When Michael Swier lived in Williamsburg in the 1970s and ’80s, his car was broken into so many times that he bought a lock for the hood. But he’s back, now that the neighborhood is a place to make money rather than lose it.
“We identified Brooklyn, specifically Williamsburg, three years ago as a place that we wanted to go into,” said Swier, a partner in Bowery Presents, the company behind the Music Hall of Williamsburg, the multi-million-dollar nightclub moving into the North Sixth Street space that Northsix inhabited until earlier this year. “Finding the right space proved to be a challenge, though, and when Northsix closed, I pursued it vigorously. It took two years [of negotiations] to get it done, but it did pay off in the end.”
The 8,000-square-foot space, a former mayonnaise factory, is loosely based on the Bowery Ballroom, the club that Swier opened in 1998, but is bigger and has what Brian Swier, the architect and Michael’s brother, called “an industrial aesthetic.”
Construction won’t be complete until opening night — a Sept. 4 concert by Bowery Ballroom regular Patti Smith — but many of the coming attractions are already visible, including a subterranean lounge, the main concert hall and a mezzanine with bleacher seating, wings and its own bar.
The most compelling architectural detail is the bandshell ceiling. “It’s like an ear,” explained the architect. “We lowered the ceiling for acoustics, so now it all vibrates and there’s no sound to the structure.”
That’s a good thing considering the proximity of residential housing and the loud acts that have already been booked, including marquee stars like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Thurston Moore. And while tickets aren’t exactly cheap — Smith’s show has a $35 cover — booker Josh Moore said most shows will be less expensive.
But does Williamsburg, which seems to have plenty of rock clubs (and local bands to play in them), need a place like this?
“Bowery Presents is one of the most important incubators of new artists in the city,” said Robert Elmes, executive director of Galapagos Art Space, the Music Hall’s current neighbor. “There are a lot of great young bands that are going nowhere. They don’t have a sense of how to lead themselves forward, and Bowery Presents is able to put them on big bills and grow their audiences.”
Elmes, who is moving his own operation to DUMBO, said that the Music Hall is poised to expose national acts to Williamsburg, not just vice-versa.
“There’s a moment where artists look out into the audience, and don’t know where they’re playing,” he said. “But in Brooklyn, they’re more interested in what they’re doing. That audience will teach them about where the rest of the country will go in a few years. You can play Buffalo all you want, but you’ve got to play New York.”
And what about the local musicians and club goers? Northsix was known for having big acts on their main stage while smaller, more avant garde groups played in the basement, giving in-the-know locals a place to hang out.
“Williamsburg is getting weirder by the day,” said Mike Skinner, a record producer and 10-year neighborhood resident. “I’m sure that [with] the proximity to the hideous, 26-story behemoth luxury lofts they are building, the clientele will change.”
Skinner, who played at Northsix with his own bands, was sad to see it go, but has high hopes for the Music Hall — though believes its success will come at the expense of the neighborhood’s fringe elements. “I think every time we undergo some sort of shrinkage, the losers are the edgier musicians,” he said.
Michal Swier knows that the neighborhood is changing, but thinks his club will keep the rock scene anchored. “[Williamsburg] went in fits and starts getting somewhere, and it was nice to see it finally come around to what it is today,” he said. “It’s a perfect spot for what we do because the artistic community that was there, and still is there, [exists] alongside the people who are moving in. Williamsburg has been an ongoing theme in my life in New York — you couldn’t ask for a better ending to the story.”
The Music Hall of Williamsburg (66 N. Sixth St., at Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg) will open on Sept. 4 with Patti Smith and her band. Tickets are $35. For information, visit www.musichallofwilli....