Cake walk

Cake Shop celebrates three improbable years of noise.

FLAKE SHOP Andy Bodor, left, and Greg Curley take a laid-back attitude toward running one of Manhattan’s best clubs.

FLAKE SHOP Andy Bodor, left, and Greg Curley take a laid-back attitude toward running one of Manhattan’s best clubs. Photograph: Michael Kirby

The portion of Ludlow Street sandwiched between Rivington and Stanton Streets ranks among the city’s cheesiest blocks. Like a miniature Times Square for the young and chic, it comes dotted with bars, boutiques and, most egregiously, rock clubs. These clubs—Pianos, the Living Room and Cake Shop—arrive in quick succession. At night, patrons of all three gather outside, overlapping on the sidewalk in approximate imitation of fraternity rows nationwide.

Cake Shop, the youngest of the venues, opened three years ago this month, when the local rock scene that sprouted at the beginning of the decade was well into its descent. There was little to suggest that the club would last three weeks in the saturated neighborhood, much less three years. The venue occupies two floors of a newly built structure that’s tacky enough to induce heart palpitations in Lower East Side preservationists. The ground floor features a tiny record store and a colorful coffeeshop selling such rock & roll fare as bananas, soup and “vegan whoopies.” The main performance space, nestled in the basement, legally fits all of 74 people. Because the stage rests at the foot of a downward slope, however, only the handful of audience members clustered at the very front can actually see the performers—an architectural by-product of city regulations and the building’s foundation.

Yet at a time when those downtown clubs unattached to larger companies generally make news only by closing, Cake Shop has become one of the most vibrant music spaces in town—a Manhattan outpost for the adventurous acts that might otherwise play Brooklyn lofts. “Cake Shop feels a lot more communal than most other ‘official’ spaces,” says Jeffrey Lewis, who headlined the club’s very first show. “It’s the kind of place that seems to exist more frequently outside of NYC these days.”

According to Pat Sullivan, whose band Oakley Hall plays Cake Shop’s anniversary show on Saturday 3, the club “is absolutely unique in the city. What other place specializes in good vibes?”

Cake Shop is operated by a trio of owners, Greg Curley and brothers Andy and Nick Bodor. None exactly fit the archetype of a cutthroat Manhattan businessman, or even a person who wakes before noon. A scheduled interview with Curley and Andy Bodor is delayed because Bodor, the club’s booker, neglected to inform Curley about the meeting, and is himself absent fixing a bicycle tire. In the middle of the interview, Curley leaves so he can catch Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?

All three men previously worked at Alt.Coffee, a scruffy East Village cybercafé that the Bodors opened in 1995 along with future Tonic owners Melissa Caruso and John Scott. When Cake Shop launched, the rock scene was already migrating across the East River, but Andy Bodor claims they “always wanted to be in the center of things.” The partners signed Cake Shop’s lease in early 2004, and while they readied the new space, they paid rent of about $8,000 a month for nearly a year. Despite the club’s financial hole, shows generally cost a measly $6—a result, Bodor says, “of the old Fugazi upbringing.” Fittingly, admission to the club’s anniversary extravaganza, running from 3pm to 3am, is just three bucks. The concert will feature a glut of bands—playing downstairs as well as on a new ground-floor stage where Bodor plans to host free daytime performances in coming months.

The two stages should enhance the venue’s laissez-faire atmosphere, which Curley likens to that of a house party. Ironically, much of this ambience stems from the club’s biggest handicap: the abominable sight lines, which cause spectators to push toward the performers. “There’s a more participatory vibe than someplace where there’s a strict separation between the audience and bands,” says Cause Co-Motion’s Liam, whose surname-deprived band plays Saturday and has recorded for the club’s seven-inch label, Cape Shok. “There’s not as much pretension of it being a rock show full of rock stars.”

Naturally, Cake Shop is no gold mine; naturally, this does not seem to matter. “Not to sound like a hippie, but I just wanted to open a place that felt right,” Bodor says. “I love the fact that we’re completely not what people are looking for on Ludlow. It’s kind of a respite—a little bit of humanity in the worst possible place.”

Cake Shop’s Three Year Celebration is May 3, 2008.