A brand new “DIY done-right” venue, as booker Nelson Antonio Espinal calls it, has been operating (at half-capacity anyway) in the J train’s shadow these past few weeks, while most of us probably had no idea. The secretive new operation, aptly called The Gateway, is located just off the Gates Avenue stop on the Bed-Stuy side of Broadway. Late nights, it’s pretty quiet around here, save for a Crown Chicken knockoff, a newish vegan diner called Toad Style, and the twice-a-weekend shows at Bohemian Grove, just north on the Bushwick side of the border.
The Gateway’s buildout transformed the space that belonged to St. Lucian Paradise bar into a vibey, two-floor, rock n’ roll kind of place. While the four guys running the show are certainly not short on ambitions of their own, owner Ned Shatzer says their goal isn’t to replace one scene with another. “For us to just come in and be like, ‘We’re some hip white kids moving to the neighborhood and you guys are never coming back here— you don’t know it now, but…’ We couldn’t do that. It’d be impossible.”
Outside, you might mistake The Gateway for any number of gentrification-wave bars or restaurants– establishments that cheekily maintain the old signage belonging to the positively quaint place that stood before. There’s even an old banner: “Paradise Karaoke, Every Thursday 8pm – 2 am.” This, especially, gives you the feeling that the former tenants maybe weren’t ready to leave. But, according to Ned, the owner of the bar (a guy from, as you might expect, Saint Lucia) “sort of ran the place into the ground” after 16 years. “Actually, we’re going to continue doing an Island party here. Back in the day, they used to have one on Sundays and for some reason— [the owner’s] brother got sick or something— he stopped doing a bunch of stuff here.”
When Ned was closing a deal on the lease, the owner invited him to Paradise’s going-away party. “It was packed down here, and I got introduced to everyone,” Ned recalled. He listened as many Paradise regulars bemoaned the loss of the regular Sunday night party. So the Gateway crew decided to connect with the former DJs and get it going again. “We’re gonna keep karaoke as well– it was a big turnout here, actually, for the locals and whatnot. We’re trying to make it so everyone can integrate, if possible. [Once we opened up] the owner and his friends came to watch the bands and stuff, and that was awesome. They sat up here, hung out. It was cool. The Island folks– they’re not just into one particular thing either, they’re super open-minded and open-armed really, there’s lots of good energy.”
Ned promises that as soon as they’ve finished the downstairs renovations, the Sunday night party and karaoke will be restored at The Gateway. “People stop by all the time and ask, like, ‘What’s going on with karaoke on Thursdays?’ We’re going to get it up as soon as possible. Really, we’re trying.”
But for now, the upstairs is hopping with rock shows steadily picking up from the venue’s baseline booking of three solid nights a week. Ned admitted that “the signage eventually is gonna change,” but that, for now, they’re focusing on finishing the interior. “We haven’t even really been reaching out about shows because we haven’t had the time– right now it’s a word-of-mouth situation, that’s gonna change too,” he said. “We’ve just been working our asses off. We don’t come from money, so we’re putting a lot of blood and sweat and tears into this thing.”
The partners (including Rob Granata, frontman of electro-punk band The Makeout Club) came together– no investors at their back (“It’s four dudes and a dream, that’s what I like to say,” Nelson laughed)– all with different skill sets. I met three of them on Saturday, all besides the missing partner, a Brooklyn-based DJ, Thierry Laurent.
“I came in with a little bit of money, and this is my team,” Ned explained. “I’ve known these guys for years and we all have a similar aesthetic and ideas about what we’re trying to accomplish with the scene, we’re trying to integrate with other people.”
Nelson is the 20-year-old wunderkind booking all the shows. “I know these cats through Rob,” Nelson explained– the two were co-workers at Mominette, a French spot in Bushwick. “Our buddy Thierry– who basically did all the electrical shit in here, the craftsmen stuff– we used to get fuckin’ drunk all the time, so we’ve been homies for years now. Ned was telling me he wanted to open a space and he wanted me to come on and book shows and stuff like that.”
Ned interrupted: “Actually, he’s downplaying it a lot.” The owner remembered calling up Nelson and asking him if he’d like to take over booking for Thursdays. “Within two hours he had every show for October for his days booked– I was like, ‘Fuck, go ahead and see what you can do to fill out the rest of the month, let’s just start with Thursday, Friday, Saturday.’ I think in 48 hours he had 17 shows booked, with four bands each night, and within another day we were at like 23 fully-booked shows for October. Then I was like, ‘Alright you’re the guy– everyone talks to you.'”
Guess that means if you’re trying to line up a show, look no further than Nelson. “He’s a young dude– to be honest, this definitely wasn’t how it was going to happen,” Ned said. “But it’s great. We need that young energy.”
