Dreams So Real
Many find that winding career paths with seeming dead ends sometimes lead to opportunities unimagined. Such is the case of Steve Walter B.M. ’78, owner of the popular Manhattan nightspot The Cutting Room.
A guitarist inspired by the musicians he heard growing up around the New Jersey Shore club scene, Walter set his sights on Berklee after high school. Four years later, Lawrence Berk handed him his degree in composition, and Walter started working with cover bands and teaching. He subsequently spent 15 years operating his own clothing manufacturing business in New York’s garment district. But his inextinguishable love for music and entrepreneurial instincts led him to open The Cutting Room on 24th Street in Manhattan in 1999.
“I wanted a place where up-and-coming artists could be heard by labels, managers, and agents, and where established artists could just show up and jam,” Walter says. “That has all happened.”
No overstatement. Lady Gaga got signed after appearing at The Cutting Room, and many A-listers in the entertainment industry regularly hang out or perform there. “In the early days, Norah Jones, Gavin DeGraw, Joan Rivers, and others played here,” Walter recalls. “Sheryl Crow took the stage with Gwyneth Paltrow and Kid Rock, and John Mayer came to one of our Monday Night Jams.” Later guests have included Sting, Sam Moore, Jimmy Fallon, and members of various late-night TV house bands.
A decade ago, Walter moved operations to a larger location on 32nd Street, off Park Avenue. Its ultracool interior features a huge chandelier festooned with Fender Stratocasters and a 45-foot bar carved in the shape of a guitar. The room can accommodate crowds up to 500, and Walter books a wide spectrum of personalities. “We’ve done book releases for actors, authors, and photographers, and events for national political figures,” he says. “A scene from the TV series Billions was filmed here, and [singer] Jennifer Hudson and [comedian] Jay Pharoah filmed live shows here.”
Walter has hosted numerous vintage rock icons, including current and former Rolling Stones Ronnie Wood and Mick Taylor. He’s also strapped on his guitar to sit in with drummers Simon Kirke (Bad Company) and Danny Seraphine (Chicago) and guitarist G.E. Smith (former Saturday Night Live music director), among others. But the club remains a lure for young artists too, including Lizzo, Post Malone, and Anderson .Paak.
Regarding future plans, Walter still thinks big. “Ideally, we’d like to open additional clubs,” he says. “We’re looking at other music cities like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Boston.”
Glancing back, he sees his time at Berklee as pivotal. “It was an amazing time to be there,” he recalls. “I got a great education—and not just about putting your hands on the instrument. I learned discipline and sensitivity that help with what I am doing now.” Walter’s career is thriving and exciting. “The people I get to meet and talk to through this club are beyond my wildest dreams.”
This article appeared in the spring 2020 issue of our alumni magazine, Berklee Today.