It’s true that one of the saddest sights in the world is a lifeless party struck down by under-attendance. We’ve all been there, at some point, and the sorry scene is always the same: a mostly empty room forms into a joy-sucking vacuum, where laughter feels forced and boozing looks like desperate denial. But nightlife veterans know that parties too big for their britches can be just as bad, and that even great parties will start losing their collective spirit as more and more people pack it in.
Rich Awn, the kombucha-brewing nightlife devotee behind Magick City, embraces the many benefits of throwing dance parties, live music, and other performance happenings in a remarkably small DIY “community space.”
“Seventy to 80 people is sort of the sweet spot for us,” he explained. “But it’s 70 to 80 of just, I dunno– sympathetic, radical, clued-in people. And I don’t think it’s because we’re curating the guest list.” Having such a small space tends to attract regulars, but it also seems to have a strong gravitational pull on friends– meaning, it’s unlikely you will have to suffer the awkward Tinder-date conversations of strangers and posey stink-eyed size-ups of hangers-on.
And Magick City–named after the 1966 Sun Ra album with an occultish twist– has only just started revving its engine. Awn actually first started leasing the place, located on Box Street just a few steps from the Greenpoint waterfront, as a homebase for his kombucha brewing operation, Mombucha. He transformed the greasy garage-turned-spice-packing-warehouse into a spacious industrial kitchen– but it was maybe a little too spacious. “Shit, I have all this extra room,” Rich recalled realizing. He decided to grow the space into a collective kitchen of sorts, where independent chefs and specialty food operations could not only share the equipment and cost, but exchange ideas and host meals and cookouts together.
Rich described the outcome as an “kitchen incubator,” but it’s unlike any of the much more clean-cut, straightforward incubators that have popped up all over Brooklyn in recent years– at Magick City, the kitchen is not only open and visible from the funkier venue part, but intrinsic to the party space, where a coffee bar can serve as a DJ booth and a bar. Meanwhile the kitchen houses merch tables and spillover hangouts during music get-togethers. It also feels more open and accessible than, say, the old Pfizer building in Bed-Stuy, which houses a multitude of food startups and restaurant test kitchens, but feels like you might need a special permit to get inside (you don’t). Every Friday afternoon, Magick City serves a free lunch that is open to the public. Imagine a free Hare Krishna meal, but without the Hare Krishnas.
Technically, Magick City opened its doors at the end of 2013, back when parties were once-in-a-blue-moon type affairs. But the relatively sluggish process of becoming a more active venue meant that Rich had time to piece together a party place that has soul, and much more going for it than just ad-hoc egress.
Hanging lamps bathe the place in lilac, blue, and warm yellows and orange. The wooly grey theater curtains were plucked from a school surplus store. They make for warm acoustics and a cozy, almost living-room-like atmosphere where it’s possible not only to hear a friend mid-show, but feel close to other conversations going on around you. “It’s like being inside a pair of headphones,” Rich said. The floors also feel accessible and lived-in, and when I stopped by on Saturday, guests had their shoes off and were lounging around on pillows and blankets for Record Night, a party complete with psych music and trippy visuals by a duo called Drippy Eye Projections.
Rich has managed to weave quite a bit of nightlife history into the place– thanks to the “saint efforts” of a few generous people. The broken-in wood floors are from the legendary Roseland Ballroom, and somehow Rich was able to score them on the super-cheap.
The venue’s pride and joy are looming, blockish vintage speakers that look more like midcentury furniture than the sporty sound boxes we use today. “The intimacy of this room and the intricacy of those speakers is kind of what creates the magic vibe of Magick City, in a way,” Rich said. The speakers are the same model that pumped out tunes at The Loft– what Rich referred to as his “disco church” and praised as the “inspirational spirit party” for his own venue– aka the never-ending, all inclusive party founded by the one and only David Mancuso (who passed away at age 72, last November). “That’s the great-grandfather of what happens in this room,” Rich explained.
Both The Loft’s unbreakable party and the speakers’ classic form are examples of models that “really haven’t changed that much” over time, which is a pretty accurate way to describe what Magick City aims to do. “It’s a dynamic, multipurpose, multidisciplinary, freeform studio– all those great buzzy words,” Rich said. “But there’s always something going on here, 24 hours a day. There’s people cooking here overnight, I’m in here brewing, parties go until 8 in the morning sometimes. It’s alive, Magick City is alive.”
Check out the Magick City Facebook page for upcoming parties and events, including Record Grouch karaoke (April 15), a Prince death-day tribute show (April 21), and a flash extravaganza at Tattoo to Protect the Planet (April 25).