Hell is a Place in Queens

We have talked to Seva Granik before when he threw a party at Sugar Hill Disco in Bed-Stuyvesant. For me, that event was a eureka moment. It convinced me that my future was absolutely in Brooklyn, and that the much touted past or "back in the day" that everyone complained was gone was alive and well and maybe even better. Next Saturday, October 27, Seva is involved with 319 Scholes gallery’s Club Hell. In what figures to be one of the most ambitious nightlife events ever, these guys have taken over and will curate an aging 600,000-square- foot glass factory for a party so way out off Metropolitan Avenue that it’s in Queens. I caught up with Seva and asked him to tell us all about it.

A glass factory? 600,000-square-foot space? Is this Woodstock, 2012-style? Tell me about the party.
Yes, the venue. It’s called the Knock Down Center. It’s actually an early 20th Century glass factory that was owned by a Jewish family whose scion had recently bought the space out from his grandparents. 

The factory and the lot it stands on are so large that there are even train tracks – for ease of transporting materials and final product, I’m guessing. 

It’s a bit out of the way, all the way down Metropolitan Avenue, a 10-minute walk from the Jefferson L train stop, squarely in Queens, NY. But we’ll be providing free shuttle buses to the space from two places: the Lorimer L train stop and 319 Scholes, the gallery that’s behind this event. 

The party itself is a bit conceptual. THUNDERHORSE, these guys that I work with a lot, are visual effects and event installation gurus, and we’re doing a nightmarish version of a club, basically with lots of red lasers, sets and stages, smoke –  crazy creepy crap on an industrial scale. The venue itself is so creepy that not much has to be done, really. But we’ll do stuff anyway.

How many people are you expecting?
Capacity is staggering. I’m sure we could pack 3,000 people in ther,e but I don’t think that many people will show.

What is the state of underground Brookln nightlife? What kind of parties are you into?
Yikes. Well, it’s not doing so good. Things are certainly not nearly as crazy and carefree as they used to be in the early oughts. Kids, too, are pretty tame, simply because they’re just more mainstream than older Brooklyn audiences. Fifteen or 10 years ago, it was a bunch of artists and musicians and poor kids out here, but now it’s just normal young people who have jobs or go to NYU or something. And they don’t go nuts much. They’ve got too much to lose. 

There have been waves after waves of shutdowns, something that never used to happen in the past; a score of DIY venues have been pressured by the cops to stop putting on events. It’s largely due to three reasons, in my opinion: the rising real estate costs and white people moving in and calling cops for noise complaints, the NYC film tax credit (which has attracted scores of film and TV productions here who have taken a lot of spaces away from the underground promoters since they have more money), and the rising popularity of Brooklyn as a capital of music. That last one really did us in because once there is money in putting on music shows, it all goes to regular venues because that’s where the money is, and that’s where agents are .That’s the easiest way to play and be seen and make money as an artist, with an agent. So, again, the DIY show/event loses. 

With all these mounting pressures, it’s a wonder that there is actually still a scene. But there is. A lot of it has morphed and transported itself into the gay and queer culture that has little regard for money and loves to just get down. So, there is a small clique of queer promoters and performers who do well and have lots of fun. 

For my readers who just moved here from Kansas, who are you and what do you do?
I’m an independent event producer. I put on stuff. Usually one-offs at off-the-grid, special places, and usually conceptual things, things that I know no one else can/will want to really do. 

What was the last party event you went to in Manhattan, and what do you find relevant there?
Ladyfag’s parties are always fun, Westgay at Westway is pretty fun, and so are Earl Dax’s performance series, but, again—that’s all queer stuff! I guess I just find that sort of thing really fun, even though I’m straight. 

There is a cute semi-straight party at Santos Party House called Chez Deep, and that’s nice, actually. 

Weird Wednesdays at Home Sweet Home is a great weekly that’s been going for, like, 6 years. It’s almost always fun, and the crowd there is freaky and dark and cute sometimes, too.That’s as much as anyone can ask of a weekly. 

