The former Puerto Rican bodega/grocery store (the facade of which remains) and neighboring butcher shop were turned into a bar in 1995. It hosts a variety of musical acts, although punk and hard rock bands tend to be most common. Local acts usually play at the venue, while their slightly "hipster" clientele often stay within the confines of the separate bar area.
In October 1997 Arlene's was subject to a musicians' boycott due to not paying bands. Owner Shayne Doyle said "I have a lot of money invested in sound equipment, I have door people and sound people to pay. How do I get that money back? I consider the club successful in that it's here after a year. But the money I put into this place, I haven't gotten back.". Marc Ribot responded "I have never met a club owner who didn't claim to be losing money. This is the central showcase club in New York right now and they're acting like they're marginal." The Noise Action Coalition, a union of downtown New York City musicians, also handed out fliers and encouraged patrons, who did not have to pay a cover, not to order drinks and go on a "water strike".
^Daily News, October 12, 1997, "NO SUPPER FOR THEIR SINGIN' AT THE HOT-HOT ARLENE GROCERY, MUSICIANS ARE HUNGRY FOR PAY" by Jim Farber. Sunday Extra, p23
^The New York Times October 12, 1997, Sunday, Late Edition - Final, NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: LOWER EAST SIDE; Have Guitar, Will Picket by ERIN ST. JOHN KELLY Section 14; Page 8; Column 1; The City Weekly Desk