The secret seems to be out about Secret Project Robot’s new sister establishment. “Yesterday, I made a batch of vegan pulled pork and it sold out in about three hours,” Rachel Nelson told Bedford + Bowery.
Happyfun Hideaway’s early success after just a few weeks in business seems to have come from a combination of word-of-mouth and a straight-up irresistible atmosphere (just look at our slideshow). The bar offers mixed drinks and reasonably priced beers, plus what the owners describe as a “slightly healthier version of Americana bar food” (so far, offerings have included jackfruit with barbecue sauce, mac and cheese, Frito pie and cheeseburgers).
Nelson says the new venture represents a kind of “purification process” that will allow her to run Secret Project Robot as the thing it was always intended to be – “a weird art space” – without the pressure of trying to make it double as a drinking venue.
Secret Project Robot’s history goes back to 1997, when Nelson and her partner Eric Zajaceskowski joined the arts and events collective Mighty Robot in Williamsburg, in order to help create what she calls “the ethereal, underground New York that all of us were seeking when we got here but that didn’t exist anymore. We were all searching for the Ramones and Andy Warhol and that was over and so all of a sudden we were forced to create our own version of what we thought that was.”
After Mighty Robot dissolved in 2004, the partners got a new building, Monster Island, on Metropolitan Avenue and Kent, and opened Secret Project Robot on the first floor.
“It was a whole building and there were tons of personalities,” said Nelson. “There are a lot of rumors that we were kicked out, but actually we just had the lease for seven years. Our landlords were very nice to us, in fact, and gave us an incredible deal.”
Now that Secret Project Robot has been in Bushwick for about three years, Nelson has decided to broaden their horizons. “We’ve been throwing parties for almost 20 years now,” she said. “How long can you keep having this thing where you have to be up at 6 a.m. biting your nails? Where you’re partially legal but not fully legal and you know your time is limited because the neighborhood is changing.”
“Secret Project Robot, we’ve only been in that location a year and nine months and the neighborhood has already shifted so much. When the city is trying to develop a neighborhood they let all these things slide, because they want to bring in this cool factor, but slowly as the neighborhood starts to change they will want to turn Secret Project Robot into a ‘37 beers on tap’ microbrewery with a beer garden.”
Nelson and Zajaceskowski have signed a 15-year lease at Happyfun Hideaway with the intention of sticking around even as the neighborhood changes. “Going through the Williamsburg experience, I realized that you can’t stop it, but you can try to have some stake in it to help control what direction it takes, if only in this really miniscule way,” said Nelson.
The aim is to keep Happyfun’s events low-key, to provide a counterpoint to the livelier ventures at the affiliated art space. There will be weekend barbecues, afternoon manicures by the drag queens from House of Bushwig, and monthly art shows.
Happyfun Hideaway, 1211 Myrtle Avenue, near Bushwick Ave., Bushwick