So often going to see a concert or checking out that one friend of a friend's DJ set means choosing between a good time and decent food—there's only so many sad fries and Buffalo wings we can eat. But, thankfully, 2019 New York nightlife values food and drink as much as any performance. The dual forms of entertainment work in tandem to create the ultimate vibe with menus that no longer lack innovation.
Bushwick’s newest music venue, The Sultan Room, opened last weekend—part of a trio of projects, which includes the Turk’s Inn and Döner Kebab—by owners, Varun Kataria and Tyler Erickson. The childhood friends, who grew up working at Erickson's family's famous Minneapolis jazz club (which hosted Prince and Philip Glass, among others), went on to start their own recording space and see this project as a return to form. The Sultan Room brings a level of kitsch to both the venue's listening room and its attached space for food. In fact, the neighboring restaurant, which opens to the public today, is a near-exact recreation of a beloved Wisconsin spot they used to dine at, using decor the duo bought at auction after the restaurant closed. The to-go area, Döner Kebab, is inspired by revelers of Berlin's clubs, who often hit up Kreuzberg döner spots in the late-night.
Featuring a state-of-the-art sound system, technicolored lighting, wall decals inspired by mosques and a sunken dance floor, The Sultan Room will offer both live concerts and DJ sets, influenced by global sounds. Expert music curation even extends to The Sultan Room's trippy black-and-gold glitter bathrooms, which have audio clips telling the history of the original Midwest spot.
In the past year, Mission Chinese’s Bushwick location, Public Records, Special Club and, now, The Sultan Room have all opened spaces that offer both dinner and a show. These new mixed-used nightlife restaurants are trendy, yes, but they're seemingly also a result of the repeal of a New York Cabaret Law in 2017. That hackneyed Prohibition-era legislation forbade dancing in nightclubs without a special license and was selectively enforced.
"The Cabaret law stifled creativity by setting up bureaucratic obstacles. Often times becoming a financial barrier for new forward thinking spaces, like [the newly opened] Public Records, from even getting off the ground. And those that did open, would lose so much money in trying to acquire the dancing license, that it would eat into their ability to create a unique vibe,” said council-member and representative of District 37, Rafael Espinal—who was instrumental in the repeal—in an interview with Time Out New York.
Thanks to that change in legislation, New York’s nightlife scene is now about great food and moves. Such is the case at Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese Bushwick, which opened on the ground level of Elsewhere in fall 2018. At his first-ever Brooklyn expansion, the restaurant offers Bowien’s signature Chongqing chicken wings and kung pao pastrami, but, for the most part, rehashing his best-hits ends there. The new Mission Chinese menu feels more appropriate for the younger neighborhood: more fun, less expensive and flexible to dietary restrictions (many items can be made vegan). It is, perhaps, one of Bushwick’s best pre-game spots, as the restaurant’s design—from the videos playing mukbang (the Korean fetish-y videos of people eating online) to his Matrix-inspired bathrooms and LEDs in the main dining room—feels as much like a club or art gallery as the upstairs performance spaces. You can't enter Elsewhere through the restaurant, but dancing is just a few short steps upstairs.
Public Records, which opened in March 2019, is a music-focused cafe, record "hi-fi bar" and performance space that hopes to function less like a traditional club and more like a community space for the Gowanus neighborhood. Here, there’s an excellent sound system and an ideal space for dancing; music programming is overseen by partner and producer Francis Harris of the local record labels Scissor & Thread and Kingdoms. But beyond the beats, Public Records is also opens as a café in the morning, offering a seated menu that continues into the night with dinner. The menu, conceptualized by Chef Mariela Alvarez, is entirely vegan, a nod to the space's former life as an ASPCA headquarters. Alvarez pairs her healthful cooking with her masters in architecture for well-composed, design-focused plating.
Finally, Ariel Arce opened Special Club earlier this month, a new West Village jazz spot paying homage to old-school New York's lounges. Her very own newfangled speakeasy-style cabaret club operates legally beneath her wine-focused supper club restaurant, Niche Niche. It's her latest venture to focus on how music and food can combine; Arce’s other subterranean project, Tokyo Record Bar opened in 2017 with DJ spins and izakaya. While music flows at Special Club, chefs Zach Fabian and Aaron Lirette offer bar bites such as spicy pickles, broiled blue crab and caviar, alongside wines, sake and cocktails.
These of-the-moment new restaurants are hitting all the right notes. Check them out for yourself to give your mouth a little entertainment.
The Sultan Room , now open, is located at 234 Starr Street, New York, NY 11237.