John Barclay has been heavily involved in Brooklyn's D.I.Y. rave scene since 2005, including, most recently, the sensation "Trip House" mansion on Cornelia Street in Bushwick. After Paper published photos of a party at Trip House last weekend, local real estate blog Brownstoner identified the house as a rare example of preserved 19th-century architecture, and complained that the building's "otherwise pristine original bead board walls, fireplaces, wainscotting and other 1890s details have been marred by graffiti at the hands of party-goers." (The story was later picked up by Daily Intel and Curbed.) Having spent the better part of a decade throwing warehouse parties, Barclay -- a former PAPER contributor -- is going legit with the fully-licensed Bossa Nova Civic Club, which opens in Bushwick tonight with DJ sets by Kim Anne Foxman and Steve Summers. Barclay spoke with us earlier this week about his history throwing parties, his problems with North Brooklyn nightlife, the state of Trip House, and his plans for the new venue.
How are you?
Hanging in there. We accidentally drilled into a water pipe at the bar last night so I haven't really had any sleep. Trying to get that fixed before Friday. If I can't get this done, there's gonna be a big part of my floor that's not gonna look great. I had to tear the floor up to get to this pipe. Everything was good, but I had a guy come install an ATM machine and they screw it into the ground, just these like inch-long bolts that hold it into the ground. He hit this tiny hidden water pipe and it just...
When did you start doing events at Trip House?
Our first one was about three months ago. I'm not the boss there any more, but I still help curate events there. But yeah, we started about three months ago, me and Chris Goldstein.
[Ed note: Asked for further comment about the recent coverage of Trip House, Barclay emailed this statement:
In an attempt to discredit what they view as gentrification competition, the fear-mongering Park Slope baby boomer cyber collective known as brownstoner.com and other post-yuppie media outlets have willfully distorted the Trip House situation. Certainly the photos in question document a time when the mansion had been abused at the hands of uninvited, merciless and more often than not, talentless graffiti writers. But even before the photos were published the space had undergone a massive renovation. Thanks to the valiant efforts of Trip House treasurer Oliver Vonderahe and a handful of dedicated volunteers, in the past week nearly all the uncommissioned graffiti has been removed or painted over, and the building refreshed to a condition more pristine than when it was received. For the public. This historic mansion is for everyone, not just Brooklyn's bourgeoisie bloggers. See you at the next party.]
Were you always doing events in New York?
I've been in New York for about seven years now. The first kind of D.I.Y. thing I ever did was at this spot called Boogaloo, which is now Duff's on the South Side. We threw a party there with Eamon Harkin, who's one of the guys from Mister Saturday Night. And that place actually had a liquor license, but they would stay open all night. And it ended up getting raided a couple times. 285 Kent came a lot later where we just saw a void in D.I.Y. nightlife that appealed to house music. We originally opened 285 Kent as a strictly rave kinda joint. This is like three years ago. Most of the events were house music parties like Let's Play House or Wrong Music, with a crowd that's still around doing stuff but definitely a little older and more established than the kids who are running the rave scene in Williamsburg now. I just started doing one-off things, like a series called Midnight Express for a while where we would do stuff at 285 Kent and at House of Yes. And then my partner moved and I teamed up with Chris Goldstein. But meanwhile I've been working on this new spot, Bossa Nova, for about a year and a half, which is one hundred percent fully licensed.
Is this the first time you've done something like that?
Yeah, absolutely. First time I've ever been involved in any sort of legit bar or club.
What was the hardest part of doing that?
It's really been a nightmare. It's taken us a year and a half and it's mostly like getting a liquor license is non-stop paperwork, back-and-forth bureaucracy, dealing with so many departments of the state and the city that you would never even imagine. The info they need, the health department needed proof that I don't have like outstanding child support. That's just one example of how deeply they're involved.
Have you been making a living off of promoting parties?
I would say it's more for fun, you know. On average, even the stuff at Trip House, we made a little bit of money each time but it's never like you're making a ton. D.I.Y. parties are just like, there are some people in the game, there's a more established techno crowd in the game, like Verboten and a couple of these other guys, the crowd is a little older, they can get away with charging thirty bucks at the door, but until you're at that level you're not making real money off of D.I.Y. Especially like me, I don't do stuff but maybe once or twice a month at the very most. I've supported myself through other jobs. I've bartended, I'm a journalist, which also doesn't really pay much. All types of other dumb shit.
What's the vision for the new venue?
The new spot is nineteen-hundred square feet, so the capacity is about a hundred and fifty to two hundred people. We feel that nightlife especially in North Brooklyn is kind of going away from the rye whiskey, plaid shirt, reclaimed wood vibe that's been dominating for the past, I don't know, like five years. I feel like the reclaimed wood, antiquey whiskey vibe has just kind of over-saturated North Brooklyn. We're trying to do something that's a lot more explicitly fun and, in a sense, clubby. We're not doing bottle service or anything like that, but it's centered around dancing, it's centered around entertainment, it's centered around having fun versus sitting and having a conversation. One of our biggest expenses was our sound system. The sound system we have in here is big enough for like a mega guido club, you know. We reserved a pretty big space for the DJ booth, for the dance floor, so half of our space doesn't even have seating yet. It's just open. It's for dancing. We have effect lighting. A big part of our budget is gonna go towards entertainment. Even though we're not doing a cover and we're gonna be open seven days a week, it's always gonna be like a mini kinda tropical night club.
Is there tropical decor?
A little bit. We have some brass palm trees, some banana-leaf wallpaper that was originally designed for the Beverly Hills Hotel. The place isn't explicitly themed, it's not over-the-top, it's not like you're gonna get your drink in a coconut shell or anything, but there's certainly a tropical vibe in here for sure.
Where did the name come from?
We were playing with the idea of something that would sound like a Miami hotel club. We just wanted something that conjured up ideas of tropical escapism, which is what "bossa nova" does. And then "civic club," it's called "civic club" versus "bar" because we don't necessarily view ourselves as a bar. This isn't like a spot to come just have a drink after work. It's a spot to have a real nightlife, fun experience. Even though it's not as big as a real club. It's like a destination is what we're going for.
Are you going to have bossa nova?
We're probably not going to have too much bossa nova music playing. But I'm sure from time to time we'll have something. This guy we're gonna have DJ a lot, Marcos Cabral, actually is part of Runaway, which is like a DFA music duo with Jacques Renault. I've been excited to get him do a bossa nova set in here because his dad is like a Brazilian boss nova enthusiast. He's probably the guy I know that know more about the genre than anybody else.