Wednesday, September 10, 2014

New Gay Bar LOVEGUN Shoots Into Williamsburg This Friday

As Chelsea's gay scene fades into the distance and Hell's Kitchen's blossoms, nightlife fixture Benjamin Maisani and his business partners are taking a chance on a new bar in the bustling but not quite fully gay Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. I caught up with Anderson Cooper's better half to find out why he decided to cross the river this time around, what the boys can expect from his latest venture -- the subtly named LOVEGUN -- and if it was really him I saw eating sweet potato casserole at Boston Market all those years ago.

Great to talk to you, Ben. You've already got your hands in three bars in New York City -- Eastern Bloc, Bedlam and Atlas Social Club -- what made you decide to open a new one in Brooklyn? 
Opening a bar in Williamsburg seemed like a logical step for me and my partners after Eastern Bloc and Bedlam, where a lot of our customers come from that neighborhood. On top of that, there's a relative scarcity of gay bars in Williamsburg, and we felt that there was room for growth in that regard given how many gay guys already live and go out in that part of Brooklyn. Unlike other neighborhoods with a sizable gay community like Hell's Kitchen, Chelsea or even the East Village, Williamsburg isn't saturated with gay bars, which made this project that much more exciting. Finally, there's something quite thrilling about stepping out of Manhattan for the first time after almost 10 years of operating bars there to open shop in Brooklyn: it's such a different environment out there, and it feels like a totally new experience as a result.

What can the Williamsburg boys expect to find at LOVEGUN that they don't get get at Metropolitan and This 'N That? 
I think the main difference between LOVEGUN and the other gay bars in Williamsburg is that our space is quite versatile because of the high ceilings and the width of the main room. There are 2 floors, with a mezzanine overlooking the main area. The semi-private area upstairs is the perfect spot for a bit of people watching, while the floor below offers a great amount of elbow room for dancing and getting down and dirty. Also, we're putting a certain emphasis on our DJ programming, and are planning to have rotating guest DJs on the weekends, to keep things fresh and fun.

You're opening this bar with Pablo Raimondi, Darren Dryden and Chris Canon. You and Darren co-own Eastern Bloc and you co-own Bedlam and Atlas Social Club with Pablo and I believe Josh Wood too at ASC. How do you decide who to partner with on each project? 
Josh is indeed one of the partners at ASC, along with Pablo and Asi Mazar. All three are old friends of mine that I've known for many years, and we had been talking about doing a bar together for years (Josh was one of the people I initially approached about opening Eastern Bloc back in 2005). As you pointed out, Darren and I started Eastern Bloc together nine years ago, and I've been eager to do another bar with him ever since, as I like his style. LOVEGUN marks my third collaboration with Pablo since we opened Bedlam four years ago, he's becoming like my right arm at this point. It's also my first official collaboration with Chris Canon, even though Pablo and I have worked with him since Bedlam (he was the previous owner of that bar who sold it to us and subsequently helped us a great deal during our renovations there, and then at ASC when we were building that bar last summer). I like having partners, it's always nice to share the burden and challenges of running a business with other people, especially with those guys that I've been friends with for over a decade. I've always been told not to go into business with friends, but personally I found the opposite to be true: there's an element of trust that's inherent to such a relationship that makes it very reassuring for me to partner with those guys. Also, we each bring something different to the table, everyone taking care of different aspects of what it takes to operate a bar, and we work well as a team. I keep using the same people that I love and trust on all my bars, but I also like to shake things up a bit by changing the configuration of each partnership: for Eastern Bloc, it's just Darren and me, for Bedlam, it's Pablo and me, for ASC, it's Josh, Asi, Pablo and me, and for LOVEGUN, it's Darren, Pablo, Chris and me. The difference in the make-up behind each bar guarantees that the dynamic is different from one place to the next, which keeps things fresh and prevent all four places from being too similar or feeling stale. I would hate to repeat myself, so I try hard to make each of my bars quite distinct from each other -- starting with the decor -- and having different cooks in the kitchen is just one more way to achieve this.

What are the unique challenges of running a gay bar in New York City? 
I think one of the unique challenges of running a gay bar in NYC has to do with the importance of location. If you think about it, most gays bars tend to be concentrated around a few spots in Manhattan and Brooklyn: Hell's Kitchen primarily, Chelsea -- although that neighborhood as a gay mecca is definitely on the wane -- the East Village, and Williamsburg in Brooklyn. It becomes really tricky to open a gay bar outside of these areas, because by definition such bars are a bit of a niche market, so it makes business sense to stick to a neighborhood that already has a sizable gay community. Because there aren't that many neighborhoods in the city where one can open a gay bar and hope to be successful, location is key, even more so that with a regular bar. It's too bad because I love what I do, and I would like to be able to keep opening gay bars in various spots, but I'm somewhat limited by the reality of this situation. I already have one bar in HK, two in the East Village, and one in Williamsburg, so now I wonder where I'm going to go next. Already Hell's Kitchen feels like it's about to reach saturation point, so I'm very interested in figuring out where the next gay destination in the city will be.

Can we expect anything special on opening night in Brooklyn? 
Opening night on Friday, September 12, is shaping up to be quite a special evening. We're kicking it off with a party for friends and family only with a guest list from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., and then LOVEGUN will be open to all from 11 p.m. with a $5 cover for the launch of Frankie Sharp's weekly party "Girls," which promises to be insane. I think all the celebrities will come during the first part of the evening, and hopefully some will stay when Frankie and his crew bring out the real shenanigans to the dance floor!

And finally, I'm pretty sure you used to be a waiter in the back of Barracuda back when I was a youngster going there all the time. Am I imagining this, or did you and I share an affinity for Boston Market around the corner? 
Yes, I did use to be a waiter at Barracuda a billion years ago, funny that you remember that! Back then I was going to school at Hunter College while working full-time at the Morgan Library, and Barracuda was only a side job that I did on the weekends, not knowing at the time that I would end up making a career out of nightlife! And yes, I did go to that Boston Market on 23rd street -- and still do every once in a while -- as I love me some cheap comfort food!

Thanks, Ben. Sounds like you've got another hit on your hands! 

LOVEGUN is located at 617 Grand Street, within walking distance of the Lorimer Street subway station on the L train


Anonymous said...

If he's looking for a spot for his next bar, why not Connecticut where he and Anderson own a huge mansion?

JimmyD said...

How about in a hood without any gay bars... like... Inwood. Tons of homos up here.