New Year’s Eve Parties for All, and Management’s Response to the Christmas Incident at Le Souk

First of all, Happy New Year. Today will be short and sweet as BlackBook staff is cutting out to get ready for the big night. Yesterday’s article about Sam Valentine allegedly getting beat up by Le Souk management did get a response, which you will find below. As for New Year’s Eve, I, of course, will be DJing at the Dream Downtown and will be there when 2013 is rung in. Afterwards I probably will pop into Lit to say hey to that gang.

I am sending people to parties that suit them. There isn’t a be-all event for everyone. Many will love the Dream, many 1 OAK. Many will just be in heaven at The Darby while others will love Toy. For people with my view of things I’m recommending the Box and Bow.

I am heading out to 305 Ten Eyck, Brooklyn for Seva Granik’s party, BRCDBR and THV ENT. present Shanghai. Seva and Thunderhorse are producing this event and the installation, which "is going to focus around the fear, or the premonition, of China and Chinese culture taking over the U.S. So lots of  futuristic stuff like screens, lasers, smoke, etc." The DJ’s are Gavin Russom, a "legendary DFA label guy who built their synths for them and played in the now-seminal act LCD Soundsystem" and Venus X, a big deal. The New York Times just did a profile on her. The music is going to be very dancey and very unexpected. Admission is $10 and it starts at 1am. They have my vote.

On New Years Eve the biggest problem, except for the people you are surrounded by, is getting around. If you are not a public transportation kind of guy or gal I suggest hiring a local car service for some hours. Rates range from $25 to $50 an hour . Traditionally I have hired them from 1 to 7 am, sometimes splitting the cost with another. It’s great to have a driver to whisk you around safely while you party like it’s 1999. New Year’s Eve is amateur night for the club industry. Take it from a pro and prepare for all contingencies.

In life they say there are two sides to every story. In nightlife, when you add in booze , dark lights, loud music, and other factors, some stories can have multiple sides. Yesterday I ran a story about a beaten up and down story, Sam Valentine. Others who were at Le Souk on Christmas night verified that indeed owner Marcus Jacob had kicked and punched Sam. Today Le Souk responded to the allegations that Sam was attacked, bruised, and hurt to the point of hospitalization by Marcus Jacob with the help of security. Yesterday I referred to Sam as hobbit-sized, and that description is fairly accurate. He told me he was 5 foot 7 and I’ll believe him as long as he believes I’m 6’3". Sam is 5’7" standing on a phone book. He has heart but is no match for the forces that hospitalized him. 

The response from partner Lamia Funti is below. She is a partner at Le Souk and wife of Marcus Jacob. I have always respected and enjoyed her, but having read her response I cannot help but think that excessive force was brought to bear. Her version only tells of a late night argument, with promoter Sam Valentine reacting badly to not getting paid on Christmas. The amount was $200. All accounts agree that he was loud and demanding, but Sam is a lover and a promoter/DJ, not much of a physical threat to anyone.

The response attempts to justify the physical altercation. It does not explain the injuries inflicted by bonded security and an owner. Anytime a person is beaten badly and in need of hospitalization somebody screwed up. Unless weapons of mass destruction come into play security must contain the situation, and kicking and punching are not allowed.

Here is the response from Lamia:

Unfortunately, it was a small situation that escalated over nothing. Our accountant took the day off since it was Christmas so there was no one to make the checks. We let our staff know so that they do not wait for the checks in vain. Everyone was fine with it, since we never have problems with the checks.

At the end of the night, Sam Valentine comes storming downstairs, asking Marcus to give him "his fucking check now." Marcus was actually very calm, he’s really not the guy that likes to fight, he was trying to calm him down, but he was cursing out, and making a scene at the bar downstairs.

I called the security to calm him down because now he was pushing people around when they are trying to talk to him and we didn’t need a scene in front of our friends and family, while Marcus only asked him to wait til tomorrow for his check. Since it was Christmas, our friends were all there and two of my aunts that are much older in the fifties were there as well, which was embarrassing.

