The new tenants of 54 N. 11th street open their doors on Halloween. Here's what happened.
All photos by C Squared Photography for SchimanskiNYC.com
When you stroll up to Schimanski, it doesn't look much different from its defunct predecessor, Verboten, with its façade of classy rusted metal and sandblasted brickwork. Inside, the Williamsburg, Brooklyn nightclub looked pretty much identical too, aside from the addition of a high-end Alpha Dynacord sound system. In fact, when I arrived at the club's "pre-opening" Halloween party on Monday night (October 31)—a blow-out featuring a cast of American and European house and techno heavyweights like DeWalta, Konstantin, Boris Werner, Jesse Calosso, and Caleb Calloway playing till 4AM—I overheard one clubgoer say, "Everyone's just going to keep calling it Verboten."
Still, there were a few differences between the two clubs that stood out. For one thing, the Schimanski team named the place after a working class cop from an 80s German crime TV show called Tatort. Like the patron saint of clubland, Schimanski lorded magnanimously over the crowd, a photo of his rugged visage and extraordinary stache staring down at club-goers from various framed portraits and a projection on a wall across from the bar.
Back in January, THUMP broke the story that Verboten's investors were accusing the club's owners, Jen Schiffer and husband Jon Perez, of financial fraud and mismanagement. A couple months later, in March, Schiffer and Perez were sued by the club's former and current employees at the time for sexual harassment and discrimination. Then, the club was seized by state officials for tax evasion, re-opening briefly in April when Schiffer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, before permanently shutting down after she was arrested later that month for allegedly writing bad checks. Considering Verboten's spectacular fall from grace, it's safe to say the entire New York nightlife community's interest was thoroughly piqued on what would happen to the space next.
In June, the club was put up for auction to help the owners pay off their debts. Interest in the space was further kindled when news broke that Eddie Dean, former owner of the now-shuttered, famous midtown venue Pacha, had placed a successful, $1.2 million bid on the venue at bankruptcy court. "I started my nightlife career in Brooklyn so it's only fitting that I return here now," said Dean in an official press statement at the time.
Once inside, the place will feel comfortingly familiar to Verboten initiates; the long bar is to your left, bathroom to the right (note: the window in the men's bathroom is still there, with its bizarre function of allowing you to you pee in a urinal while gazing out onto the dancefloor). And the reclaimed wood floor and exposed warehouse rafters remain—as does the venue's sizeable sideroom, which happened to be shuttered for the night. There was also a similar immersive video projection system that wraps around the club's walls, illuminating the space with trippy visuals.
There was one new piece of interior flare though: a fiberglass disco shark hanging over the bar, created by New York-based artist Kevin McHugh, who once managed the renowned New York DJ and producer Danny Tenaglia. McHugh makes models of the endangered Mako shark—and other aquatic creatures, like tiger sharks and sea turtles—to raise awareness for maritime conservation. If you've danced in Coachella's Yuma tent or at Sound in LA, you'll recognize his shimmering pieces keeping swimming over the dancefloor.
Onstage, the DJs shuffled through expected genre variants like tech-house, Latin house, and grimy techno, keeping heart rates somewhere around 128 BPM with a steady 4x4 kick drum. The giant speaker stacks hanging on either side of the DJ booth and lining the floor beneath it sent feels through every part of the body—and the additional speakers spread throughout the space, including over the bar, ensured that the sound carried pretty well throughout.
The lightly costumed crowd danced contentedly, but seemed to hold back a bit. Considering it was the fourth night in a row of Halloween, you can't really ask for much more. Still, the best thing I saw was a dancing Jesus, who was alternately dabbing and making the sign of the cross, all while balancing a Holy Grail cup and smiling at his dance partner Mary, who joined him in a happy shuffle. The freestyling house dancer over in the corner who went in solo all evening deserves his own honorable mention.
So what does the future hold for Schimanski? Competition in the neighborhood is surely stiff, with Output, Good Room, and a typically crammed weekend schedule of parties to contend with. There's also the lingering memory of one of the more dramatic club closure scandals in recent times to take into account, which is never an easy thing to move past. But the team behind the venue has a serious track record of doing things right, and the name is definitely a selling point, keeping people guessing wildly about what it all means. Only the Schimanski knows for sure what will happen, and he always gets his man.
Follow Mike Steyels on Twitter: @iswayski