Last fall, standing in the Philadelphia construction site that would soon be transformed into the latest of his City Winery franchises, Michael Dorf reflected on the distance he’d traveled since cobbling together his first music venue more than three decades earlier. When he arrived in New York City in the mid-1980s, Dorf was a law-school dropout from Wisconsin who’d never heard of John Zorn, the Jazz Passengers, the M-Base collective, or any of the converging strands that made up the eclectic, stream-crossing downtown scene.
By the end of the ’80s the Knitting Factory had become synonymous with that scene, which needed a laboratory for its experiments to flourish. Over the seven years that the Knit remained in its tiny space on Houston Street before decamping for Tribeca, Dorf built the club into an avant-scaled empire, complete with a major-label record deal and a European touring arm. None of it came without contention, as those who were there recall.