Last month CMJ reported that beloved downtown Manhattan music venue the Cake Shop had fallen on hard times, needing $10,000 to help pay off “potentially bogus fines” that could lead to eviction. Though the venue managed to jump that initial monetary and logistical hurdle, the Cake Shop is still in the midst of a financial crisis. The owners have recently announced a new plan to save the Cake Shop, and they need your help. More specifically, they need your money.
In conjunction with music-centric community-funding website PledgeMusic, the venue is looking to raise over $50,000 with different awards available for varying donation levels. For example a $12 donation gets you an exclusive Cake Shop compilation album curated by the owners of the venue, while a significantly more generous $20,000 donation will score you free drinks for life. You can click here to donate.
While the PledgeMusic page has a generally positive tone, the situation is still quite dire. A recent New York Times article on the future of the Cake Shop revealed the following: “[The owners] are under a court order to pay the landlord $58,000 by July 26, to cover the club’s share of taxes under the lease for two calendar years. They are also facing a $20,000 fine from the New York State Liquor Authority for noise violations and for several incidents in which under-age patrons were sold drinks last year.” As the Village Voice points out in a recent write-up on the situation, the PledgeMusic goal is only set so low as “to guarantee that cash can be withdrawn in the next 60 days.”
In an effort to find out more on the situation and check in on the future of the Cake Shop, CMJ spoke to Nick Bodor. Bodor is one of the owners of the venue along with his brother Andy (who handles most of the booking) and Greg Curley. Bodor spoke to CMJ from his office at the Cake Shop, where shows continue to go on every night, despite the venue’s dicey and uncertain future.
On the PledgeMusic page you mention some new ID laws that have made things tough for you guys. Can you explain those changes?
Nick: Yeah, for a long time it was common practice to accept driver’s licenses from other countries, and if somebody was 35 years old and they had an expired ID on them, we would make a judgement call, like, “OK, it’s illegal to serve people under 21, but this guy is clearly 40 years old.” Basically the precinct told us that going forward we were not allowed to take expired IDs no matter the age, and we’re not allowed to take government-issued driver’s licenses from other countries. Basically we are only allowed to take state-issued IDs from Canada and the U.S., or a passport from another country.
Do you think sometimes there’s a concerted effort on the part of the city to restrict smaller live music venues in downtown Manhattan?
Nick: We think of ourselves as responsible bar owners. I’m sure we’ve all seen a club that pops up and has a DJ in the front window and doors wide open and that’s really evasive. We spent money soundproofing and redesigning the bar so you couldn’t hear anything on the street, and we try to do everything the right way, and then all of a sudden these rules change and it directly affects our business, and we have to scramble to figure it out. We’ve never had a fight that really kicked up—it’s mostly an arty crowd—and all of a sudden the precinct is strongly suggesting that we have a security guy outside seven days a week. That’s $140-160 a day that we have to pay out that we weren’t before. It adds up to $1,000 a week that all of a sudden we’ve got to shell out, otherwise we run the risk of having… We want to be very pro police; we want them to be on our side; we don’t want to do anything to upset them; so we try and do the right thing, but it costs us a lot of money.
I assume since the venue’s been open it’s always been a challenging financial situation, because that’s often how running a small venue goes. Is this the closest you’ve come to closing over the years?
Nick: We’ve been here seven years. It’s me, and my brother Andy is the booker, and I still bartend here; we’re here all the time. The reason that I’m bartending and he’s always been the booker, it’s a way for us to make extra money in our own place, because the margins on an indie-rock club, especially in Manhattan, it’s always a bit of a struggle. The problem that happened was that we had three things that compounded all within a three-month period, and we’ve never had what you’d call “deep pockets.” We’ve never been able to put money in the bank, and we’re only pulling small paychecks to run the place.
You and your brother also owned the Brooklyn venue Bruar Falls, which recently closed down. You cited smaller DIY venues that exist in a legal middle-ground as part of the reason for closing. Do you think that affects Cake Shop attendance as well?
Nick: I don’t actually. I think that Cake Shop has always sort of existed with Pianos, Living Room, Mercury Lounge, Arlene’s Grocery. We’ve all co-existed in Manhattan, and we all—there’s no competition. We like that there’s a scene down here and people can go bar-hopping and see a bunch of great bands. And we’re all paying similar market rents, and we’re paying for our liquor licenses, and we’re all in the same boat.
What made you guys decide to use PledgeMusic in particular, as opposed to Kickstarter?
Nick: We’ve always liked the underdogs, for one thing, but I like their platform, and I like how whereas Kickstarter is people supporting all of the arts, PledgeMusic is really concentrating on music.
Do you guys have any hints on who will be featured on the compilation album?
Nick: We’re still working it out. We’re hoping we can call in some favors with some bands we call “friends of Cake Shop” or people that have graduated through the path of Cake Shop. We’re hoping that they’ll donate a live recording of something or possibly some B-sides they didn’t use. We’d love to have that. We want to do everything legally, so we don’t want to announce anything until everybody has signed on.
Also I saw that the top prize is drinks for life, but there’s no prize for shows for life. Was that ever discussed as an option?
Nick: Again we want people to keep visiting [the PledgeMusic site], and we’re probably going to tweak it along the way. Like anything else there’s a learning curve, so that’s definitely an option, if we feel that’s something people want. Also we want to make sure the bands are getting compensated, and we don’t want to take away from them. Giving away free drinks is coming out of our pocket, whereas if somebody is not paying the cover charge, the bands might make a little less.