The Lower East Side venue Cake Shop has been on a desperate mission to keep its doors open. Staring into the pending end of their original 10-year lease, and owing back rent, higher-than-expected taxes, and other fines, the cafe-slash-rock club started up a fundraising drive on PlegeMusic.com in May. The drive ended on Monday, August 6, and the club successfully reached its goal, raising more than $22,000.
“We would’ve liked to have made 250% of that, to be able to really pay off everything and move forward,” says co-owner Nick Bodor. “But for now, that was the piece we needed, some leverage to go into the negotiations with the landlord on the new lease.” They still owe their landlord about $20,000 in addition to other expenses, but the fundraiser gave them the hope and incentive—not to metnion the straight-up cash—to stay open.
Debates over the utility of fundraising sites like PledgeMusic.com and Kickstarter have widened as they’ve gained popularity. To some, using these sites amounts to straight-up begging; to others it’s the new paradigm for arts funding in America. “Who knows,” says Bodor. “For us, it was a last-ditch effort. But it worked to get us money. But also, it kind of gave us more legitimacy, and a lot of publicity. The publicity might’ve been the most important part about it. Summer is usually a slow time for bars around town, but July was great for us. There were way more people at shows, and a lot of them said they came down because they heard about the financial troubles and wanted to support us.”
In contrast to behind-closed-doors phone calls to a moneyed benefactor, the PledgeMusic campaign brought the club’s plight into the open, making casual patrons reflect on the importance of having a true DIY-sprung club still survive in the ever-richer L.E.S. “It helped us get other people to loan more, too,” Bodor says. “And we’re hoping to make some small improvements to the club too, like new furniture.”
Even if Cake Shop’s money problems are slightly alleviated for a minute, ongoing problems with the city’s often nebulous legal demands remain. Its stage is in the basement, so it’s mostly been able to avoid the noise complaints that have increasingly plagued other neighborhood bars. But the club was forced to hire security in order to keep people from loitering out front and hold back peeved patrons with unusable IDs who might want to sneak in. Recently, the city has insisted that foreign identification is not a legitimate way for bouncers to deduce whether patrons will make age-restricted cut.
“I can’t honestly say on the record that that is a law on the books,” says Bodor, “but [city officials have] been telling us that, and we’ve had to abide by it.” This seems insane, since the percentage of any given gaggle walking around the L.E.S. on a Friday night is probably about 50% tourists. Yeah,” Bodor agrees, “it’s weird, but I think the word has gotten out that if you’re from another country, bring your passport and not a drivers license or whatever. But yeah, it’s hard. Like, recently we had this 10-piece band from Mexico called Husky. They were obviously all over 21, and the crowd that was going to come down to see them was going to include a lot of Mexicans. And suddenly the band was, like, desperately calling friends at 10:30 telling them to remember to bring their passports. It’s weird, but we’ve tried to enforce that stuff fairly.
“That’s what has been odd about this whole experience,” Bodor opines. “We feel like we’ve had to become this, like, public education committee on bar rules. But we know more now about how to keep the place open, and we’re really invigorated!”