Northern Brooklyn

Finding the right balance: How does Brooklyn stay true to its nightlife roots?

Nightlife in Brooklyn is booming — and venues are fighting to keep up.

July 11, 2019 Scott Enman
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It’s no secret that nightlife thrives in New York. There’s a reason, after all, that the metropolis is dubbed The City That Never Sleeps. The $35.1 billion industry creates roughly 300,000 jobs — and Brooklyn is leading the charge, according to the city’s Nightlife Mayor Ariel Palitz.

“I have some Brooklyn statistics that show what a lot of us already know, which is that Brooklyn is outgrowing all of the rest of the five boroughs when it comes to nightlife,” she said. “Brooklyn is booming.”

Brooklyn, according to Palitz, accounts for 21 percent of all of the city’s nightlife and 10 percent of job growth — higher than any of the other four boroughs.

Nightlife professionals, venue owners and artists joined Palitz on Tuesday at National Sawdust, a music venue in Williamsburg, to discuss the state of nightlife in northern Brooklyn. The event, dubbed “Because The Night (Part 2),” was organized by the North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

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The city’s Nightlife Mayor Ariel Palitz discusses the state of nightlife in northern Brooklyn. Eagle photos by Andy Katz

As Brooklyn’s entertainment scene continues to grow, there are some concerns from within the industry that the commercialization of the borough, though positive economically, could detract from the gritty charm that initially made the borough attractive to artists.

“Things have changed,” said Dhruv Chopra, co-owner of East Williamsburg nightclub Elsewhere. “The market has changed, the audience has changed, compliance, police, regulation, everything has gotten harder. Even in Brooklyn you see a lot of demand and pressure to professionalize.”

Palitz, a former nightclub owner herself, said that professionalization does not necessarily have to be undesirable, and that what ultimately makes a venue “raw and cool” is the people behind the project.

“It’s important that underground communities and venues can thrive — but that they do it in a way that is safe, supportive and respected,” Palitz said. “It’s good to have professionalism. It’s good to be able to make sure your compliance is in order and you know the building is not going to fall on your head.”

Thanks to the creation of the Office of Nightlife in March of 2018, Palitz said that at least nightlife now has proper representation in the city’s government.

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation in September 2017 to establish the office, which stemmed from a bill sponsored by Councilmember Rafael Espinal. The branch acts as a liaison between residents, nightlife professionals and city agencies to promote a safe and vibrant nightlife.

New York City’s Nightlife Mayor Ariel Palitz speaks while David Castillo, Bill Pearis and Charley Ryan listen.

Bill Pearis, senior editor at Brooklyn Vegan, said that the growth of Brooklyn’s nightlife could be traced back to the willingness of taxi drivers to travel to the borough.

When he moved to Willamsburg in 1998, venues were scarce. He recalled how people would have to trick taxi drivers to bring them to northern Brooklyn. But around 2007, a shift occurred as more and more venues started opening in the borough.

Although many independent venues are still “fighting the good fight” as Pearis called it, larger ticketing operators threaten their very existence, forcing owners to constantly raise ticket prices to stay afloat.

Both providers and consumers of Brooklyn’s nightlife are constantly fighting to protect the integrity of the industry and avoid upcharges — a trait inherent to the club scene in Manhattan — but competition from mega corporations continues to make it difficult.

“It’s not just the music business where you see this conglomeration, where you see just a couple of brands out there, it’s part of our society,” said Charley Ryan, co-owner of Brooklyn Bowl.

“I just wish that people would be a little more discerning and really go with their heart when they go with their wallet.”

Update: The name of the organization that hosted the event was added. 

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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