I went quickly to tell him to stop and he pushed me with his hands and called me a bitch, the security saw that and they tried to contain him but he wouldn’t stop fighting, we just asked him to leave, he did not want to leave, and started throwing things around and fighting with the security who was trying to escort him out. I also have several witnesses that saw that and saw him wrestling with the security.

We actually called the police, before it got out of hand, which is really unfortunate. When the police got to Le Souk, he started cursing the officers out which I’m guessing that’s why they told him they would arrest him. And the rest is history. We have been in the business long enough to be mistreating our staff or customers in any way, and we always pay on time, for someone to be acting that way after we ask him to come back the next day because its Christmas and nobody came to the office to work, but we can not tolerate having people storming at us like that while there was no wrong doing.

I guess this is the way he’s planning on getting back at us. And by the way, Ariel was at no point near the scene, he didn’t see anything at all and witnessed anything, and did not talk to the security at any time, he was upstairs the whole time.

Seva Granik on Promoting the Best of Brooklyn Nightlife

I might not understand it on a gut level, or even intellectually, as I once did. I certainly can’t book it or present it anymore. But there’s still one sure thing—I know it when I see it. The Seva Granik-produced event held at the Sugar Hill Disco and Restaurant in Bed-Stuy last weekend was one of the best events I’ve attended in eons. Seva, as everyone I know already knows, is the second coming. He is nightlife’s reigning messiah, a throw back to days where a promoter/producer of events cared more about the experience of their patrons and less about extracting that last piece of coin from their pockets.

Seva is in it for the love and not the love of money. In time, the cash will come and I’m fairly sure he will just invest it in something we will all enjoy. My dearest friend Rozi introduced me to Seva, and I can’t stop raving about his talent. The Sugar Hill Disco is room after room of 1960’s, ‘70s, and ‘80s décor. The outside space was packed with all the unusual suspects who’ve led me over the river and through the woods. This coming Saturday, June 25th, he’s supporting the Ladyfag event at Drom on Ave A. If he says to be there, from now on, I will be there.

The party last Friday night was the perfect storm of incredible music, great planning, an amazing unique space — and great crowd. You said that it took six months to organize. Tell me about the production. I used to date a lovely young lady who lived in Prospect Heights. We would ride our bikes to and from her house for a few years, and we were both just fascinated with that strange building on the corner of Nostrand and DeKalb Avenues. By then, I’d already gotten into my element of connecting off-the-grid, unknown, and weird venues with new and interesting musical acts, so I couldn’t wait to get inside that space and see what the vibe there was. I’d tried calling them for years and they would never return my calls. Finally, I just snuck in on a Friday night and was floored by what I saw. I had to make it work. I didn’t even know what band I would get in there, or what I would do about the sound or lights (there was neither). I embarked on a campaign of polite tenacity and would not give up until I met with the owner. The patriarch, Mr. Eddie Freeman of North Carolina, runs a tight if not a bit tyrannical ship with his daughter Akesha and his son Aaron. It took a lot of visits, fancy Italian chocolates, getting hung up on, and ultimately, money, in the form of cash, out on the table—the old way—until I got a confirmed date. But, of course, the challenges didn’t end there.

The space is very large, so I needed a big band to fill it up. At some point, I figured the Crystal Ark, a band that I worked with during my short stint at MoMA PS1, would make a good fit. The second Gavin Russom and Viva Ruiz stepped into that place it was sealed. They were completely on board. It also took a bit of time to get the sound man and his team on board. That system, his staff, and the level of professionalism that they brought should have really cost about $25,000 but they gave us a bro rate once they saw the space and understood what we were doing. Same for the lights team of Bec Stupak. From Justine D. who managed promotion to DFA’s and FADER’s media support to my small army of interns and events staff, everyone seemed to understand the scope and the meaning of what we were doing, without us ever having to vocalize it, really. There were some hick-ups, of course, but nothing that made a major dent on outside impressions and the end-result seemed to have been something that was greater than the sum of its parts. I’m still processing it all.

