On Thursday afternoon, the New York Times announced that the owners of Glasslands, the beloved Williamsburg DIY venue forced to close in 2014, are opening a new space, Elsewhere, this fall. Glasslands was one of three such venues felled by Vice‘s buyout of a building on Kent Avenue, and each had a distinct identity: Death by Audio offered an expanded version of the sweaty basement punk show; 285 Kent was a raw, empty box where literally anything could (and did) happen; and Glasslands felt like a dreamworld, full of protean installation art and with a booking policy that was wonderfully agnostic as to genre and audience.
The announcement of Elsewhere was met with widespread excitement, not least because it signaled the survival of a piece of the Brooklyn music scene thought to be irrevocably lost. The new venue is a continuation of the philosophy that guided Glasslands, though in very different form. Elsewhere is bigger, and it’s also a 100 percent above-the-board proposition — a DIY ghost in a by-the-books machine. To find out more about this surprising new chapter in the Brooklyn music scene, the Voice spoke by phone to Jake Rosenthal, a co-owner of both venues, about the origins of Elsewhere, its relationship to Glasslands, and exactly how the hell you’re supposed to keep a venue open amid New York’s absurd real estate climate.
When did you decide to go forward with this big-venue idea?
[Elsewhere co-owner] Rami [Haykal] and I started having conversations about a new space in the summer of 2012. It was open-ended and off-the-cuff. It started getting more real in 2013 when Dhruv [Chopra], who had spent time at Glasslands, offered to formalize the advisory role he was playing unofficially and join the team as a partner. We knew we wanted a bigger space and started mapping out how that would work from a business perspective.
What made the search so drawn out?
In a lease negotiation like that, with the size of space we wanted, negotiations are really in depth because the landlord knows you’ll be working together for a long time, so it’s a very long process. We’d get emotionally invested in a space, and for some reason an impasse would get reached and the whole thing would fall apart. We learned to keep looking for more spaces, even if we were having a good conversation.
It sounds like it was a lot of learn-as-you-go, since you hadn’t had to do this with Glasslands.
It was. Now we know this is just a normal part of negotiating a lease of that length, especially if you’re dealing with someone who takes their property really seriously, and we wanted to find someone like that. Everyone says they want an easygoing landlord, but there’s no telling how it will play out if they’re like that.
You want what amounts to a fair lease, and that’s what we learned with Glasslands. We had signed the lease there because we were young — I was 24 and Rami was 23 — and so excited that we even had the opportunity to run a venue. We didn’t know what we were doing, not that we’re experts now, but we were doing our best. We didn’t have the resources to have it looked over [by a professional], and so we ended with a lease that was really difficult.
Our experience has taught us that real estate in New York operates at this higher level that a creative space of any scale has absolutely no hope of influencing or protecting itself from. You just get a lease and hold on for dear life. It’s like the Titanic.
So you had gone into this thinking you’d be running the venues concurrently. At what point did you learn you were losing Glasslands?
It was July of 2014 and we found out from the media — we read a story on Gothamist or something — that Vice was moving into our building. We hit up our landlord to ask what the hell was going on.
Did that totally mess up your whole plan?
When we found out Glasslands would vanish, we didn’t want this larger venue floating by itself; that was contrary to our vision. [At Glasslands] we were trying to build somewhere where we take chances on artists who are on the ground level. The idea of Elsewhere was to build a bigger space so that, once we form those relationships, we can keep supporting an artist in a bigger room. It was clear that if we wanted this new thing to work, we would have to add another smaller space to what we were building already. We didn’t want to lose our connection to emerging music. And luckily we had great investors who were willing to support that.
It’s notoriously difficult to open a venue in New York. What’s been hard for you so far?
The process in general is incredibly difficult to do at a large, proper scale. Construction is expensive. Permitting and licensing is caught up in so much red tape, I think some people would argue unnecessarily. On the other hand, you can look at it and say: This is the reason buildings don’t fall down very often here. It’s a real pain in the ass, but at least it’s not rife with corruption and falling buildings.
At Glasslands the philosophy was to do what you want and apologize later. When you’re doing something from the ground up, you have to do things painstakingly by the book so that you can open successfully and stick around. But I think the positive takeaway here is that, as much as people say New York is still a big pain in the ass, at least you can still [open a venue] here. For us that has been a dream. We didn’t have to make too many compromises. We just had to be really patient.
People really, really loved Glasslands, and that’s been the source of a lot of the excitement around your opening a new venue. How are you bringing that feel to Elsewhere? I saw you said you’re not spending a lot on “interior design,” but that was a big part of what made Glasslands great.
What I meant was we’re not splurging on fancy wallpapers or trying to cover up the rawness of the building. We’re more focused on what you referenced, re-creating the visual art and creative community that made Glasslands awesome. It wasn’t [painted] drywall; it was a slow process of artists adding layers to the space organically over a long period of time. You can’t create that artificially; it speaks to the layers of people who came in and out of Glasslands while it was open. It was a permeable community.
So how had you gotten involved, since you’re not artists?
We started working there because the original founders — Brooke Baxter and Rolyn Hu — were nice enough to let us do that. They gave us a sandbox, when we were only 21, to throw parties and experiment. It’s not a kind of generosity you forget, and we want to pass that feeling on at Elsewhere. Yes, it’s a business, because it has to be, but it’s also something anyone can add to and contribute to. It’s as much the community’s as it is ours.
What are you most nervous about, other than the fact that you’re still not open yet?
One of the big things we’re trying to do with the venue is [making] that friends-and-family art effort on a bigger scale at Elsewhere. We want it to be a seasonally rotated, commissioned art program that will fit alongside the art as a second pillar. We think we’ve found ways to make both the artists and the musicians happy in how they dovetail. But that’s unknown and it’s an experiment, and it’s what we like doing — experimenting. We didn’t want to just build another box; we knew we wanted to try something new, but in trying something new it’s always a little nerve-racking.