What’s the recipe for turning a gloomy neighborhood dive into a shiny new queer bar and performance space? “Close down for three days, paint, reopen, and stop serving free pizza,” says DJ/promoter/music producer Larry Tee, one of the VIPs at last week’s opening of
Sugarland (221 North 9th Street, Brooklyn). Formerly Capone’s, a bar known for its free pizza and dark decor, the new Sugarland is an immaculate, spacious venue with plans to tear out the pizza ovens to install a larger stage. And therein lies the controversy: performance or pizza—which do Williamsburg’s gays need more?
The crowd—attractive local hipsters, artists, club kids, and even a few yuppies—was torn. “The skinny Williamsburg hipster fags need the carbs,” griped Earl Dax, a promoter and performance-art curator. Some wished for a happy medium. “In a perfect world . . . ” sighed a man in a harlequin get-up with sad, wistful eyes. Justin Bond (of Kiki & Herb) found the solution: “I’ve done performance where I strapped a pizza to me and then served it to the audience.”
Troy Carson, the bar’s manager (and co-owner of the ‘Burg’s other gay haunt, Metropolitan), said the neighborhood needed a queer performance space, and he’s programmed a one-hour live-music show for Wednesdays and Fridays. “Metropolitan is a great hangout, but Sugarland is a destination for activities—dance parties and performances, things you don’t have at Metro.” Over six feet tall in a black wig and red cocktail dress, Carson christened the stage on opening night as the lead singer of Basic Black and the Off-Whites. The group did numbers ranging from original rock and dance songs to an ABBA cover, while spectators crowded the stage, clapping and swaying to lines like “Boys like to wear girls’ pants, girls like to wear boys’ pants.”
In fact, the boys at this place don’t like to wear pants at all. In a fashion move epitomizing how the spot is polishing the surfaces of dirty, divey fun, waiters clad handsomely in dress shirts and ties on top and undies below meandered dutifully with drink trays (beer starts at $4, and well cocktails at $5) through the sprawling, multilevel space. The lowest level consists of two semi-private alcoves lined with banquettes, shrouded enough for a pair of boys to ravage each other in public without appearing tacky. A seat here puts you at eye level with the calves of the dancers on the main floor, a rainbow of Chuck Taylors providing a tinge of Technicolor to the wall of black skinny jeans. The upper level looks out over the dance floor and is laid out saloon style, with a long wooden bar and wall lanterns. The narrow smokers’ roof was more crowded than the rest of the bar all night, but the perk for those inside was the window along the roof’s benches, providing a superb view of the smokers’ behinds.
With all of Sugarland’s assets—a beautifully designed space, inexpensive drinks, a spotlight on budding performers, and all-around positive energy—are Williamsburgers ready to switch from their beloved dive Metropolitan and call this place home? By 2 a.m., Dax suggested heading to that regular late-night spot. Asked a cutie within earshot: “What’s Metro?”