Koster & Bials Music Hall and Roof Garden

(Bryant's Opera House - 1870, Bon Ton - 1920)

Thirty-fourth Street, near Broadway / NYC


(information edited from Playbill Vault, Wikipedia, Travalanche, etc.)


John Koster and Adam Bial were a pair of German American brewers who opened their first concert hall/saloon

at the corner of 23rd Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan (the present site of Billy’s Stopless) starting in 1870.


Koster was in charge of the booze, and Bial in charge of the performers. They did their jobs well—the place was both boozy and burlesquery. For this reason, they were often in trouble with the law, eventually getting closed down for “encouraging prostitution”. A February 1887 editorial in the Spirit of the Times illustrates the turning tide:


“We have repeatedly pointed out that this establishment was violating the excise and the theatrical license laws by giving entertainments in a saloon where liquors were sold, and we are glad that the authorities have at last interfered.”


In 1893, they found themselves a beard (a VanDyke, to be precise) in the form of Oscar Hammerstein I:

  Oscar Hammerstein I (May 8, 1847 – August 1, 1919)

Koster and Bial's Music Hall was the successor to Koster and Bial's Concert Hall. That earlier establishment
was located on 23rd Street. At that location, Koster and Bial had taken over Bryant's Opera House, a venue
for minstrel shows. They offered food and drink along with vaudeville, circumventing a law against serving
alcohol in theatres by replacing the curtain with a folding fan.


The last Koster and Bial's Music Hall originated when they moved uptown into the Manhattan Opera House,
a huge theatre built in Herald Square in 1892 by Oscar Hammerstein I in pursuit of his passion for grand opera.
Quickly running into financial problems, Hammerstein decided to convert his theatre to a vaudeville format.
He offered Koster and Bial a partnership under which he would manage the entertainment and they would manage
the food. The new Koster and Bial's Music Hall opened on August 28, 1893 and proved to be very successful.
Hammerstein however quarreled with his partners and lawsuits ensued. Ultimately Koster and Bial bought out
Hammerstein and operated the theater solely on their own. The theatre finally closed in 1901 and was demolished
to make way for Macy's Department Store.

On April 23, 1896 the Vitascope was introduced to the public at Koster and Bial's Music Hall in New York City


Robert Sklar states that in late1880s the Edison labs made an important contribution to motion pictures --

the perforation of the film strip at equidistant intervals so films would run smoothly past the lens.

Edison called his new inventions the kinetograph (the camera) and the kinetoscope
(the player). People peered into the kinetoscope’s viewer and watched twenty seconds of their
favorite Vaudeville performers acting, dancing, or flexing their muscles. Edison’s kinetoscope
was a huge success, and on April 14, 1894 the first kinetoscope parlor opened in New York.

In addition, during this same year, Edison created the first motion picture studio, the Black Maria.
The Black Maria was a small enclosed studio covered with tarpaper mounted on a circular track.
The roof lifted to let the sunshine in and the studio was placed on a track so that it could be
pushed around to follow the sunlight during shooting. The kinetoscope craze lasted until 1896.

By 1896, the kinetoscope’s technology was outdated and new technologies enabled audiences to
watch movies simultaneously whereas the kinetoscope was made for only one person at a time.
The Lumiére brothers created the first large screen projector and displayed their new technology
in December 1895 in France making the French the first to project motion pictures to an audience. 

The United States followed with screen projection a few months later on 23 April 1896.
On this date, Koster and Bial’s Music Hall in New York City projected movies onto a large screen.
Once again, Edison played an important role in this debut. Koster and Bial’s Music Hall used a
vitascope to project the new technology, which was created by Thomas C. Armat and C. Francis Jenkins.
However, Armat sold his patent to Edison and Edison received recognition for the vitascope. Finally,
the technology made the modern motion picture a reality.


"Early cinema's most prolific star, Annabelle Moore made several films for Edison and Biograph between 1894 and 1897.

A follower of Loïe Fuller, Annabelle performed several dances at the Black Maria studio and was featured in the Kinetoscope's first London showing in October 1894. The Serpentine Dance, Butterfly Dance and Sun Dance were often hand- coloured and enjoyed such popularity that they frequently wore out, necessitating many reprintings and several refilmings . When the Biograph was launched in 1896 two of its earliest productions were Annabelle's Butterfly Dance (above) and a Flag Dance..."

(left) Vitascope Projector,  (center) Kinetoscope Cabinet and (right) projecting from balcony

Programs available from this theatre:

  • Vaudeville Program (July 17, 1899)

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