Brooklyn DIY Venue Owners Talk Cops, Gentrification and Strategy

Kent Ave., where the venues Glasslands and 285 Kent are located (via Glassands' website)

Owners of small to midsize music venues traded notes and beverage control horror stories yesterday at a panel organized by Bedford + Bowery, a collaboration between the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and New York Magazine. The panel, hosted at B+B’s space in Williamsburg, featured the proprietors of influential Brooklyn fixtures including Brooklyn Bowl, Glasslands, 285 Kent, Cameo Gallery and Bossa Nova Civic Club.

On the informal list of discussion topics were cooperating with local authorities, the spirit of competition, gentrification and best practices.

“I think the feeling among a lot of small businesses is that the city, especially in recent years, has cracked down on them as a way to bring in revenues without having to raise taxes,” said Todd Patrick, veteran concert promoter and co-owner of 285 Kent and the soon-to-be-re-opened Market Hotel.

Each of the panelists had stories to tell of what they characterized as unfair targeting by authorities, including a 2AM Friday night raid of Glasslands a week after the venue received a write up in the New York Times.

“One of the officers had a copy of the article clipped to his clipboard,” said Jake Rosenthal, co-founder of PopGun Presents, which formally acquired Glasslands last year.

Peter Shapiro, who opened Brooklyn Bowl in North Williamsburg in 2009, and relaunched The Slipper Room on the Lower East Side last year, said it can be beneficial to be among the first nightlife businesses in a developing neighborhood.

“There’s a huge value proposition to being first because then the cops get to know you and they know you’re not one of the troublemakers,” said Shapiro.

Brooklyn Bowl was one of the earliest arrivals in a rapidly developing stretch of Williamsburg that now includes a luxury hotel, a dance club and the soon-to-be-opened Rough Trade megastore and performance venue.

Shapiro said that as the number of high-income residents increases so do the number of complaints.

“You get people who are big donors to politicians and know how to get [New York State Senator] Chuck Schumer on the line,” Shapiro said. “That’s when you’re in trouble.”

Discussing the role promoters and venue operators play in accelerating the gentrification of a neighborhood, Patrick said he felt a responsibility to provide a source of enrichment to the original stakeholders in communities where he works. His Market Hotel project in Bushwick, which was the recipient of a $100,000 anonymous grant in 2011, will be open during the daytime to offer music education classes to at-risk youth.

“In the daytime most venues are just black empty rooms,” Patrick said. “I want the space to be more than just an island of privilege where a few hundred white kids line up on the weekends.”

As for competition, Rosenthal said the influx of people to the neighborhood over the years has raised all boats, with late night revelers often bouncing from one venue to another. John Barclay, owner of Bossa Nova Civic Club in Bushwick, said there was still plenty of room left for still more venues to open.

“You go to these warehouse parties in Bushwick and there are up to 1,500 people at them,” he said. “There will always be room for more dance clubs because people like to dance.”