The buzzy new Martin Scorsese-produced series “Vinyl” pays homage to the 1970s heyday of New York City hot spots such as the Mercer Arts Center, Plato’s Retreat and Max’s Kansas City. The problem? Those places are gone.
In fact, the Mercer Arts Center, a performance space that was part of the Broadway Central Hotel in Greenwich Village, completely collapsed in 1973. In the series premiere, American Century Records executive Richie Finestra (played by Bobby Cannavale) piles into the Mercer with a horde of music fans to see the New York Dolls.
As the band’s wild show comes to a close, the building disintegrates — plaster cracks along the balcony, pipes burst, beams drop to the floor. (In reality, the building fell during a weekday afternoon, when no performance was taking place.) Plaster dust rains down and fans race for the exit, trapping Richie in the rubble as the place implodes.
“We did a foam half-scale [ceiling] that was made to break apart, with a box of ‘rubble’ above it,” says set designer Bob Shaw.
For a close-up of Cannavale after the collapse, he says, “I went around buying all the cappuccino meringue cookies [I could find] and crushed them up. We dabbed water on his face, the meringue would melt a little bit, and it would stick.”
Though Midtown’s Brill Building — which serves as the entrance to American Century Records in the show — still exists, the world around it has changed considerably since the 1970s. Long gone is neighbor Jack Dempsey’s, a restaurant owned by the boxing champ of the same name that operated from 1935 to 1974. So Shaw “dressed the lower half of the building next-door to [the Brill as] the front of Jack Dempsey’s, then digitally added in the illuminated sign.”
Bill Groom, a production designer known for his work on “Boardwalk Empire,” reproduced Andy Warhol’s studio the Factory in a warehouse on the far edge of Park Slope, Brooklyn. The entire set is covered in silver paint and foil — exactly how Warhol decorated his place. Groom also had a red velvet sofa made to scale from one seen in a famous photograph of Warhol lounging at the Factory.
Elsewhere, the Jane hotel on Manhattan’s West Side served as “Vinyl’s” Oasis Club — a take on the notorious sex club Plato’s Retreat. Shaw designed an S-shape “orgy couch” inspired by the genie-bottle sofa in “I Dream of Jeannie.”
Of course, you can’t have a series about the music business without a record store — and in the 1970s, Sam Goody ruled. Since the chain went out of business in 2006, Groom chose an existing record store, Rough Trade in Williamsburg, clearing out its stock and turning back time.
“We created the whole storefront and the interior. Records in the window. The Sam Goody sign is . . . real neon,” says Groom. “That one set is an example of how difficult it is to do the ’70s accurately. It’s more difficult to do than ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ because it is a recent period. And there are no museums for the ’70s!”