You’ve stated that Brooklyn is the new music capital of the world— or something like that. Please expand and explain. That’s been the case for a few years now. The explosion of new musical acts and talent in the past few years seems to have been emanating mostly from North Brooklyn, and it’s a self-feeding, self-propelling cycle. The more good talent comes from Brooklyn, the more good talent relocated to Brooklyn to get more recognition or to improve themselves in this highly competitive atmosphere, or to just soak up the smell of it all. Of course, for every good band that comes here, there are a hundred shitty acts that no one wants, so what you end up with is a dizzying array of musicians and artists just bouncing off the walls everywhere you go. I was part of it at an earlier point; I played in a few bands and toured a lot and tried to make a living with music exclusively. While that didn’t exactly work, it introduced me to a whole world of concentric NYC music scenes that seemed to have been flourishing at break-neck speed, and I saw what worked here and what didn’t early on. Every major music media outpost has relocated here. Pitchfork, VICE – everyone is either working for some blog or publicity firm or organizing parties or tours, or playing in a band that they just blogged about. I bartend at a tiny lesbian bar in Greenpoint, and every other conversation I overhear is about music business. It’s both funny and absolutely fascinating.

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For many years, Brooklyn was an alternative hipster paradise to Manhattan, but now Manhattan offers little but jet-set playgrounds. Talk to me about the quantum leap of BK to first-city status. Brooklyn has accomplished something truly astounding. It’s begun a not-so-quiet revolution in culture, I think. The Brooklyn look and aesthetic, first pioneered by poor artists and musicians who moved here in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s, has now been homogenized internationally by media conglomerates like VICE and Pitchfork, etc. And that’s a crazy thing to think about. While the hipster culture has now been rightfully pronounced dead, Brooklyn’s supremacy is still incredibly valid within Brooklyn’s own nightlife royalty circles, and the mainstream has now, too, conferred the status of the cultural epicenter onto Brooklyn, so Brooklyn’s status as the cultural center of the universe is truly axiomatic. You do it for the art and not the cash. Is what you do an art form? Are you a social artist/curator? At some point a year or two ago, I wanted to be known as a curator. The art world back then held a lot of sway with me, and I was under the impression that it was the ultimate arbiter of what was and wasn’t culturally relevant. Then I got a very rare opportunity to see some of it up close and I gradually became very conflicted, and ultimately disappointed with what I saw. People often use art-world terminology (because that’s what we’re talking about here) to validate their work or taste, or both, without realizing that the authority that the art world holds comes mostly from money and celebrities that siphon through it. It’s understandable, of course, that that’s what matters these days, but I felt that, for me, it was a false prophet, and have since moved away from it. I am not an artist. There is no art in what I do. I am not a curator. I am a promoter. I am on a crusade to bring back the respect and dignity that the term “promoter” once held. What have you learned about the biz on your own, and what have you absorbed from pre-production days? That I can only always rely on myself and that I should keep working on my own. I also learned that I am an honest operator and that people do respond to that well, sometimes. But the most important thing I learned is how to let go. Sometimes the planets align, and you see a parade of true stars. And sometimes they don’t, and that’s O.K. What direction is music going in, and who are some artists to look out for? Electronic music. The world around us is changing, and the tools for creating, delivering, and absorbing music are changing, too. We’re all headed towards a completely electronic world. I won’t list the musicians here for the fear of leaving important people out and giving the others too much spotlight before they go dim. Things change fast these days, you know. You use strong visuals within your productions. Tell me about the players and the process of integrating them into the evening. The visual aspect is very important to me. From the meticulously executed show posters to the visual immersion during the show, everything has to make sense together. In the past, I’d grown rather sick of the shit jobs that the majority of promoters and presenting entities put forth re: presentation; more often than not, it’s just a stage with a some lights and bands are just expected to deliver their craft with oftentimes zero enhancement. More often than not it has to do with money, because these