It’s been a long year for The Queen.
Like arts and entertainment venues everywhere, the downtown Wilmington venue closed its doors due to the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020. By that summer, the Buccini Pollin Group (BPG), the developer that initiated the deal to turn the ruins of the 1789-built Indian Queen Hotel into a music venue in 2008, had taken over operations from Live Nation, the national concert producer that had run The Queen since 2017. Live Nation still maintains an active relationship with BPG and the venue, but The Queen is BPG operated now, with more of a focus on the “community clubhouse” model it had in the mid-2010s, when Gable Music Ventures regularly booked local acts there.
First and foremost, the team had to find a way to open safely. Last July, less than a month after BPG took over operations, they opened the new Knights Bar, located on the Market Street-level floor where a ticket office booth once stood. Now it’s a small live music space for about 50 people with a bar and, most importantly during the pandemic, patio doors that open up, transforming it into an indoor-outdoor open air venue.
“Mostly smaller local acts play here every Wednesday through Saturday,” Sam Blumin, general manager of The Queen, told Technical.ly. “It’s been great because it’s fresh air. That was really attractive for our guests and our artists. They felt really comfortable here at the peak of the pandemic.”
Then came COVID-19’s second wave, and even the Knights Bar was forced to close its doors in late November. By that time, The Queen had another purpose: It had become The Office of President Elect Joe Biden.
“They built the first TV studio for a presidential election in history,” said Blumin. “It started in September and went through to the end of January. We had reporters out here, I had Secret Service in every corner of the building, snipers of the roof.”
Many Delawareans recognized The Queen’s distinctive main stage area on the news during Biden interviews and speeches during that time, but it wasn’t just the stage that was used.
“Every single room was utilized every day,” Blumin said. “I was the point person here in the building and I was on the list of getting COVID tested almost every other day for that whole time. It was a lot. It was fun, but by the end of it I was like, ‘This is enough.'”
During those five months at the height of the pandemic, Biden was a crucial part of the venue’s revenue, and it brought The Queen recognition on a historic scale.
After Biden was sworn in on Jan. 20, The Queen settled down and was dormant until March, when restrictions loosened up enough to reopen the Knights Bar. About a month later, they also reopened the larger Market Street-level venue, The Crown Room, a versatile space with a capacity of 250 standing and 150 seated. The venue’s kitchen launched a new in-house food program, with BPG Chef James Sparks of Makers Alley. And by July, a full year after first reopening after the lockdown, they started hosting full-capacity standing shows.
“We’re trying to be creative and be inclusive of all genres and artists throughout the region and the country,” Blumin said. “In this space it’s mostly more regional acts that can bring 100 to 200 people. Rock, jazz, funk, comedy; we have conferences, spoken word events, live podcast recordings.”
The big stage, The Queen’s famous two-story venue that was once an ornate, early-20th-century movie theater with a balcony, has a capacity of 900 — enough that the local health department has recommended waiting until late summer to reopen. Its first show will be Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue on Aug. 19. If you go, you’ll notice small but impactful changes to the space. For instance, the wall on one side of the bar has been removed, leaving a bar that patrons can access from both sides instead of just one. On the balcony, another wall was exposed to create a VIP section.
After Trombone Shorty, the schedule will be packed throughout the fall, including touring acts including Drive By Truckers, The Mountain Goats and Cracker.
“In the past we’ve had a lot of cover bands, which we will bring back, but we’re trying to bring in more original music, national touring acts,” said Blumin. “The Queen itself brings a lot of business to downtown, especially this corner with La Fia and Merchant Bar and The Farmer and the Cow. We’re making The Queen reborn again, making it a kind of community clubhouse where we incorporate all types of acts and musicians and artists, and getting creative with what we’re booking.”