In November, Brooklyn Bowl opened its fourth location in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood with a party featuring local talent Soulive, George Porter Jr. and Questlove. Following existing locations in Brooklyn, Las Vegas and Nashville, Brooklyn Bowl’s latest combination bowling alley/performance space was the first launched in partnership with Live Nation — demonstrating the faith of the world’s largest promoter in a growing model of mixed-use concert venues that allows owners to diversify revenue streams in the tight-margined live industry.
“When we came up with Brooklyn Bowl, there were already so many great venues in New York like Irving Plaza or Bowery Ballroom,” says Pete Shapiro, who opened the original Brooklyn Bowl in 2009. “You’ve got to add an element to it, otherwise it’s just a stage and a bar and an open floor.”
The combination of concerts with bowling and a food menu from famed restaurant group Blue Ribbon decreases Brooklyn Bowl’s reliance on ticket sales and allows the venue to offer more lucrative deals to artists in a competitive market. The additional attractions bring customers to Brooklyn Bowl locations every night of the week, and Shapiro says they generate 400 to 500 walk-up ticket sales per show for venues ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 capacity. The various locations have hosted such high-profile acts as The 1975, Beck, Jason Isbell, Fletcher, twenty one pilots, Tame Impala and more.
“We try to keep our door charge low to increase our walk-ups. No one walks up to the Bowery Ballroom,” says Shapiro, who adds that walk-ups also boost discovery, with new fans stumbling across acts performing in the same building. “It’s an easy decision for managers to say, ‘Play Brooklyn Bowl.’” The deals are sometimes better, too. The club’s original location in Brooklyn, for example, allows artists to keep 100% of merchandise sales since the venue generates enough income from its other revenue streams to make up the difference.
As the concert business strives to emerge from the pandemic, interest in this kind of diversified business model is growing. Austin’s 1852, Tribe Supper Club in Chicago and Lori’s Roadhouse outside Cincinnati all opened in 2021 as combination venue/restaurants, while Against the Grain opened its newest brewery/concert venue in Louisville, Ky.
In September, former Live Nation New York president Anthony Makes opened the 500-capacity Brooklyn Made venue in the Bushwick neighborhood, which also includes the bar/restaurant Connie’s and the café Standing Room. Among the building’s three businesses, Brooklyn Made is open from 7 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily for coffee, music, food and drinks. With four rooftop decks, the property also provides pandemic-friendly outdoor spaces for people to gather. Like with Brooklyn Bowl, the additional revenue streams amount to better deals for artists and allows Brooklyn Made to share more ticket revenue with acts.
“We’re just covering our bare minimum production expenses and giving everything else to the artist,” Makes told Billboard in September. “The deals we are doing are pretty unheard of.”
Makes believes the multiuse property model has room to grow. While the Bushwick venue will remain the “heart” of the business, Makes says he’s already looking at larger spaces with 1,000- to 2,500- seat capacities that can deliver the same all-day amenities for artists and fans. With 30 years of experience working for Live Nation, AEG and The Bowery Presents, Makes says the traditional venue model where doors open at 7 p.m. for an 8 o’clock show with headliners on at 10 isn’t a desirable one for Brooklyn Made, whose promotion division launched mid-pandemic in July 2020.
“I never wanted that kind of structure for [Brooklyn Made],” he says. “I want people to be there all day.”
Such mixed-use buildings are easier to design from the ground up, but established venues have been similarly expanding their operations. Arizona’s 300-capacity Rebel Lounge opened the Reap & Sow Coffee Bar in October 2020 to serve coffee and pastries from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily and drinks in the evening. The coffee shop — created with friends and Driftwood Coffee owners Luke Bentley and Lance Linderman — was originally a way to create just enough revenue to keep the business afloat while Rebel Lounge owner Steve Chilton waited on federal funds from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, but it has proved profitable enough to keep around. Since opening the coffee shop, Chilton says Rebel Lounge has attracted more neighbors to the building, and the venue benefits from having staff present all day to receive mail or open doors for bands arriving for soundcheck.
“It’s not a huge money maker or something that we could live on, [but] it’s a nice little ancillary income and every dollar helps,” says Chilton. “And it has some positives that aren’t just the bottom line: It brings more life to the building and makes us more a part of the community.”
Since concerts resumed at Rebel Lounge, the venue has been forced to accommodate the coffee shop’s hours by scheduling later soundchecks and door times, but Chilton notes many acts are showing up early anyway. “They show up early, get a cup of coffee and hang out here,” he says. “Right now, it’s going well, and the hope is that it lasts. We’re going to try it as long as it makes sense.”