Joonbug Interview: David Handler, Founder of (Le) Poisson Rouge | By Josh Gordon

Joonbug met up with David Handler, one of the founders of (Le) Poisson Rouge, to discuss how the West Village hot spot continues to be the shuffle button for the music lover, party goer and art aficionado. While sitting on a fish throne David spoke about how a group of classical musicians wanted a new outlet for young people to get down with class, culture and alcohol.

Josh Gordon: Has the place changed since you first opened?

David Handler: It’s definitely been an exercise in the things to hold on to and the things that are defining that you really must preserve and protect throughout the evolution of the concept and then those other things that you have to let go of or allow to change and let take on a life on their own. We knew we could count on people for their participation in a more eclectic, a more dynamic, more savant kind of experience. We’ve just been happy and proud to see the extent that people are interested and participate in, and that has been very encouraging.

Our feeling and our sort of motto is “Serving Art and Alcohol,” the idea of art and revelry being in mutually habitable spaces is one that I think should be more prevalent. I think that people recognize that there is a void in that regard, and they want to come to a place where they can have a great time and be around great people, have great drinks and food, but also experience the gallery’s first-rate fine art. In this space [main venue] have everything from string quartets to punk rock from Gamalon to singer songwriters and jazz.

JG: Can you describe the crowd at (Le) Poisson Rouge?

DH: We sort of think of it as more a psycho-graphic than a demographic; we don’t really look at an age or income bracket in the same way that certain products or people marketing products need to look at. We basically are looking for the curious listener who wants to push their palette and who wants to have a good time doing it. That I realize is an over-arching and not so specific criteria, but much in the same way that ours is not a specific criteria. It's what I really find inspiring, and it may not be exclusively to this venue but certainly I know it exists here more than at other places that I’ve noticed.  A person who is willing to inhabit a different musical space than they are typically used to and if they are going to push their boundary they know that (Le) Poisson Rouge is a place that they are going to have the highest standard of whatever that is.

JG: Have you gotten any feedback from artists who play at (Le) Poisson Rouge?

DH: Yes, that is something that I hold very dear to my heart. No expense or attention has been spared on the infrastructure in this room when it comes to production value. We are second to none. I can say without ego that this is the finest sounding and looking room of our size in New York. Basically the artist experience should be, and, from what I’ve heard from most of the artists who I really want to get feedback from, has been second to none. They sound and look better here than anywhere else. That is because we are musicians. That is why we opened this place. We didn’t do it to make it rich. We didn’t get into this through something else. We got into this from being on the stage and from playing and composing.

JG: Was there ever a light bulb moment when you guys decided, we need to build a place like (Le) Poisson Rouge?

DH: I think the catalyst was realizing it was a problem of packaging rather than content that was disassociating listeners from different genres, and realizing that young people are ripe for a different experience. They want to hear different stuff. With the movement of indie rock as an example there are longer song durations, more experimental instrumentation and maybe less emphasis on the word. This is not a far leap from a lot of contemporary classical music. And, invariably, I found there was this real curiosity and a real interest in expanding one’s acoustical horizons--something that really did drive the point home. And then again just feeling like nightlife was increasingly homogenized and bland and predictable. And seeing that the arts were very sterile and housed in environments that didn’t invite inquiry or sexuality or anything like that. It just seemed that there was this really cool reciprocal need or urge for something like that.

JG: What is your musical background? Are you still performing?

DH: Yeah, I’m playing and composing a lot. I started playing music when I was three as a violinist. Started composing not long after. I have always been a devote musician of every kind. I play and compose mostly classical music to whatever extent that has as a relevant connotation these days because classical composition in 2010 can mean anything.

You can check out the widest range of shows at (Le) Poisson Rouge from Hip Hop, Indie Rock, Soul, Classical to art shows. If you can think of it (Le) Poisson Rouge probably already has it booked for an upcoming show. Some shows coming up this fall include Martha Wainwright, Kronos Quartet, Deerhoof and Norah Jones. Check out their calendar at

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David Team