Concealed Brooklyn Club Serves Up Latin-Inspired Vegetarian and Analog Beats
Black Flamingo doesn’t do bottle service. There’s no doorman selecting those worthy of entry and they don’t maintain a guest list held behind a velvet rope. Instead, it’s a hybrid club and restaurant that’s accessible and classy — without being posh — that boasts classic, analog sound.
The care put into the details is striking. In the restaurant upstairs, dark blue walls match the plush blue seating, clear tables incorporate circular grooves akin to vinyl, white orchids decorate the bar, and lighting fixtures perch above you like something straight out of The Jetsons.
To enter the club downstairs, music lovers must pass through a DIY Airstream trailer that was sheared in half and perched atop a wood-lined stairwell. After arriving, clubbers are presented with 1/3 of a disco ball creating an eccentric pattern as it spins, and honeycomb-patterned corkboard lines the ceiling.
In contrast to many clubs, Black Flamingo’s laundry list of partners is stacked with respected dance music veterans. The list includes Eli Goldstein, who’s one-half of DJ duo Soul Clap; Gadi Mizrahi, who’s one-half of DJ duo Wolf + Lamb; and Philipp Jung, who’s one-half of DJ duo M.A.N.D.Y. and owner of the renowned Get Physical record label. Operating partners David Shapiro and Etan Fraiman, co-owners of local restaurant Battery Harris, are the only partners that aren’t career DJs, in fact.
Soul Clap’s Eli Goldstein, who’s in charge of bookings, tells us that Black Flamingo began by exclusively featuring residencies from the partners’ favorite local New York City DJs. This elite list included Eli Escobar, Justin Strauss, the Let’s Play House crew, Lloydski, Beto Cravioto, The Razor-N-Tape collective, and The Wig. While these original few still maintain their residencies, Black Flamingo has opened up a some nights to a more diverse set of roving DJs. They’ve also added a Soul Clap Records night once a month, which serves as a platform for Goldstein and his DJ partner Charles Levine to showcase their label’s artists.
After experiencing the food and the ambiance for ourselves, we sat down for an in-depth conversation with David Shapiro, the driving force behind Black Flamingo, to learn about his inspirations and how it all came together.
What kind of vibe should Black Flamingo first-timers expect?
A house party inside of a club. Black Flamingo is a place to hang out, listen to good music, dance and socialize. We went for higher-end sound than most clubs because we needed a sound system that would allow us to play music at lower volumes, so people can carry on conversations. That was critical.
What kind of music do you typically book?
We don’t pigeonhole ourselves by declaring that we’re strictly a place for house, techno, or disco. At Black Flamingo, DJs who typically play a bigger club sound get to play for a smaller room, and they seem to really enjoy curating these unique kinds of sets. For example, Nicolas Jaar had an impromptu going-away party here for his girlfriend, and he played hip-hop and Indian Bollywood music! It was so fun. Most people think of a DJ in one context, but they might do something you’d never expect when they play here.
Who installed the sound system?
Elias Gwinn from Velidoxi Company picked out all the equipment, and then we had Joel Davis from All City Sound — who also works at Turntable Lab, here in New York — come by. They set everything up and then went above and beyond when fine-tuning the sound system for the room. Joel is often here socially, and if he notices anything, he’ll come back the next day and fix it. It’s pretty cool.
What equipment does the sound system include?
We have two Klipsch La Scalas on the dance floor and we have a third, smaller speaker, which is a Klipsch Heresy. Originally, we had the Heresy on the dance floor as a filler, but now we have it back in the booth to create more of a living room vibe. Additionally, we have two floated, 15-inch subwoofers — one under each speaker — which has been interesting for some of our DJs because they’re not used to having the subs so close to the booth.
What equipment is in the DJ booth?
We have two Technics 1200 turntables, two CDJs, the Rane MP2015 Rotary DJ Mixer and an amazing Tannoy monitor. There are also two McIntosh amplifiers; both from the 1980s. One of the amps powers the booth, the Klipsch Heresy and the subs, and the other amp powers the two Klipsch La Scalas. We also have a few bass traps, and in the ceiling, we have two and a half feet of concrete, because our restaurant is upstairs. Additionally, the DJ has control over the master light, a siren, and a strobe light, and there’s even an SPL meter so we can make sure the volume level is perfect.
What was your inspiration for opening Black Flamingo?