things cost a lot. So, again, I end up with having to resort to doing a few shows a year because the production and the costs are so intense. Bec Stupak, the visuals guru behind this particular show, was by far the easiest part of this equation. She’s worked with Gavin before, knew exactly what the band needed, and brought the level of professionalism and creativity that I’d seen only once before, in my work with Thunderhorse, the guys who managed visuals for my Salem show in 2010. Tell me about this Saturday’s party, Ladyfag, and the gay crowd still living in Manhattan. This Saturday is Ladyfag’s Pride event with a live set by Ssion, a mutual friend of ours whom we both respect immensely. Pride is a big deal to the gay community, so we’ve been working on this show for quite some time, taking care of every little detail and making sure that everything goes smoothly. Ladyfag is in a league of her own. Those who know her personally know what I’m talking about. I can’t really say much here because I’m the most biased person when it comes to her – I’m her boyfriend – but one thing I can say that I feel everyone will agree with is that she puts her entire heart into everything she does, and that she represents a new breed of nightlife professionals: inclusive, original and creative, friendly and genuine – people who carry the weight of so many expectations without really being aware of any of it. She just wakes up, puts on some pants – hopefully – and goes to work with zero expectations from anyone. What are you going to be when you grow up? I’m pretty sure that I’m doing it now. You’ve expressed an interest in visiting Michael Alig. Why? I’ve been to prison, for three days, and the experience changed my life. I’ve also always wanted to just get closer to the things that made the world move; I go to museums a lot, and spend most of my money on traveling around the world, looking at weird historical shit. I feel that, by being closer to the things that once mattered, in any way, I somehow enter the matrix of life itself. And that helps me to deal with my own fears of the impending Armageddon, and the pathos of existing. Tell me about your beginnings and how you ended up being the promoter of one of the best events in memory. I was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1975, into a family of Jewish intelligentsia who found themselves there in the wake of WWII and the evacuation, genocide and havoc that ensued during the German advance. We immigrated to the U.S. in 1991, to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn where I lived with my family until I moved out because the call of North Brooklyn was too much to resist. I had degrees in film and information technology, both of which I used in my work, but the events of 9/11 shook me up, and I left the work force to pursue my own interests which, at the time, were focused on music. I joined and left a number of professional and not so professional bands. Some of them took me touring around the world, and others around the neighborhood. I learned a lot of things about the business of events when I had to create exciting situations for various waning acts I was a part of. Eventually, I quit playing music and focused on creating experiences around it. I’ve produced hundreds of events, some for brands and other institutions, some for myself, and after a while found that I most enjoyed having complete creative control. The website BRCDBR.com lists those few events. I’ve been focusing on a lot of that lately while also bartending and doing some occasional consulting work for various companies that seek to appeal to my demographic, for rent money.

Seva Granik on PS1, Klaus Biesenbach and Booking New York’s Hottest Summer Event

“The DFA line-up of August 7th is crazy,” says Seva Granik as small dishes of mac ‘n cheese, sliders, and guacamole are placed on our table courtesy of Coco 66. We’re sitting window-side at a private event for the Australian group Tame Impala, and Granik is talking about one of the events for Warm Up—MoMA PS1’s highly acclaimed summer concert series. Granik is part of the illustrious team of New York music industry insiders brought together by MoMA PS1 Director Klaus Biesenbach to produce this year’s series. “Jump in,” Granik says, pushing the mac ‘n cheese lightly in my direction as he continues his run-down of some of the acts he’s looking forward to. “The Crystal Ark is a new band by Gavin Russom that no one has heard. It’s their first show ever. And, just from looking at their stage plot and input lists, I can already tell that they will blow people away. It’s the most complicated, technically well-put together plot I’ve seen in all of my short career.” Warm Up started years ago, but more recently it’s evolved into a premiere summer concert series, and this year’s line-up is “the biggest ever” according to Granik. “This has never gone down at MoMA PS1.” When offered beer, Granik puts his hand up in polite demurral. “I’ve got a long night ahead of me.”

