Peter Shapiro has a lot on his plate. At 39, he is already the veteran ofthe 1990s jam club Wetlands, which he took over at 23, and the successful Brooklyn Bowl, a combination concert venue, casual dining restaurant, and bowling alley, located on Williamsburg’s east side. (He also owns Port Chester’s recently-reopened 1,800-seat Capitol Theatre.) On a recent evening, the avuncular and effusive Shapiro was sitting, along with partner James Habacker, amongst the buzz of his latest project, a revamp of Lower East Side burlesque palace The Slipper Room.
“The Slip,” as Shapiro calls it, is located at Orchard and Stanton. A home for burlesque, stand-up comedy and the occasional concert, it was a much-loved if not always much-visited Lower East Side outpost. Essential a rectangle with a relatively low ceiling, Habacker (long one its primary investors and managers) admits now that the sightlines were poor, which made it difficult for it put on a good show for the 200 people it could theoretically hold. When it closed for renovations in 2010, it looked like it might have slipped off into the great beyond for good.
But in fact its building was razed to the ground and then built up again. The new Slipper Room, tentatively set to open in October, is a glorious reinterpretation of classic mid-19th Century European opera houses, complete with fleur-de-lis wallpaper, sumptuous purple banquettes, and a soaring stage that Habacker and Shapiro plan to use for acrobatic burlesque performances. It now occupies the second and third floors of the building, and an oyster bar from Rob Shamlian (the man behind Spitzer’s Corner and Mason Dixon) will be on the ground floor. By doing the designing themselves and relying on the performers to do the grunt work, Shapiro and Habacker say renovation costs were kept to the mid-six figures, an paltry sum given the impression of luxury created.
The room will likely put visitors in mind of another LES burlesque venue, Simon Hammerstein’s The Box, located just around the corner on Chrystie Street. The Slipper Room team credits it to a similar source of inspiration more than anything. “It’s classic French opera house,” says Habacker. “I would have had this from the beginning, but we didn’t have the backing.”
The differences will largely be down to booking and atmosphere. The Box cultivates a late-night air of exclusivity and debauchery — on a recent evening, instead of asking the crowd to make some noise, the emcee of their burlesque show told them to start fucking each other, and then went on to give some detailed suggestions. But The Slipper Room’s burlesque will focus more on entertainment and comedy.
Shapiro plans to book small performances by bands for the early evening, roughly similar to the roots music and acoustic performances of the Rockwood Music Hall, and which tend to dominate the booking at his other venues.
“I stopped calling Peter crazy a long time ago,” says Habacker. “When you came and told me you were going to open a giant bowling alley in Williamsburg with big screen TVs and stuff, you left, and James Kenny, the doorman and I were like, “What is he talking about? He’s going to do what?” But look at it now.”