Years ago, I wanted to open a bar. This was a bit before [another local dance club named] Output opened. There were very few clubs in Brooklyn at the time, and I thought that the people in the scene that I came up with were ready for something small and intimate, like the Marcy Hotel [an infamous, invite-only dance club operated by Wolf + Lamb that was resurrected recently as the Marcy North], but on a more permanent basis. For whatever reason, the project morphed into my bar and restaurant, Battery Harris, so I kept the idea for Black Flamingo in the back of my mind. Then I found this space.
How did you link up with your partners?
After Battery Harris opened, Philipp Jung [of M.A.N.D.Y.] really pushed me to open something more like Black Flamingo. We’re very good friends, but Philipp lives in Germany, so he was eager to collaborate, as he loves New York and spends a lot of time here. With Philipp aboard, I convinced Etan Fraiman, who’s now my operating partner at Black Flamingo and also the same operating partner I have at Battery Harris. Once we had the three of us, I tried to get Zev Eisenberg from Wolf + Lamb on board, but Zev said that it wasn’t a good time for him and that I should talk to Eli Goldstein of Soul Clap. I did, and once Eli was on board, I felt like we had reached critical mass within the group. Gadi Mizrahi — also of Wolf + Lamb — came on a little bit later, and he’s been great to work with. He’s a genius.
How do you unify the aesthetic of the vegetarian restaurant upstairs with the club downstairs?
We have a honeycomb pattern in the club ceiling downstairs that can be found in elements of the restaurant upstairs, but ultimately, they’re very different rooms and they were intended to be like that. I remember being on the roof of Output club a few summers ago and thinking how funny it was that all these people paid a $40 cover to spent the night hanging out on the roof of a club. I wondered why, and I think the answer is that, yes, people go out to party and listen to music, but they also want to hang out. So, we designed the upstairs to feel cozy; a place to eat, to talk, to flirt and to network. It’s barren and beautiful downstairs because there’s a purpose for being down there, which is to listen to music and dance.
Why is there an Airstream travel trailer connecting the two floors?
We didn’t want to have an open doorway because we deliberately have different music playing upstairs and downstairs. So, we needed something substantial to block out the sound. Etan and I were going to buy an Airstream and retrofit it, but we realized that you can build one out of zinc, so we built the entryway out of real zinc.
What about the walls in the stairwell?
All the wood in the walls is from the old Marcy Hotel. Wolf + Lamb didn’t end up renewing their lease — or something like that — at the old Marcy Hotel, so they called us five days before they were going to move and asked us if we wanted the wood. We showed up 30 minutes later with a truck and salvaged it.
Who designed the food menu?
The food menu was designed by Eli Goldstein’s wife, chef Andrea Lubrano, who received her master’s degree in gastronomy from Boston University. She’s designed a few of other menus, notably Sunrise/Sunset, a cocktail and wine bar in Bushwick [an up-and-coming neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY]. After we opened, we hired Soozee Nguyen, the sous chef from a local vegan diner named Champs. She’s made a few changes to the menu, like adding tacos and more Latin influences, which is exciting.
What were your goals for the food menu?
We initially thought we wanted to do vegetarian, but we didn’t want to feel like we sacrificed anything. We did a bunch of tastings and Andrea delivered a delicious menu where only one of the top items was meat, so we decided to go all-in with vegetarian. Ultimately, our goal was to create a vegetarian place that you wouldn’t necessarily know is vegetarian. We hope you just eat the food, think it’s great, and when you realize it’s vegetarian, think, “Oh, wow!”
Who designed the drink menu?
Jeff Robbins, our General Manager, designed our cocktail menu. He used to be head of the bar at Kinfolk 90, which is near here. For Black Flamingo, we wanted to create a ’70s champagne lounge vibe, so we have a selection of champagne cocktails, some of which are very cheap. It’s a high-brow/low-brow kind of a thing; an ode to a ’70s champagne lounge, but one that’s totally affordable.
What does Black Flamingo offer New York City that doesn’t exist anywhere else?
We don’t charge a cover to get into the basement, which is pretty unique for a club in New York. As for the restaurant, I don’t know of any vegetarian taqueria in the city, so our new menu additions help us stand out. Additionally, the location is convenient for so many people, considering we’re very close to both Manhattan and Bushwick, we’re near the many large clubs off Wythe Avenue, we have a bike lane right outside, and we’re in between two subways. And of course, we’re all about our warm, analog sound system.
This was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of ClubWorld.