Nelson’s taste veers more toward the garage and punk ends of the spectrum (“gnarly rock n’ roll bands”) but he and the rest are committed to having as diverse a lineup as possible, not wanting to pigeonhole The Gateway as serving any one scene. “Rob plays in a disco punk band, so we’re trying to have more eletro stuff, DJs,” Nelson explained. “We’ll have dance parties too,” Rob chimed in. “We also want to have less set things and more, like, ‘just come hang out and have fun.’ We’re also gonna be doing drag shows, everything– it’s gonna be two levels, so there will be different things going on on each floor once we get the downstairs going.”
The cool thing about the second floor is the smoking deck at the rear, complete with a raggedy couch and a large mural on the side of the building: a geometric take on an Ancient Greek visage. “We’ll allow people to come in and have access to both floors, no matter what they’re here to see, especially because the outdoor area is where everyone loves to go,” Ned explained.
So far, The Gateway has hosted a trap party (Ned described is as “our first big-ass show”) and a number of punk shows. Last Saturday, “Million to Juan” featured Flower Girl, a frenetic garage band that contributed a fun, sing-a-long rock vibe and Sister Flowerz aka Florencia Zaballa an Argentinian pop singer, who channels Os Mutantes and April Olson. She sweetly in Spanish while pumping away on the pedals of her electric organ, adding a cute/creepy vibe.
All of the guys say they have experience in the DIY scene, in so far as being a regular patron is considered experience. “We’ve been going to those shows our whole existence in New York, and for me the last 15 years I’ve been here,” explained Ned, a Baltimore native and former male model. “We were just like– ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ We love music, we’re surrounded by all these cool artists, and we just had this opportunity so we jumped on it.”
They each have close ties to the neighborhood, too. Ned has been living in Brooklyn, steadily migrating outward since the early aughts. “I lived in Williamsburg and have been getting slowly pushed out to more affordable housing,” he recalled. “I moved to the DeKalb stop seven years ago, and I’ll probably be moving closer to here.”
Robert lives up the street. “It’s cool to see the neighborhood get a bunch of crazy new places,” he said.
Nelson, who currently plays in a band called Stuyedeyed, might have the closest ties to the neighborhood. “I grew up on Fulton and Marcus Garvey,” and he still lives close by, he said. “When I found out where this place was I was like– ‘Fuck yeah, I’d love to help open up a place in my neighborhood.’”
The Gateway was birthed from a desire to help revive what Ned feared was a dying DIY scene. “Shit was cool when there was Death by Audio, 285 Kent, Glasslands,” he said. “That’s part of the reason why we opened this, to keep that stuff alive. And to be honest, at that point it made sense for it to close because no one was trying to go over there, because it’s like, ‘What am I going to do after the show?’ Like, ‘I look like an asshole. I can’t hang out here.'” Ned says he was also inspired by a nearby venue, Bohemian Grove. “I walked in there and I was like, ‘Yes, this is fucking great. Just a bunch of people hanging out, having fun, doing cool shit.” Everyone else seemed to agree.
Ned added: “We’re gonna be doing collaborations with a lot of people, we’re not just like, ‘It’s just us and fuck everyone else– we’re fuckin’ cool!’ But no, we’re not fuckin’ cool. We’re, like, artists. We’re all just trying to do the same thing.”
The four guys managed to agree on a style, too. Ned pulled up photos of the Dario Argento film, Suspiria, on his phone. “It’s this Italian flick,” he said. And they did a pretty damn good job of echoing the saturated blues and reds, contrasted by jet black and slightly glimmering golds emerging from the shadows. There’s also faux stained-glass window above the bar, a homemade replica of the one in the movie. Velvety-cushioned walls line the narrow benches along the wall with a few scattered table tops and chairs. But the main attraction, of course, is whatever’s happening on stage.
You won’t find any fancy cocktails there now, but they’re hoping to eventually have a fully-functioning bar on the first level once a liquor license flutters through their window. Though there’s a limit, of course. “It’s not gonna be like the West Village in Bed-Stuy,” Ned laughed. “People would be like, ‘What the fuck is this place? Who do they think they are? $14 cocktails, what?!'”
If you need a little convincing to get to The Gateway, consider that most of the shows have been (and will continue to be, at least until the word gets out) free, including a Halloween show (The Gateway’s Haunted Mansion) with an extensive lineup including High Waisted, The Makeout Club, Low Mein, Young Runner, and more. “A lot of the stuff we’re doing right now is free, it just works better for us,” Ned said. Rob pointed out it’s also ideal for the bands. “From my experience of being in a band, you’d rather play to a packed room than charge $8 and try and talk ten of your friends into coming to see you. If it’s free, all your friends can come,” he said.
The Gateway is located at 1272 Broadway in Bed-Stuy. Check their site for upcoming shows.