Among the allures of the Gowanus neighborhood is all that empty warehouse space.
When musical acts were filling up the popular Park Slope bar Union Hall faster than its owners knew what to do, Jim Carden and Andy Templar considered expanding and looked to the Gowanus.
In September 2008, they signed a lease at an 8,800-square-foot converted 1920s warehouse on Seventh Street in Gowanus and, one year later, opened the Bell House. An upgrade from the 5,000-square foot Union Hall, the Bell House now boasts a 350-person-capacity music venue with a separate 150-capacity lounge and bar in the front. Architecturally, the space is ideal for such uses — there are no columns because of a vaulted ceiling, and Templar’s team has hosted weddings, corporate retreats, and even children’s events there. The bar has become something of a neighborhood “watering hole,” Templar proudly said.
“We looked other places, but we had an interest and an excitement about this neighborhood, so when this space popped up and it seemed to fit, it seemed serendipitous,” Templar recalled.
But the remoteness of the neighborhood poses both an advantage and a disadvantage to such endeavors. Clearly, there are no neighbors to complain about noise issues, but at the same time, there is always a question about people trekking the extra few blocks away from the more established neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens and Park Slope that frame the Gowanus.
A converted warehouse also has the feel of a voluminous beer hall and that certainly suited the proprietors of Draft Barn, on Third Avenue near Thirteenth Street, where owner George Mitelman handpicked nearly 250 bottles of beer and a rotating cast of 14 beers on tap.
Warehouse space also helped the Brooklyn Crossroads Supper Club to create a 6,000-square-feet dining and entertainment venue that is more reminiscent of a Manhattan nightclub, rather than an outpost located two blocks from a polluted canal. With bottle service at $175 for a bottle of Grey Goose vodka, two VIP lounges, three dining areas, a sunken dance floor, late hours, general manager Antoine Joyce has created a “modern take” on the 1950s idea of dining and entertaining in one venue.
For the late Suzanne Fiol, who was looking for a place to house the Issue Project Room — a venue known for its experimental music performances and studios that has since expanded to poetry and literature readings and film screenings— the area provided the community and support to help start her business. Fiol first moved to a renovated industrial building on Carroll Street in 2005 and then settled in the Old American Can Factory.
“The surrounding community is wonderful,” Fiol told the Brooklyn Paper in 2007. “They’ve really embraced us.” Fiol died in October, but her company will move later this year to donated theater space in Downtown Brooklyn.
To Templar and the Bell House, Gowanus offers what New York’s established neighborhoods often can’t: possibility.
“When you’re down on the frontier, you feel much more in the balance [but] you have a lot more possibility,” said Templar.