“We thought of Meridian 23 as a performance space first. With that in mind, I paid a lot of attention to what would make the room sound good. If the sound isn’t great, it doesn’t matter how great the band is. We want the people to appreciate the performances, and anything less would be doing the artists a disservice.”-Ferdinand Galvis, co-founder of Meridian 23.
It’s a rare nightspot in Chelsea that aims to foster a truly creative community by harnessing both local artists and global artistic vibes. It’s an even rarer thing to find a music venue that embraces both traditional sounds and global electronica, with a menu that celebrates "street food" spanning Africa to South America and enlivened with cocktails built from truly fresh ingredients.
With the enticing slogan of "Global food, global drinks, global attitude!" Meridian 23 opened its doors last month to rave reviews from both music and food critics alike, becoming overnight an exciting new choice in NYC nightlife. In an era in which NYC nightlife has experienced shrinking opportunities for live world music, Ferdinand Galvis and Stefan Andemicael at Meridian 23 are taking that risk, getting this music on stage in their classy and lively new venue. It's a win-win situation for everyone, but especially for those who-like this writer-hold a special place in their heart for World Music.
Described as a "dancefloor utopia" and "a bar with a utopian streak" it's also a warm and friendly neighborhood hangout of sorts, with an emphasis on the word "neighbor" but boasting a planetary scope too. It's the brainchild of two unique visionaries, Ferdinand Galvis and Stefan Andemicael, both with cross-cultural backgrounds (Ferdinand’s roots are Colombian and German; Stefan is half Eritrean, half Austrian).
Born from a collaborative friendship between two alums of NYC's United Nations International School, Meridian 23 welcomes with open arms some of the city's most vibrant but "orphaned" scenes. With excellent sound, a sophisticated yet warm vibe, and an open ear/eye for eclectic creativity, Meridian 23 aims to be a globally minded hub; an "incubator" of the kind that many now lost NYC clubs and venues were for the city’s music and art lovers.
A space that housed several clubs was the dream of Ferdinand Galvis. “It was happenstance, the way we got started” explains Ferdinand. “I had been toying with the idea of opening a bar for some time. From the start, I wanted it to have an international theme.” Ferdinand then connected with Stefan Andemicael. The two hit it off, spent months talking through a vision for the space, and the concept behind the club evolved. “We started interacting and the project grew” noted Galvis.
Observed Galvis, “The delays from the rigors of opening a bar in NYC have actually given our ideas a chance to evolve. Added Stefan Andemicael, "Context is a big part of what we’re trying to do, and every detail is a connected choice. It’s a big part of anything I do. I need to know why I’m doing it, my choices have to have a sense of place.”
The club's long evolution allowed Andemicael ample time to research the current state of New York music and nightlife by talking to a multitude of different musicians, DJs, visual artists, and listeners. One major necessity: must have good sound.
However, the background behind Meridian 23 goes far deeper than Native New Yorkers Ferdinand and Stefan’s multi-cultural heritage. Their vision driving the club sprang from the current state of New York City nightlife, where a thousand scenes may bloom, but all too often live-music clubs in Manhattan are faced with a plethora of obstacles.
“At the point in time where I started to conceive of opening a place, I wasn’t consciously trying to do it in response to the gentrification of the city” Galvis asserts. “I was trying to do something cool and interesting. Gentrification is a by-product of economic growth in Manhattan, and it has driven a lot of smaller, unique establishments out. Chains have moved in. I have fond memories of the city, when it was a relatively derelict and scary place. That in and of itself fostered a certain kind of environment, where artists could take risks.”
Reflecting on their experiences at the United Nations International School, Galvis and Andemicael envisioned a place where artists based in diverse cultures could freely interact. “We both grew up surrounded by people from more than a hundred countries at school” recalls Stefan. “There was conflict at times, but it was a very different experience from what was going on elsewhere. The power of one culture over another was really obvious outside school walls. But inside we were all thrown together and coexisted just as a bunch of kids. More so…we thrived.”
It’s precisely that kind of community that Ferdinand Galvis and Stefan Andemicael encourage. On top of providing a new home in Manhattan for already existing musical communities, Meridian 23 reserves one night every three months for its artists, in hopes of fostering a new set of ties and collaborations. “The idea is that a sense of community blossoms when artists feel a sense of belonging in the place, and the place belonging to them!” says Andemicael . “The bar will throw a party for the talent. People who haven’t met each other but who are part of something here will get a chance to hang out,” adds Galvis.
Although it has only been open a month, Meridian 23 is already riding a wave of genre-busting music making/listening. The main thing, believes Andemicael, is to find that unifying groove. Andemicael: “For me, seeking that feeling comes from my experience as a DJ. When I am on the decks, I span the globe, and that used to meet some resistance, except at Brooklyn’s Bembe, my DJ home for 10 years running. Otherwise people tended to seek specific genres. Now an eclectic mix is more appreciated. The audience has caught up. Cross-culturalism is a genre onto itself. Cross-culturalism is the core concept for Meridian 23.”
Meridian 23 slowly morphed and developed over several years; an unusually extended gestation period for a Manhattan club. Growing a community of his own around the club’s evolution, Stefan Andemicael had ample time to hash out ideas within a slowly expanding circle of important contributors. His brother, Menkerios Andemicael, is one of many. “We spent many long sessions brainstorming,” recalls Andemicael, “finding subtle but meaningful ways to express our ideas.” Many of these ideas coalesced visually. The interlocking Venn diagram-like logo reflects the current spirit of cultural overlap and interdependence, of permeable boundaries, as well as the lines of connection, the meridians, suggested by the club’s name. The name was actually the first piece that Ferdinand Galvis built-long before the hammer struck its first nail in building his dream. Artist Kerri Ferrara took inspiration from Menkerios' designs for the sensual mural that graces the downstairs room.
But make no mistake, this place offers far more than great music. Meridian 23's menu reflects the club’s ethos, and was thoughtfully crafted by consulting chef Pierre Thiam, a Senegal-born, NYC-based pioneer of championing Africa's diverse culinary traditions in mainstream America. Pierre has brought together flavors from around the planet-from ceviche to red rice balls to wontons-that capture the pleasures and flavors of the world's street foods, but without hitting the deep fryer. Simple, elegant, and flavorful, making the most of regional ingredients, Pierre's cuisine highlights dishes that have yet to break into the foodie pantheon, from parts of the globe that remain terra incognita.
Not to be outdone, the drinks are no less skillfully crafted. Experienced "mixologist" and barman Corey Lima-with help from collaborator John Trockel-has assembled a cocktail menu that joyfully circles the globe, infusing spice, sweetness, and sour goodness in equal measure to its exciting drink menu. Acai and tamarind, hot pepper infusions and green tea, bring notes of distant lands to classic cocktails like the "Manhattan" and the margarita.
On a scale of one to five, I give this club-a total feast of the ears, eyes and palate-a resounding five!
Meridian 23's Schedule of talent:
Quartet with the members of Matuto
Sooooo Up and Coming Comedy Show
Sambaloo Party with DJs Beco Dranoff and Turmix
Darling Del Oeste
***DJ Center album release party with Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble and DJ Spinna***
Tix: $10, Show: 9 pm
Check out DJ Center here: soundcloud.com/pushthefader/sets/dem-say-ah-gold-10-vinyl-ep-2
Cumbe Dance Center Party
Friends of the Congo sponsored event (early) & Benyoro (later)
Symposium on Ugandan anti-homosexuality act followed by Benyoro
Pan African Jam
Meridian 23 is located at 161 West 23rd Street, New York, New York