Granik’s role as Bookings and Stage Manager entails managing bookings, contracting, finances, tech liaison and day-of stage-managing. The team of curators he supports are Dean Bein (head of True Panther Records under Matador), Kris Chen, (head of A&R at XL Recordings), Robin Carolan (head of Tri Angle Records), Jonathan Galkin (co-founder of DFA Records), Ronen Givony (founder of Wordless Music), and Brandon Stosuy (senior writer for Stereogum). The curatorial committee also included the support of Eliza Ryan, MoMA PS1’s new Curatorial Assistant for Performance and Contemporary Practice, as external adviser.

“They’re playing,” Granik nods to the black concert space next door, where Tame Impala has just taken the stage. At 35, Granik is tall and lanky in dark skinny jeans, Keds, and a sleeveless angular jacket that tapers at the waist. His hair is shaved at the sides. Back at the table I ask if he likes the band. He’s not sold yet. He has to listen to their music for a while to understand it before he can come to a decision. Tom, a friend of Granik’s, joins us, as do the members of The Luyas, a Montreal-based band. They order burgers. Tom says there’s a rumor that MGMT will be going on. He leaves and comes back. “Yeah, it’s just one of them. He’s jamming with [Tame Impala] on bass.”

Qualitatively, Granik’s position at MoMA PS1 is not very different from work he’s been doing over the past ten years. Beginning in 2007 with a show for Yo Majesty at Studio B, his mainstay has been producing DIY shows at completely raw locations. “A lot of curating, a lot of booking, a lot of stage managing, dealing with tech stuff, like stage plots and input lists, guest lists.” But by that point Granik had already had years of experience dealing with booking and carrying most of the workload, while touring with bands he was in (he played guitar, wrote songs, and sang back-up), one of which toured stadiums. “It was all very fun,” he says. “But it always ended up collapsing for me. Bands are fickle creatures. They are born, live, and die so very fast. Soon I figured out that I was on the wrong side of the musical fence. Bands come and go…. But the curator perseveres.” Granik is also part-owner of myopenbar.com, a site that informs boozehounds about parties with open bars in cities around the U.S.

Sarah Hooper, a good friend of Granik’s, walks in with two friends, one with an arm covered in tattoos. She owns JellyNYC, a marketing outfit that produced the well-known waterfront Pool Parties in Brooklyn. Sarah sits down and asks Granik how it’s going. They fall into easy shoptalk. Granik says he’s had a lot of work to do for Warm Up and looks down at the table. “Why don’t you get an intern, a kid,” Sarah says. “I know a kid. Carlos. He’s great.” Granik lifts his head in a swift but gentle snap. “Because a kid can’t send emails to clients,” he says. “A kid can’t talk to agents.” Granik orders a crepe with dulce de leche. Cutting it up, he tells me to try some and that it’s delicious. He looks around the table. “Looks like we’re deficient in forks,” he says, and hands me his. A woman walks through the door and stretches her hand out to Granik. “We met at SXSW,” she says and smiles. “We slept on the same floor.”

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We get into Granik’s blue minivan. He had planned on us going to a goth party, but instead he drives us to the Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint, where he lives. He drives calmly and looks up over the steering wheel with a steady gaze. I ask about the curatorial meetings. “It’s a very, very scary room to open your mouth in,” he says. “I literally took notes as Jon Galkin and Kris Chen were speaking. Those guys are legends. Those two, and Ronen Givony, of LPR; those guys know pretty much everything that anyone in this town knows about the music business.” I ask if Klaus Biesenbach attends the curatorial meetings. “He showed up at the first two, just to make sure everything was running smoothly. He doesn’t come anymore. He doesn’t need to.” Biesenbach left for Europe almost immediately after the initial round of meetings and his assistant Jocelyn Miller served as liaison between Biesenbach and the group, handling permissions and out-of-the ordinary contracting. Granik says Biesenbach was mostly involved in creating the team. He “curated the curators,” and made some very serious decisions regarding the direction of the series and its scope. From that point, the committee acted with relative independence.

