Back in February, we noticed a FREE COFFEE sign hovering a few stories above the controversial Starbucks on Union Avenue and wondered if it was an olive branch to neighbors who were rankled by the corporate interloper’s bid for a liquor license. But a barista at the Starbucks told us there were no free Frappuccinos to be had, and it quickly became apparent that the glowing sign was either an art installation, an epic prank, or both. Curious to find out, we slipped a note under the door of one of the building’s top-floor apartments, requesting a word with the sign maker.
Last week, we finally got a text: “This is the guy behind the free coffee sign.”
As it turned out, we had slid our letter under the wrong door, and it wasn’t passed on to the signsters until their neighbors moved out and the new tenants found it under the sink. The sign is now long gone, but in any case: now it can be told.
It turns out the folks behind the sign are Skyler Gross, who works in music production, and Alex Krutchkoff, a 30-year-old originally from North Jersey who has been living in Brooklyn, working in social media advertising for three years.
We were lucky to score an interview with Kurtchkoff: He and Gross have been ignoring press requests since their first sign, a giant dick, raised controversy with locals back in December of last year. They had agreed to speak to DNAinfo about the glowing glans, and the story that followed set off a media frenzy that hit national news sites and even a Norwegian magazine, Krutchkoff said. (They aggregated some screenshots of the stories on Instagram. )
“We realized the power of this window and the real estate, and we wanted to make something that people would look up at and take pictures of and talk about,” Krutchkoff explained. “As the neighborhood changes and these buildings go up, part of it is we want to keep Williamsburg weird and embrace some of the raw street art that makes this neighborhood so appealing and different and edgy.” So, in a “fun, joyous rebellion type of way,” they strung up a homemade dick with wire, zip ties, tape, standard Christmas lights, LEDs, rope lights, “whatever gets the job done.” Suffice it to say, the salty sign was very well hung.
“Social media journalism is a nasty place, as you know,” Krutchkoff told us, “so it was wild to watch that one [DNAinfo] story ripple and get picked up by other people, but they didn’t really add any additional value to the story… they just sort of used the neighborhood quotes in a way that would tell their own side of the story. I learned a lot watching that happen, so we just stayed quiet.”
After reporters stopped knocking on their door and lost interest in the incandescent dick pic, the duo installed a Darth Vader Santa (for the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens), an Alien “AYY LMAO” sign (like the internet meme), an RIP Verboten sign with a lightning bolt, halo and radiating rings (when the club got closed down), and the FREE COFFEE sign (their favorite).
“After we posted that giant dick and we got backlash and people called us ‘frat boy trust fund douchebags’ without really knowing who we are at all, it was fun for us to come up with something that was a little more clever, and show that we’re not just putting up a giant dick, we have more in our back pocket than just that,” Krutchkoff said. The sign was “lightly poking fun at the Starbucks that moved in downstairs,” and pointed out one of the many larger corporations that have been moving into Brooklyn. “That was our innocent way of having fun with that conversation but doing it in a more clever way,” said Krutchkoff, adding that he doesn’t go to Starbucks and prefers The West.
The window has been black for a while now— Krutchkoff said work got in the way of them doing something for the victims of the Orlando shooting— but “it’s the kind of thing where something could happen tomorrow and it could inspire us to put something up, because usually what we’re doing is our reaction to something,” he said. “Who knows.”