Last week, when New York City ordered bars, restaurants and venues to reduce their capacity by half, the self-declared “world’s smallest venue” became even smaller. It’s capacity, to begin with, was only 30.
“I think there might be more guitars than people in this room,” noted Matt Davidian as he waited to perform at The Tiny Cupboard. There were roughly seven guitars. And the number of people in the 150-to-175-square-foot room: about 13. The special “coronavirus edition” of the venue’s weekly Indie Music Night happened on March 11th, before the city cut its capacity in half. But even before that, The Tiny Cupboard was, well, tiny.
Tucked away into a Bushwick building, and up three flights of stairs, amidst a labyrinth of heavy, steel doors hiding artist spaces, The Tiny Cupboard has been hosting Indie Music Nights every Wednesday and Indie Comedy Nights every Thursday — all for the absurdly affordable price of $5 a ticket.
But now, the venue, like others, has had to shut down entirely in order to adhere to New York City’s most recent measures to promote social distancing in the wake of the novel coronavirus. “We’ve cancelled shows and performers,” explains co-owner Matt Rosenblum, “and a lot of performers have cancelled on us too.” AirBnb Experiences — which usually lists The Tiny Cupboard’s events — has taken its own measures, and has paused every listing through at least April 3rd, 2020, as communicated in an official email to Rosenblum.
If you’re only just now hearing about The Tiny Cupboard, its story is a very Brooklyn one. It was founded last July by owners (and couple) Matt Rosenblum and Amy Wong. Wong, a self-described “creative,” graduated from Pace University in 2011 with an accounting degree she says she pursued because of parental pressure. But two years after graduating, she became a nail artist, which is still her day job. Both Wong and Rosenblum’s online businesses of two years ago were making them feel disconnected from the real world. She was managing an online curated clothing site, which she doesn’t have anymore, while he was doing marketing consulting, which he still does.
“We should get a physical space and do something cool with it,” Wong recalls discussing with Rosenblum. “And have a place where people can come and be entertained.” The idea was for people to “have something to do outside” instead of on their phones, Wong said.
At first, they didn’t really know what they were doing. But then things started to assume a more defined and clear shape. In November, they added music nights, and in December, comedy nights became part of the routine. As the winter holidays came around, The Tiny Cupboard really took off. Initially, they asked their artist friends to come by and perform but now they receive inquiries via Instagram, their website and referrals by previous performers.
On a good night, Wong and Rosenblum were making $100. Considering that the venue could squeeze in up to 30 people, a $100 night was almost a sold-out night. “If we make one hundred bucks twice a week, we’re killing it,” explains Rosenblum. “Like, we [almost] made double our rent back!” But it wasn’t always a good-night kind of week, and their $525 rent with a month-per-month lease couldn’t rely solely on event nights. During the day, they’ve been renting out The Tiny Cupboard’s space to either a YouTuber or a wax specialist, and their money helps pay for more than half of the rent.
During our visit to The Tiny Cupboard, a neon conversation bubble hanging on the wall greeted the audience with a bright hello! in elegant cursive. The sign’s pink and white colors matched the two lights sitting in the back corners, and the room looked like a futuristic dimension in all shades of pink. Adam Najemian, the first artist of the night, played blues wearing all-black attire, a vintage fedora and a happy face. He was followed by four other bands that transitioned effortlessly from one indie-friendly genre to the other: from Najemian’s acoustic soul, to Boxer duo Lenny Sadowsky and Andrew Friedman’s indie-folk, to Collar Collage’s “existential pop,” to Aunt Petunia’s experimental music. The hip Brooklyn audience warmly welcomed all of them.
Neither Wong nor Rosenblum were expecting the room to be full that night. Attendance had started slowing down in January and February, and now, because of the coronavirus, they were worried about the lack of ticket sales. “It all happened within the last couple of days!” laughed Wong. They quickly revised their marketing strategy to attract more people— hence the “Indie Music Night – Coronavirus Edition.”
Now, Wong and Rosenblum have been brainstorming ideas to survive under the total closure. Wong is working on The Tiny Cupboard’s merch, such as customized t-shirts for the performing artists as well as merch for the audience to purchase.
“We’ll definitely be back,” reassures Rosenblum, who says renting out the space will help them make it through and not lose much money. Eventually they hope to double their programming and do two Indie Music Nights and two Indie Comedy Nights. With the warm season coming up, they also want to host some events on the roof, which is wide, and flaunts a gorgeous view of New York City’s skyline. Rosenblum says that a partnership with The Muse, a Brooklyn circus performers company, is also in the works. He thinks big, and dreams about expanding The Tiny Cup in every artistic direction, while still maintaining what sets them apart — their smallness. While every other Brooklyn venue’s selling point has to do with a big size, The Tiny Cupboard remains modest. “We’re bragging about how small we are!” laughs Rosenblum. In the end, size really doesn’t matter.