“I think that the driving reasoning, the logic behind the curating was diversity,” says Granik. “It’s important to the institution, this year anyway, to be as wide-ranging and far-reaching in its decisions on music.” I’ve seen pictures of Klaus Biesenbach and he looks austere. I ask Granik if he finds Biesenbach intimidating. “No!” he says. “He’s very friendly. And funny. And he’s good at putting people at ease. I’ve met him before and it was always very light-hearted conversation, mostly about my clothes. What’s great about Klaus is that he knows how to socialize on every level. I’ve realized that the most successful people are those who are able to socialize with anyone. That’s a skill I’d like to be able to perfect.” After we park, Granik pauses by the car. “I only wish,” he says, “that I had started this sooner.” Four pale salt-rimmed margaritas are placed on our table at Manhattan Inn. No one has ordered margaritas. Granik clinks glasses with Sarah and her friends. “There’s a lot of music industry people here,” Granik says. “That’s Dean [Bein], the founder of True Panther Sounds.” He points to a young man in a red t-shirt with wavy brown hair. “He’s one of the curators for Warm Up; one of the most talented young music executives around. He was behind Girls, Delorean, Tanlines. His label was bought out by Matador. He blew up overnight.” He smiles and takes a sip of his margarita. He crosses the room to sit down next to a woman with long hair and dark-rimmed glasses. “He’s going to hit on that girl,” Sarah says.

Each of the ten days of Warm Up is curated by one individual or is a collaborative process among two curators, though all curators weighed in on contacts. Granik worked very closely with all of the curators. In terms of strategy and approaching managers and booking agents, Granik learned a lot from Jon Galkin and Kris Chen. “It’s sort of incredible. I have had so much responsibility thrust upon me. To act as a conduit for the world’s most important modern arts institution’s musical series, it gives you a lot of power in dealing with people. But it’s also frightful. What if you miss? The pressure can be overwhelming.” The transition to MoMA PS1 had its glitches and Granik is cognizant of mistakes and bad moves he made initially. “I moved on some contracts when I should not have, took liberties when I should not have. The institution is a very tightly controlled collective, and it was unusual for me at first to work in such a controlled environment. But I caught up very quickly and learned a lot.” He also owes a lot to his adviser, Eliza. “With Eliza advising Klaus on who’s who in this town’s Music business, there could have been no misfires.”

A few days later I meet Granik at Home Sweet Home, “the best bar in the city” according to Granik, where he bartends on Sundays. In a black cut-up t-shirt that shows more skin than it covers, he welcomes me and tenders a frozen margarita, from a machine. “The secret,” he says, “is top shelf tequila—Sauza.” Sitting on a stool next to me, near a taxidermy bird hanging from the ceiling, Granik talks in his composed and pensive tone about what his work entails now that the booking is done. “It’s just getting more hands-on. We’re getting into the payment process, and it’s difficult since MoMA PS1 is a non-profit.” I ask how it is to work for MoMA PS1. He sits up straight, pauses, and says as if the idea just startled him, “Overnight every agent in the States knows who I am. You have no idea what it’s like to have MoMA behind you.” He sits back and smiles almost imperceptibly and regains his calm demeanor. “But it’s about the music. I’m able to do what I love. Yes, it’s priceless for someone like me. I feel very pompous right now, very self-important. I hardly deserve the honor. But hell—I’ll take it.”

Photography by Shoko Takayasu.

Is the Recession Killing the Open Bar?

