You can do anything on Lark Street now.
You can grab a craft brew, cup of coffee, slice of pizza, or a quality meal and shop at good local vendors. And when the Lark Hall is up, head to a concert with regional or national talent.
Owned and operated by long-time capital area residents Jenn and Justin Miller, Lark Hall was a three-year love affair for the spouses.
“We’re big music fans and we travel a lot for target events,” said Justin. “We always said, ‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be great to have something here with a unique angle or a unique niche.’
“We originally looked at the old Playdium (bowling alley) in Pine Hills because we thought it might be a local version of the Brooklyn Bowl (downtown), but there were a number of workarounds that would have made it difficult,” he added . “Then this one came out of nowhere.”
“This one” is 351 Hudson Ave. It was built in 1916 and has long been home to the Daughters of the Eastern Star, a female Freemason charity. From 1977 to 2017 it served as the location for the dance studio and the Electronic Body Arts theater troupe.
The place served two purposes for the Millers: it could host concerts, and its dance room was ideally suited to become Jenn’s yoga studio.
In 2017, the Millers made an offer for the building. As it is a historic site, its purchase had to be approved by the prosecutor. That was completed in March 2018 and after the first round of upgrades and asbestos removal, the yoga studio opened in September.
“We were actually just starting to make money (with the yoga studio) at the end of 2019,” remarked Jenn. Things looked great at the beginning of 2020 and the plan was (for Lark Hall) to open by September last year. Then the pandemic happened. “
Jenn switched her yoga business to a mix of socially distant outdoor and virtual classes, but the yearlong year of no in-person events made introducing the performing arts aspect of Lark Hall nearly impossible. There was one positive aspect, however, as the hiatus allowed the Millers to really make plans and go through all the renovations necessary to turn the space into a state-of-the-art concert hall.
Over 8,000 feet of new electrical wiring, all-new sound and projection systems were installed. For safety and accessibility reasons, the fire alarms were modernized, ADA-compliant bathrooms were built and an elevator was installed. The aim of all improvements was to upgrade the hall while maintaining its original structure and charm from 1916.
“The extra year gave us time to plan,” confirms Justin. “We could think about things like, ‘How should the bathroom doors open so the lights don’t distract from the stage?’
“We have set up the mezzanine with bar and VIP high-top in such a way that it has a very special flair,” he enthuses. “Right now we can take 300 people, and with the sprinklers up we can have 450. The acoustics are great and with the way it is laid out everyone in the room will have a line of sight. “
Aside from the pending liquor license application, Lark Hall received all of the certifications required to open by February 2021. To get things rolling, the venue hosted local bands like Victory Soul Orchestra, Glass Pony and CK and The Rising Tide for limited personal shows that were simultaneously streamed live by Mirth Films of Albany. For July, the Millers booked weekly tribute performances on the theme of the Grateful Dead.
For the future, the Millers are planning a mix of local shows and have teamed up with promoter Dan Smalls Presents, who books with Ommegang, the Egg and the now-closed Skyloft (RIP), to meet acclaimed independent acts like roots rocker Parker Millsap and the Punk rock band Titus Andronicus later that fall.
In addition to musical acts, the Millers hope to make Lark Hall available for community organizations, weddings, special events, and TED talk-style presentations.
Jenn commented that a veteran promoter like Dan Smalls helped shorten the learning curve for a first-time venue operator, but that she and Justin are still adjusting on the fly when it comes to running Lark Hall. However, between the support they received from the Lark Street Business Improvement District and the large volume of emails they received about booking the space, they hope they can come up with a strategy that works.
“We really want to open it up and come up with a standard process that really takes space and community into account,” she said. “I have a lot of ideas for a local open mic night, how to get local bands here, and long-term community-based events. We want to respond to the needs of the community and the region and consider how we can do it right.
“We’re trying to really do it organically,” Jenn added. “Some days it can be overwhelming, but we’re just trying to figure out how to make it work and how we can make it special and do things with consistency.”
For more information
To learn more about Lark Hall, visit larkhallalbany.com
Upcoming shows: #RestartAlbany with Vince Palmeri: 7pm, Thursday July 29th, free
An evening with Fairchild Organ: Saturday, July 31, 8 p.m., $ 15
Sammy Rae and the Friends: 8:00 p.m. Sunday August 1st, $ 20
Tuba Skinny: 8 p.m., Wednesday August 11, $ 20