Le Poisson Rouge’s gallery bar has always been a hard sell for dance parties. A tiny art gallery by day, the side room of the Bleecker Street venue often serves as a lounge and break room for those attending shows in the main space. Red ropes and suited bouncers ward off the usual mix of tourists and frat bros that stumble in and out of that particularly heinous strip of bars between 6th Ave. and NYU; LPR is comparatively elegant, in a way, so we weren’t surprised to hear that Props–Rich Medina and Akalepse’s new Wednesday-night weekly soiree, a spin-off of the long-running Lil Ricky’s Rib Shack at APT – had moved in. And tonight, DJ Spinna was the guest.
We got in around midnight to a crowd mostly gathered around the bar. After one $8 beer, the night took a diversion. Hellbent on saving dollars while the party was still slow, we headed across the street to Back Fence, certain that the advertised $3 Bud Lights would make up for whatever shitty band was playing. The two men onstage were playing Beatles covers–not nearly as miserable as we’d feared, though we can’t say the same for the clientele. (I haven’t felt so brown in a very, very long time.)
Meanwhile, the older male bartender refused to acknowledge our presence–the only two women at the mostly empty bar. A group of Marines in dress uniform were the focus instead, as the handful of button-downs insisted on buying all their drinks. The only two women in the room (besides us) sat on laps and giggled, a Marine’s cap atop the one’s very blond head. “We’re here for Fleet Week,” one Marine told us as we waited to be served. “They sent us here to show people that we’re fun. We don’t just blow shit up, you know?” The bartender gave him a shot of tequila and a beer on the house. We waited. Another Marine approached and accused us of giving him “goo-goo eyes” . . . really, we were staring in awe at the wasted girl playing air guitar to “Hotel California.” By the time we finally ordered–thanks to a waitress who walked by–we were ready to leave the drinks and run.
Back across the street at LPR, the vibe was markedly different. What had been a lounge-y hangout just an hour before had turned into a full-fledged dance battle. A circle of breakdancers is usually a DJ’s worst enemy, but here it felt right. DJ Spinna was on the decks now, playing a mix of jazz and funky house while Medina and Akalepse melded in with their party-goers. The entire scene had a house-party feel, including a couple doing an elaborate salsa routine, a group of girls dancing on benches, and some endearingly uncoordinated folk who seemed embarrassed to admit they had “taken the L into the city.”
It’s obvious that this crowd isn’t solely from the duo’s APT days. “We’re bringing it back to the basics,” Medina tells us, going on to explain that they’ve been handing out flyers on the street. It’s a practice that’s dead for most DJs, and even club promoters–especially of his stature. It’s never apparent that Medina knows how well respected he is–in fact, he spent most of our short chat raving about Akalepse (“He’s the top of the food chain, just not rated yet”). Every few minutes, someone walks up to the booth to say hello–some old friends, others long-time patrons, a few just happy fans. “I believe in being very nice to the people who come to my church,” he says. “Then when they go to the street, they preach my gospel for me.”