Smells like teen spirit! Actually it smelled like a million cigarettes. My travels and travails took me to Circa Tabac, where my pal, DJ Uncle Mike, was offering Smoking Lounge Sundays. Circa Tabac is one of a handful of NYC places where smoking is permitted — and therefore celebrated. Located on Watts Street by that umbilical cord that attaches Manhattan to the hinterlands (otherwise known as the Holland Tunnel), it is the cutest little spot. Sitting there, listening to Mike’s varied tunes, it felt like the old days—before regulations took the edge and threw it over to Brooklyn and other exotic lands.
It was a time when, upon returning home after a night on the town, it was required to have a quick rinse to get the gray residue of a thousand cigarettes out of your hair before passing out.
Many people say that losing the freedom to smoke took the edge out of nightlife. There are, of course, places where determined or irreverent scenesters still light up, but the city did go ape shit over enforcement of this rule. Smoking has basically gone into club extinction, or at least the endangered list, much like the cashier booth or the Drag Queen dancing on the bar. Circa Tabac does have smoke filters and in the warmer months they open big windows, but the place is infused with the familiar smell. The place packs out on most nights, and Mike and others are trying to boost the off nights. It felt good to hear the music, sipping a drink under low lights while whiffs worked their way to the ceiling. Smoking has it’s drawbacks, but it does make a place seem sexier.
Uncle Mike is a familiar figure to Bungalow 8 veterans. He lit up that joint for 4 years, playing everything that ever mattered. Huey Morgan of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals nicknamed the bearded Michael Schnapp, who was at the time working as an A&R guy at EMI records. Mike told me he had a scout who brought him “a ton of shit and nothing worked. Everything sounded the same to me, everything was the same thing. There was a tape left and I asked my scout what was that and he said nothing, just some guys I work with over at Limelight. I said let’s hear it. It was different: strange, good, magical. I liked everything. It was weird hearing something so new that I liked so much. So I took them to meet the boss, and he asks them if they want to make a record. They agree, and he tells me to make sure they don’t starve.” Fun Lovin’ Criminals went on to success, although mostly in England. Huey and Fast (Brian Leiser) were no longer employees at the Limelight, rather celebrities in their own right, but there was never a change in demeanor. They remained true to their school, friends, and the streets they spoke of in their music.
Then Michael—Uncle Mike—became a full time DJ in ’95. “I’m like one of the guys who went the other way. Most DJs leave to become producers, or music company guys. I went from A&R to DJing. He showed me his setup: a laptop with a Serato computer program, his Rane Mixer, and the special case that he carries them in. He smoked while he mixed and told me the people at Circa Tabac are real nice. On Saturdays, he does the early set from 4PM to 9PM over at Brooklyn Bowl. “Anything can happen, from a Pink Floyd cover band to original artists. A couple weeks ago they had this performer, April Smith, doing original rock. Keep your ears open about her. She can really sing.” After the Brooklyn gig he eats and heads to White Noise, where he spins from 11 until close. He tears it up. Next Sunday he’s pushing the First Annual Brooklyn Springtime Guitar Show at Brooklyn Bowl from noon to 6pm. Admission is free. He says it will be “like a combination of 48th street—you know, where Sam Ash and Mannys are located—hipster Williamsburg, and high-end, out of state guitar collectors. There will be rare guitars that go for 10K, plus to everyday beat up rockers stuff. Like a cool guitar strap that Keith Richards would love.” The after party at Circa Tabac will be a smash. A week later he’ll celebrate his birthday at the spot. He is ageless, celebrating a number somewhere between Justin Beiber and me. DjUncleMike.com will tell you more.