When we consider the strengths of a new restaurant, we often speak of “cohesion.” Every chef or restaurateur will tell you that it’s a quality they hope to nail on day one, but the reality of achieving it is often not in the cards. The front-of-the-house team must move seamlessly with the kitchen, the décor complement the menu, the wine pair with what’s on the plate. The same could be said of art mediums: Mix comedy, cocktails, theater, and music in one evening and pray that some sort of magical alchemy pulls them all together.
A group called Nightcap Riot is bravely attempting this creative union by offering “The Total Night Out,” which seeks to answer the question, “What happens when the hospitality, theater, and music worlds collide in revolutionary fashion?” They ask guests (limited to fifty per evening at $50 a ticket) to invest in an immersive experience — when the doors close for the night, they close, and no one comes in or goes out until the last performance is over.
On opening night this past Friday, the roster included stand-up comedian Jeffrey Gurian, kombucha tastings and a tutorial by Rich Awn of Mombucha (who provided the space), cocktails designed by Marta mixologist Jon L. ($5 each), an hour-long adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s The Man of Destiny presented by director Bruce Levitt and writer Jim Knable, a tea ceremony, and music by JC Brooks & the K.I.D.
It’s a lot to fit into one night. And since it was the very first performance of Nightcap Riot’s very first event as a company, there are obvious kinks to work out. But it’s a concept worth building on.
With degrees in hospitality and theater in hand, producer Ariel Nichole Reid and artistic director Alex Gruhin observe a plethora of hotels, wineries, breweries, and food/beverage businesses whose windows grow dark during the evening hours. On the flip side, they knew plenty of struggling artists looking for spaces, spending thousands of dollars on dingy black-box theaters. “We thought, there’s synergy here,” Gruhin tells the Voice. So the team worked to build a concept that brings people in the hospitality and art worlds together. “We wanted people to be excited about the idea of creating an artistic ecosystem,” he says.
The result was to focus on what they call “hospitable entertainment.”
To start, they needed to find a space, which is where Awn came in. He opened Mombucha in a far corner of Greenpoint in 2013 and quickly realized he only really needed half of the space for his production. He set his sights on creating “a shared community space that could become a second living room for locals. Something that was interesting, fun, and unique. We decided to design a weird structure, instead of just a glass window front, that would be interesting enough that people would be knocked over when they walked by.” In the future, he hopes to make the front space usable for yoga classes, regular arts events, and a daily café offering kombucha and local pastries. But the space hadn’t quite been ready, until now.
Nightcap embraced the limitations of the small space, including the fact that much of the design and construction implementation would continue into the eleventh hour of preparation.
With only 1,000 square feet to work with and artists with varying needs, they set up several different presentation spaces. The audience is herded from one side of the room to another during the evening. “We got lucky that we work with people who think similarly and are excited to collaborate this way,” Gruhin says. “Rich is flexible, funky, and an ideas man.”
Awn, though, is primarily a kombucha brewer, and his role as the beverage provider turned out to be a boon. He grew up drinking the fermented stuff with his mother, who made her own and credited the robust health and energy of her children to their regular consumption. Awn’s Mombucha is “a super-premium, nano-brewed product using the most fancy ingredients that we can find,” like maple syrup from a small producer in upstate New York instead of sugar. Awn sources every ingredient to strict standards and innovates production with modular, movable equipment. He can brew eighty gallons of nutrient-dense kombucha in the small space in just one week.
On the evening we visited, kombucha served as the base for cocktails ($5 each) by John Livanos, the beverage director for Union Square Hospitality Group’s Marta. The Molto Sbagliato was a refreshing negroni variation with elderberry Mombucha, sweet vermouth, and prosecco; the Gingermint Swizzle simply combined Gingermint Mombucha with hard cider; and the Black López had black cocoa Mombucha dancing with pineapple juice, Coco López, and grated nutmeg.
To Awn, kombucha fits in perfectly with the idea of community space and artistic synergy. “The literal culture that makes kombucha — the growing, living thing — is a metaphor for the company and the combined activity going on in our space. So that’s what the correlation between kombucha and Nightcap Riot is: business in the back, party in the front!”
Their party-concept details are constantly in flux; should they scrap the closed-door policy and encourage more comfortable wandering, given the small space? Does the crowd need a program that outlines the evening in its entirety, rather than one just for the theater portion? How can food and water be available at all times, rather than just for the opening mixer? And how can they convey the cool quirks of the space to their guests (such as the fact that the flooring was repurposed from the Roseland Ballroom)?
Hospitality tweaks aside, there’s talent to be found at Nightcap Riot. Gurian’s performance was wry and dry and plucked some local truisms that warmed the crowd. The fifty-minute Destiny and the Little Man was strongly acted on all fronts and smartly directed. The players smoothly navigated the tavern-like setting and demanded attention in the best kind of way (we’ve all seen enough odd-space theater in this city to know that this could have gone in an embarrassing direction). Gruhin and his group were friendly and accommodating throughout the night. The experience felt a bit awkward, but it was fun.
When you throw several dozen artists and fifty enthusiastic guests together in a small space, the challenges could become insurmountable. If you get to Nightcap Riot, embrace the cacophony and do as they instruct: “Throw the ingredients into a copper still. Heat until 78 degrees Celsius. Add more libations — sensational Brooklyn cocktails. Let mix and mingle all night long.”
Nightcap Riot plays Thursday–Saturday until February 14. Tickets and more information at www.NigthcapRiot.com.