Dirty Blonde: High Times at the Bell House

The Union Hall crew opens another spot, and adds to a surprising resurgence

You may complain about getting there, but I suspect you'll shut your trap once when you amble through the lounge and see the stage: The Bell House, a Gowanus music hall owned by the folks behind Union Hall and opening this week, is a showstopper. Sprawling through a 1920s warehouse previously used as a printing press, the two-room venue will play host to bands that co-owner Jack McFadden couldn't book at his Park Slope space, where the basement room only fits about 100 comfortably. The Bell House, on the other hand, with its 25-foot arched ceilings, 450-square-foot stage, and possibly perfect sightlines, can welcome up to 350 at a time, with an additional 150 in the bar in front. (And all on one floor! The things you can do with space in industrial neighborhoods.) Think dark wood, plush curtains, and huge chandeliers. Think also A.C. Newman's sole upcoming performance, on November 16; he did, after all, have his wedding reception at Union Hall last year.

Other shows scheduled so far offer a familiar Union Hall–style mix of smart indie pop and hip comedy: the Lilys and Matt Pond PA Thursday for the grand opening (it's free); Kidz in the Hall on Saturday; Diego Garcia (of Elefant) next week; and the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival from September 25 to 28, bringing all the funny regulars (Showalter, Tisdale, Barry, Galifianakis, Schaal, etc.) together for the weekend. For CMJ, which I can't believe is almost here already, the Bell House has tapped the Rosebuds, Sam Champion, and the Jealous Girlfriends, among others. If the shows don't speak to you, consider taking a seat at the long bar for a local brew—with its vintage-ish wallpaper and Victorian-inspired chairs, the lounge will be open seven nights a week.

While I'm clearly already a fan, expect the usual cries of "There goes the neighborhood" with the Bell House launch—Gowanus is a-changin'. Bar Tano opened a couple blocks up earlier this year, run by the folks behind the Slope's Bar Toto, which was one of my favorites in my old nabe. (I don't like Bar Tano quite as much.) This summer, the Yard—the leafy waterside lot on the Canal—saw a hit with Sunday Best, Justin Carter's chilled-out weekly DJ party. (The Yard's season isn't quite over yet: Jose Gonzalez performs on September 28, in a New York magazine–sponsored event with the Upright Citizens Brigade.) And Turan Kiremitci, of Save the Robots fame, is supposedly opening a nightclub on the same block as the Bell House, although I haven't heard anything about that lately.

The Mugs tune up at the Bell House.
Jay Lajoie
The Mugs tune up at the Bell House.

Later this fall, on Degraw Street between Third and Fourth avenues, an art and performance space called Littlefield is slated to debut. Determined to go green, the 6,200-square-foot warehouse is being renovated in an eco-friendly manner, with sound walls formed from recycled rubber tires and a bar constructed from salvaged bowling-alley lanes; a moveable partition separates the main performance space from the bar/courtyard, and depending on where the partition is placed, capacity will be between 200 and 300. It's also being promoted with a series of ominous and vaguely violent Web videos. (The inevitable comparison is Blair Witch. In the first, shaky camera views of a terrified girl running and screaming are cut with a long, uninterrupted shot of pill bottles, lit candles, and classical music; in the second, substitute a boy for the girl and books for the bottles.) Owners Julie Kim and Scott Koshnoodi want a lineup that's heavy on live music but peppered with film screenings and art installations. My favorite thing about it so far is the dandelion Flash animation on the website—that's right, these days a little dandelion Flash is all it takes to seduce a girl who's about 10 years behind in technology. Check it out at littlefieldnyc.com.

If anyone would appreciate Wednesday night's celebration of music and a performance by comedy pioneer Peter Ivers, it would be the like-minded folks at Union Hall, but they'll all be at the private Bell House opening party. That leaves the rest of us to fill the seats at a 7 p.m. reading at Bowery Electric by Josh Frank and Charlie Buckholtz, from their book In Heaven Everything Is Fine: The Unsolved Life of Peter Ivers and the Lost History of New Wave Theatre. Beloved by pop-culture fanatics, Ivers was a master blues-harmonica player (who jammed with Muddy Waters, among others) and comedic visionary who, in the early 1980s, hosted an L.A.-based music and sketch-comedy cable show called New Wave Theatre—a show that brought together people we now consider cultural icons: comedians John Belushi and Chevy Chase, West Coast punks Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, filmmaker David Lynch. For two years, Ivers's unpredictable interview style increasingly caught Hollywood's attention, even as he was simultaneously gaining popularity as a writer for pop singers like the Pointer Sisters and Diana Ross. But as the book tells us, "The night before collecting his first big paycheck for a movie treatment from Warner Brothers, he was bludgeoned to death in his sleep. The baffling murder was never solved."

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