The recession is jeopardizing much that is sacred to New Yorkers. But could it also threaten the existence of the cherished institution of the open bar at a delicate time when our collective broke ass most needs gratis liquor? I gathered several prominent booze aficionados who for years have been quenching their alcoholic thirst free of charge around the city and asked them if the crap economy was affecting their freeloading drunken ways. And when they were done slurring their belligerent responses, I posed the question to the world’s foremost open bar expert, Myopenbar.com’s Seva Granik, whose nifty online service has been highlighting open bars in cities around the country since 2005. Some names have been changed to protect the inebriated.

Samantha, a well-regarded 20-something media vet who’s a regular at sponsored open bar events, warns of declining quality. “There are still plenty of open bar events, but the quality of liquor, I’ve noticed, has drastically dropped. No more Jameson, Grey Goose, or Champagne. The last few open bars I went to didn’t even offer ginger ale as a mixer. It’s Dewars and Coke, or bust. And if you opt for beer over sponsored liquors, you better get there early and stock up — otherwise you’ll be drinking blueberry vodka and tonics all night. Not a fun hangover to deal with the next day.”

Kyra, a young, successful PR girl whose own company puts together many open bar events, explains the pressing need for getting drunk for nothing in today’s economy. “I’m much more likely to go to open bar events now and save money. I don’t think I have skipped any freebies in the past few months, when I used to skip them all the time. For instance, tonight I had plans with friends to go to one of our favorite restaurants and bars, but then someone got free box tickets to a Knicks game (with free booze and possibly food), and we all jumped on it. One of the girls hates sports, but she is going just for the free booze!”

And now the expert opinion, from the only panel member who didn’t appear to be pleasantly trashed at 2 p.m. (at least he didn’t seem drunk on the phone). Myopenbar.com founder Seva Granik says we have nothing to worry about: “Open bars haven’t gone down in New York. One interesting thing that has happened in the last two years is that while brown [alcohols] and vodka may have pulled dollars for [sponsored open bars], beer has maintained [its availability at open bars]. Also, more venues are doing their own open bars to lure in customers, using their own cheaper well alcohol to bring in traffic [which has declined since the economy soured].”

And yet a BlackBook writer who’s a regular on the free booze circuit tells us of a recent, sub-par open bar experience. “I feel like there are fewer events for sure, but that might be because it’s winter. I was recently at an event in the Plaza Hotel for the Eton, and they were giving away nice drinks and nice hors d’oeuvres, but then popcorn. That struck me as weird. The alcohol was fine, I suppose, but a little light.”

The seasonal explanation holds up, according to Granik, who also credits the bitter cold for the perceived decline in free booze events. “In the summer, we’ll do 60 listings a week, but this is the slow season. We’re still averaging 3 or 4 a day, sometimes 5 to 7 open bar listings this winter. New York is the strongest of all our cities; we have a culture of open bars here.”

Jeremy, a New York-based blogger who estimates he hits one to three open bar events a week, seemed displeased. “There’s less Sparks, because they stopped making it, and which used to sponsor everything. But that’s good, cause it was nasty. At the LVHRD events, they always have free Dewars. So here’s my question — if you always know where you can get free Dewars, why would you ever buy it?” He then grew angry, slammed down his vodka-spiked Vitamin Water, and accused Granik’s site of poisoning the well, as it were. “Since the Myopenbar.com list has gotten more popular, I’ve noticed it’s harder to actually score free drinks at open bar events, because everyone reads the site and goes there, so the events are mobbed. This upsets me.”

But where some find misery, others see opportunity. Andrew, who runs the promotions and events division at a trendy downtown glossy, thinks this alleged dip is a good time for smart brands to send a strong message in a barren market. “I see this economic situation as a fantastic opportunity for an alcohol company to increase brand loyalty. With open bars drying up, it is leaving a void for someone, preferably Jim Beam or Dewars, to swoop in and dazzle everyone with free booze.” The shifty marketing man continues: “For me, the flask solution is the best open bar. I take people’s half empty glasses, maybe there’s still some ginger ale in there, and I just pour my shit into there. Flasks will always be my open bar.”