The announcement that some musicians from the Midwest were opening a Greenpoint bar called Lake Street after a major thoroughfare in Minneapolis got some mixed reactions online. Comments ran the gamut from “Let me guess, it will also feature pickled vegetables and an ‘old-timey’ theme with Edison bulbs and exposed brick?” to instructions on how to be Minnesota nice and pleas for nice Minnesotan men. A few homesick commenters were stoked while other proud New Yorkers told the owners to go back where they (expletive) came from. The person came the closest to the truth, however, wrote: “Isn’t Williamsburg/Greenpoint already Midwestern? The whole area is full of transient transplants.”
That phenomenon was something Stevie Howlett, one of Lake Street’s co-owners–along with drummer Bobby Drake of the Hold Steady, bassists Eric Odness of the Wanted and Rob Pope of Spoon, and Frank Bevan of Minneapolis outfit Freedom Fighters–observed when he started working alongside Odness at Franklin Street bar Veronica People’s Club a few years ago. “I noticed a lot of the IDs I was checking were from the Midwest, so I figured there was definitely room for a Midwest-themed-type bar,” he says, especially since Park Slope’s Great Lakes had closed and Burnside in Williamsburg was, in Howlett’s opinion, “too homogenized.”
When a storefront on the ground floor of Odness’ apartment building opened up in December, there was actually room in Greenpoint for Howlett’s idea. After six months of planning and construction, Lake Street officially opened on July 9th. Though four-fifths of the owners are from flyover country (Howlett is originally from Ireland), and the bar offers Michigan brew Founder’s on tap and Old Dutch potato chips and salted nut rolls shipped from Minneapolis, Odness is quick to point out that there’s not a lot about Lake Street that’s obviously Midwestern–you won’t find taxidermied deer heads or Big Buck Hunter.
“It wasn’t aesthetic,” says Odness, sporting a “no doy” tattoo across his forearm and drinking Coors Light out of a whisky glass. “We wanted to recreate the spirit of [the Midwest]. Adds Howlett, “It’s like a home away from home.” The other week, a flight attendant from Minneapolis took a cab into New York City to spend part of her 12-hour layover at Lake Street because she heard about it through word of mouth. “We didn’t even have a Minnesota beer to offer her,” Odness laments.
This communal feeling extends to the mutual friendships that brought the bar owners together sometime last year. Drake, who knew Bevan and Odness–and through the latter, Howlett–from the tight-knit Minneapolis music scene, became interested in the project. “I’m getting older and I wanted to have some kind of… not nest egg, but rock and roll– being in a band for 10 years, you can’t do that forever,” he says. After Drake’s girlfriend introduced him to Kansas City native Pope, Drake brought him on board, too.
“The drummer’s like the quarterback or the catcher,” Drake says. “You can see everyone, envision it, and put the pieces together.” As with a band, or a sports team, each member has his role. Odness and Howlett, the only two with previous bar experience, bartend; Bevan, the only one with a nine-to-five job, doesn’t have time for much more than the paperwork (plus, “he’s a lot smarter than the rest of us,” says Odness); Pope is also a “numbers guy”; and Drake, a trained auto mechanic, does everything else. Together, the ragtag team of musicians and one “non-band dude” pretty much built Lake Street. They cleared out bags and bags of garbage leftover from former tenants, scraped plaster from the exposed brick wall, and laid bathroom tiles. Then, they put the finishing touches: accents like bar and table tops lifted from an old New Jersey bowling lane, wall sconces made out of oxygen tanks, and hanging lights that used to be floor toms.
Like its Midwest ethos, Lake Street’s music presence is subtle. The owners have no plans for live music or dancing–“like in Footloose,” Drake says, they’re determined to keep it “a bar bar”–but they stay busy enough playing with their bands, curating the house iPod, and introducing Howlett to American music like Queens of the Stone Age. There’s also a curious homage to the Minneapolis music scene in one of the bathrooms, which is wallpapered with notebook entries from photographer and roadie Hiro Tanaka. A friend of Bevan’s from home, Tanaka learned English on the road with bands like Cursive and Minus the Bear. With translations like “too much cheese on the taco = yeast infection” and “‘Motherfuck!’ = oh shit,” his tour diary makes for brilliant bathroom reading.
“It’s the little things,” Drake says, “but they’re important.” At the end of our time together, a confession: there is one piece of taxidermy: “a weird little stuffed clown,” hidden in the brick near the bathrooms. “You have to go looking for it,” he says–kind of like looking for the Midwest in Lake Street.
Lake Street is located at 706 Manhattan Avenue. For more information, you can visit their website here.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 18, 2013