The largely residential streets of Elmhurst aren’t exactly what comes to mind when one thinks of the perfect location for heavy metal venue.
Then again, rock and roll is about going against the grain and doing what you want.
Blackthorn 51, located at 80-12 51 Ave., is one of the last venues in the city solely dedicated to heavy metal music, a genre whose golden era came to a close in the early 1990s, though it still maintains a strong subculture following
The double glass doors lead into a cramped hallway, just off Queens Boulevard. On the walls past the bouncer, posters for contemporary bands still give off a vintage feel.
In the main room, blood-red lights illuminate liquor bottles behind an oak wood bar. The walls are black and decor is almost nonexistent. It’s cliche but that adds to its charm.
Unlike the stereotypical metal bars, Blackthorn is fairly clean. The floors aren’t slick from spilled beer and aside from a few Sharpie markings that say things like “punk is not dead” and “Dan is sexy” on the metallic stall, even the bathroom is well maintained.
Founder Nicki Camp, a metal veteran himself, has created a dedicated fan base. Even as snow flurries recoated the streets on Saturday night, dozens showed up ready to head bang.
While it wasn’t a packed house, attendees seemed to enjoy themselves as evidenced by their consistent fixation on the stage.
Camp obtained the space after a nightclub closed and books shows with Kevin Castle, who formerly worked at the Castle Heights club in Jackson Heights, where metal bands like Hatebreed played.
“I had the choice of coming here, to a place that already had a bar, that already had the space, or looking for a different place that I would have to put millions of dollars in to renovate,” Camp said when asked why he chose Elmhurst. “You can’t put a place like this in Forest Hills.”
While Camp will book the occasional hip-hop or R&B show, Blackthorn is almost exclusively a home for metal fans.
For the most part, patrons wore an unintentional uniform of black and denim, and the more masculine men had long stringy hair sticking to their sweaty cheeks.
In honor of its one-year anniversary, Blackhorn 51 will host a variety of shows all month long, from a Metallica tribute band to lesser-known acts.
On Saturday night, Traffic Moving Well opened by playing a few original numbers.
The four members put on a decent show, whipping their heads back and forth and taking sips from Brooklyn draft beer — the only one Blackthorn has on tap.
They aren’t as crazy as some performers can be. They aren’t convulsing or screaming into the microphone like many other metal bands, but that doesn’t make them any less entertaining.
Their gravelly sound didn’t make for much “moshing” but the audience bobbed to the beat.
Traces of the nightclub Blackthorn replaced can be seen here and there. Pleather booths that might have been a VIP section of sorts still stand on a platform in the back of the room.
“It’s just a chill place to come to,” one visitor said. “Everyone’s themselves and we listen to good music. I don’t get to come all the time but whenever I get the chance, I like to stop by.”
It’s surprising how well Camp’s business has been going as music venues like his, that don’t showcase Top 40 heavy hitters, usually struggle to keep their heads above water.
Aside from money issues, the internet has been a major contributor to the decline of the traditional music venue.
“I can go to Spotify on my phone or YouTube or something and listen to whatever I want to for free,” Don, a first-time patron of Blackthorn said. “Tickets aren’t that bad here but usually they can get very expensive that it’s not even worth it.”
Ticket prices are usually around $15 in advance and guests are able to check their coats for $2.