaurant with another 200 capacity--the music room is in the back of the club separated by a curtain.
Steve, who is a native of New Jersey's Asbury Park area, has a background in rock dating back to high school when he was a guitarist in his own band, Radiation. He was also a lighting director at The Sunshine Inn on the Jersey shore. It was at The Sunshine Inn where he provided the elaborate light shows to accompany The J. Giles Band, Ritchie Havens, Procol Harum, Johnny Winter, Seals & Crofts and Humble Pie. These experiences gave him first hand knowledge it what it was like to stage and host a show.
Steve attended and graduated from the reknown Berklee College of Music in Boston, receiving his B.A. in musical composition. He later returned to the New Jersey shore, where he continued to play guitar in various bands, including a 1980 stint in the Manhattan Off-Broadway show, "Bumps and Grinds," in Greenwich Village. He also gave guitar lessons to supplement his income.
To also augment his income he would regularly purchase antique clothing at the exotic Manhattan thrift shops and sell his vintage fashion finds at New Jersey flea markets out of his van. His growing knowledge in garments led him to take an extreme career left turn away from the music world. In the 1980's, in his mid-20's, he owned and operated five different women's clothing stores on the Jersey shore. This led to a 15 year career as a women's coat and clothing manufacturer. He would regularly travel to Paris and other European fashion capitols to glean new clothing ideas, and he would return to the United States to personally design his own fashion lines. His successful line of clothing, Vision, was sold in several major department stores including May & Company, Nordstrom's and Bloomingdale's.
Steve made enough money in the garment industry to become one of the prime investors in an up-and-coming rock club in Manhattan, which grew to become The Cutting Room. Since there were several original investors in the club, including Noth, it seemed that there were too many cooks involved. When the club was not coming together quickly enough, Steve bought out 11 of his co-investors to become the principal driving force in the nightclub. Noth is one of Walter's remaining business partners at The Cutting Room today.
Although he had never worked in the restaurant business before, Steve quickly put in a kitchen so that the rock club patrons could also eat and drink very well. At first The Cutting Room refrigeration system in its make-shift kitchen was a series of Styrofoam ice chests.
When the finishing touches were being put on the club, Steve still had one hand on his garment business. In fact, the curtains that hang in the nightclub were actually made in his garment factory. He admits that the original sound system was rudimentary at best: the successful draw of the club soon afforded him the money to improve the lights and sound equipment to the state-of-the-art level it is now at.
According to Steve, it was Sheryl Crow's unadvertised performances with Kid Rock at The Cutting Room in April 2001 that really put the night club on the map. Ever since then, it has been the “in” spot for top talent to perform at or to use for staging parties and events. Even popular television shows like Queer Eye For the Straight Guy have filmed episodes there.
At first, Steve was just a rock-loving, garment-successful investor in the club. Since that time he has taken The Cutting Room from a mere rock and roll dream of his, and he has molded it into one of the most popular nightclubs in Manhattan.
Today, Steve has made The Cutting Room so much in demand that he even has his eye on transferring the nightclub to a bigger and sleeker venue. However, the Cutting Room will soon relocate to another spot in New York City. "When the performance space gets crowded," he says about the proposed move, "it's difficult for the wait-staff to get around to sell food and drinks. Also, we have to pass on some big-name bands. We're looking for a larger space without scaffolding outside and not next door to a hip-hop club. Maybe Tribeca?"
What is the secret to the Cutting Room's success?
We actually care about the music, how it sounds and how it is staged. That's clearly what gives the cutting edge to The Cutting Room.
Why did you get involved with the opening of a music club?
I love music. It's very rewarding for me to have so many icons perform at my club and get to have long conversations with them about music
Was the club modeled after any other club?
Not really. The opposite. We wanted a place that was more upscale with good sound, good food, clean restrooms, and with a friendly, good-looking staff. Rock clubs are usually trashy. We wanted quality on all levels.
Why is the music room in the back rather than utilizing the entire space as a performance area?
It's hard to make New York overhead on just a music room since music lovers tend not to drink much. The front room bar/restaurant is a great spot to hang after work, after a show, or all night enjoy a good meal or have a party. We need to have two things happening at once.
Is there a booking policy?
I've a booker although I'm very involved. Our policy is to bring in at least 60 very thirsty people. Either a band has to be really good, and we will stand behind them or they have to bring a big crowd. Hopefully both.
How many shows do you have on a given night?
We have to turn the room several times a night to make New York rent.
First concert attended
Vanilla Fudge, 1967, Ocean Township High in New Jersey.
First concert worked
Lighting at the Sunshine Inn for Richie Havens in Asbury Park, New Jersey in 1972.
First industry job
My rock band Radiation. We played at a party in 1969 in Deal, New Jersey. I was 12 and had several other bands through high school.
Having Sting, Neil Young, Jimmy Webb, Donovan, Billy Cobham, Joan Rivers, Judy Collins all play at my venue.
New York losing its character.
Dealing with the inefficiencies of the space and the worsening location.
Best business decision
To buy out 11 partners early on.
Best advice you received
"It never hurts to be nice to people."
Mistake you have learned from
You need a lot of extra capital to start a business.
Most memorable industry experience
Playing guitar with Denny Laine, Ian Lloyd and Buzzy Linhart with Pete Best in the audience two years ago at my birthday party at The Cutting Room.
What friends would be surprised to learn about you
I'm still single with long hair.
Industry pet peeve
Bands that don't bring an audience and still ask for drink tickets.
If I wasn't doing this, I would be...
...a rock star.
Bill Graham, Ed Sullivan, Sid Bernstein, Ahmet Ertegan, Elaine Kaufman and Joan Rivers.
Steve can be reached at (212) 691-1900; email at firstname.lastname@example.org