Brooklyn drinkery the Way Station is notable for its steampunk aesthetic, as well as its dedication to producing offbeat events. Andy Heidel opened the vintage New York venue in 2011, and on any given night, you might find revelers belting tunes during Nerd Karaoke; Wasabassco Burlesque doing its thing; or screenings of old Doctor Who episodes. (Speaking of nerds, yes, this is the bar with a bathroom shaped like a TARDIS, the Doctor’s time-traveling mechanism.)
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Andy Heidel 44; Park Slope, Brooklyn writer and proprietor of the Way Station (waystationbk.com)
Why did you open The Way Station?
I used to work in book publishing until my company downsized, and I fell back on bartending. I was bartending at Beast (638 Bergen St at Vanderbilt Ave, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; brooklynbeast.com), and people kept saying there was no place to eat or drink on Washington Avenue, so they came to Vanderbilt Avenue. I thought, That’s ideal—go to where the customers are. We’ve been open for a little over two years, since February 23, 2011. It took so long to go through all the hurdles and hoops to get this place open. The day I finally got my liquor license, I made a couple calls, invited people out, and said show up at 8pm. I called my friend who was bartending with me that night. I bought a bunch of booze and beer, and opened up at 8. We packed the house the very first night.
Why does steampunk specifically appeal to you?
It’s the perfect blend of science fiction and fantasy. Steampunk is the future as imagined by the Victorian age: Everything is steam-powered, so there’s no electricity, but there’s a DIY element to it. I wanted to create a place that felt like it was a hundred years old, like it was an old train depot at one point and got converted into a bar.
The TARDIS bathroom is one of the most popular features of The Way Station; how did it come to be?
Late one night, after we had done construction all day, my friend Doc Wasabassco and I were looking at the raw space, and I’m like, Oh my God, the crapper’s right next to the bar. We had to disguise it. He said, Why don’t we build a TARDIS? I had no idea that everybody else would think it’s awesome too. Five to twenty people a day come in to see it and have one of our Doctor Who–themed drinks. It ended up becoming this incredible guerrilla marketing tool. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, who play the Doctor and Amy Pond, were here in 2011. I was getting ready for work, my bartender called and said, “I think it’s them, I’m not sure.” I said, “Well, if it is them, give them a Sharpie and have them sign the TARDIS.” I pretty much had a stroke.
What neighborhood spots do you frequent?
I love promoting and celebrating all the local businesses around me. Tooker Alley (793 Washington Ave between St. Johns and Lincoln Pls, Crown Heights, Brooklyn; 347-955-4743, tookeralley.com) has this hobo-chic aesthetic going on, very 1920s. Bar Corvo (791 Washington Ave, between St. Johns and Lincoln Pls, Crown Heights, Brooklyn; 718-230-0940, barcorvo.com): I’ve been there twenty times since they’ve opened and their food is consistently fantastic. Not entirely my aesthetic, but it definitely makes my palate happy.
What’s your favorite event that happens at The Way Station?
One of my favorites is the Wasabassco Burlesque. It’s the best burlesque in the world. It incorporates so many different body types and levels of burlesque. When we have the show here, we get a lot of people dressing up like ’50s pinups.
Next up: Nerd Karaoke, Sun 12 at 8pm; free.