INTERVIEW: Meet the Founders of The Gateway

Just a few years ago, if you talked about the Brooklyn DIY scene, you’d likely focus on a stretch of Kent Avenue in Williamsburg. There was the tiny but true-to-its name Death By Audio, the more spacious and artsy Glasslands, and of course, 285 Kent. But now that the waterfront street has succumbed to Vice offices, condos and rising rents, musicians, along with their venues and fans have moved East. More specifically, to Broadway in Bushwick. There’s Palisades and Silent Barn near the Myrtle/Broadway stop, and a few stations away on the J train, a brand new venue: The Gateway. 

The trio behind the venue are Ned Shatzer, Nelson Espinal, and Robert Granata, who spent the month of September renovating and painting the space before its October 1st opening. A few weeks later, I got to take a look. Having heard and seen nothing about The Gateway, I showed up to the venue expecting to be led into some kind of dark basement, but that wasn’t the case. Before the three musicians transformed it, The Gateway was a fully-functioning nightclub called St Lucian Paradise. And while it does have a (huge) basement, it’s receiving some finishing touches, so the upstairs is the main attraction: dimly-lit, with most of the light coming from a beautiful stained glass panel above the bar (it and some leaf-like spirals are meant to be reminiscent of the Italian horror movie, Suspiria, according to Ned).  Above the register hangs a single red, high-heeled boot that they found inside of a podium downstairs, and a sword that Nelson’s brother donated. You can see why after playing there, Pepto, the vocalist/drummer of the local band Psychic Selves, described it as like a “Chinatown karaoke bar, but with a real welcoming vibe.”

On October 15th, the Philadelphia psych band Creepoid headlined at the venue, now filled with listeners and smoke from a fog machine. Even though the show took place during the CMJ festival, a time when music fans were scattered all over the city, there was a sizable audience. Even better, everyone was close to the stage, listening attentively. The shape and size of the room seems to naturally force focus on the stage – as Pepto says, “The second floor is tight enough for the audience to be engaged with the band.”

And since it’s run by musicians- Nelson plays in the local band Stuyedeyed, and Rob in The Makeout Club – the venue focuses on what matters to music lovers: not just looking good, but sounding good and giving all bands an opportunity. “He loves music and wants other bands to play and be given a chance to be heard,” Pepto said about Nelson, who currently books for the venue. “That’s what it’s all about.”

How did it all begin, exactly? Check out a Q&A with the trio below. 

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AudioFemme:How did you begin booking shows?

Ned: I said, “Nelson, I want you to book Thursdays.” And within like two hours he had all of October booked for Thursdays. So I said, fuck man, why don’t you just go ahead and get moving on this and anyone else can go through you. So, within 48 hours he had 17 shows booked.”

Nelson: I’m in a band, I’ve played a whole bunch of shows, and it’s just a community you become a part of. “Hey man, you wanna play a show? I’m booking at a venue now.”

Do you consider The Gateway a DIY venue?

Rob: We built all this, this was four guys. We did it all ourselves, it’s very much the definition of that. But we’re focusing on giving the illusion that it’s not DIY, that it’s bigger than life. Like, you can escape and get out of here. We put a lot of thought and time into it, so it has a cool feel. We put a lot of time into the sound, too, because we want the bands to sound good, and be happy with the sound. DIY spaces do that too, but we really focused on it hard here.

Nelson: All the bands I’m booking, we all come from playing house shows. A lot of the kids that play here, they’re like, “We just played a basement last week!” Well, we wanna bring you out of the basement and put you on a nice stage. We want to be that hand, that brings you into a bigger playing field.

Rob: I feel like this place has a little of what Glasslands had, where you can have smaller bands and also mid-level bands play. A lot of venues, it’s just mainly mid-level bands. We’ll try to get some bigger bands in here, too, and give an opportunity for local bands to open – that’s your goal as a band anyways, to open up for bigger bands.

Nelson: I think for us this place, is kind of the best things about all of the places we’ve played at. The things that we like, and the place that we’ve always wanted to play. My band played the opening night, and I walked off stage and was I like, this is what I’ve always wanted to do.

How did you find the space?

Ned: I was looking at this area for a long time actually, and I had a spot across the street that I was going to take. That fell through because they didn’t want to build another fire escape. The realtor that I was speaking to and I kept in contact – he’s from St. Lucia as well, like the owner of this building – as soon as it came up he called me first because he knew I was looking for a spot. And this just happened to be what we wanted, but a lot more stuff. But this place just happens to have the right zoning, all of the stuff you need to have a venue. We can be loud here. As soon as he told me about it I was like, we can’t not do this. I don’t know how we’re gonna do it, though… (laughs). And the first people I called up were these two guys.

What kind of changes are in The Gateway’s future?

Rob: We want to be able to do seven days a week. When we open the downstairs, you’ll be able to come in, have a beer, and hang out when there’s no shows. There’ll be something going on every night. We just want people to come and have fun too. Not feel like they’re at a club, or at a bar, or anything. Get lost and wander around. Up here will have a crazy French disco tech vibe, and downstairs will be totally different so you’re not stuck in one environment all night. We’re going to get a pool table too, probably. We’re kind of just building as we go… it’s kind of like a massive space.

Nelson: We’re all kind of crazy, so we have all these crazy ideas.

To stay updated with The Gateway’s eclectic events, including a Bernie Sanders benefit on December 10th, follow them here.

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Creepoid at The Gateway, 10/15/15
Creepoid at The Gateway, 10/15/15