Kung fu to zombies, remembering the Trocadero

Philly’s 150-year-old Chinatown concert venue will close at the end of the month.

The Trocadero theater on Arch Street in Chinatown. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Trocadero theater on Arch Street in Chinatown. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A beloved Philadelphia music venue is closing.

Several news outlets, including Philly.com and PhillyMag.com, are reporting that the Trocadero will cease operations as a concert hall at the end of the month. The owner has not commented.

The Trocadero has been through many phases in its 150-year history, from opera to burlesque. Because it is in the heart of Philadelphia’s Chinatown, in the 1970s it served that neighborhood by primarily screening Chinese movies.

“My parents would take us to the Trocadero to see kung fu movies, and they sold popcorn,” said Albert Lee, a longtime civic booster and digital content manager for the Office of the City Representative who grew up in Chinatown. “We would watch kung fu movies with no subtitles. That was the thing. That was what my parents took us to.”

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Since the late 1980s, the Troc has been a rock venue. With capacity for about 1,200 people, it was a mid-sized concert hall, a little rough around the edges, and tickets were relatively cheap. The drinks were, too. So you could see bands when they were breaking, like Pearl Jam, Living Color, or Sonic Youth, and not break your bank.

The Trocadero also had all-ages shows, so you could take your kid sister to her very first concert. That’s what Ken Travis did in the 1990s, when his younger sister wanted to see the hard industrial band Pigface, known for noise and dark lyrics.

“She was specifically interested in this show. At the time she was probably 15, so, you know, not a little kid but still not old enough to get permission from our parents to go to a concert in Philly by herself,” said Travis. “So I’m, like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take you.’”

Travis’s sister, Jennifer, absorbed some of her older brother’s taste in music of the time, leaning toward dark industrial: Skinny Puppy and Ministry. Travis said he frequented the Trocadero for decades because the theater’s grand but slightly grungy aesthetic suited the music.

“I think that was part of the allure,” he said. “The venue suited the band, and I think they fed off of that, as well.”

The Trocadero also hosted the annual Zombie Prom, wherein clubbers dressed up in high school finery and bloody zombie makeup.

There are concerts lined up for the next couple weeks. It’s not known what will happen to the theater after that.

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