Bruar Falls, the bar and venue at 245 Grand St. in Williamsburg, will close by November 1 because of one simple reality: It’s hard to do DIY and be profitable. Bruar Falls was the brainchild of brothers Nick and Andy Bodor, the duo behind Cake Shop and the Library on the Lower East Side. The brothers tell CMJ that they will be selling their shares of the bar to the third-party owner of Bruar Falls, John Cutillo. Lead mainly by Nick, who discovered the space, Bruar Falls was to be a hub amidst Brooklyn’s DIY scene, the legitimate version of the basement or loft party. But the modern speakeasy idea proved difficult to uphold, and it was only a matter of time before Bruar Falls had to face the music.
The road to Bruar Falls was paved with good intentions. In an announcement, the Bodor brothers said: “We created Bruar Falls to assist in nurturing the Brooklyn independent music scene and help the bands that continually inspire us.” The problem wasn’t getting people to come see the shows—it was getting them to stay. The venue had a strict midnight curfew for its shows. The brothers hoped attendees would stick around to hang and buy beers at the bar after the show ended, but most crowds migrated to other local drinking spots once the live music stopped. Ticket sales didn’t make up for the lost bar profits because, for a long time, Bruar Falls didn’t charge a cover for shows. But within a year, the Bodors began to see that this was not sustainable.
In an average week the venue needed $10,000, explains Nick, but instead Bruar Falls made just about $6,000. The brothers began to look for ways to shore up costs; Nick began bartending again while Andy did all the booking, but between staff, utilities, rent and finally having to pay bands, it became too much. Conflicts within the bar also contributed to its downfall. According to one anonymous post on a Brooklyn Vegan article about Bruar, the bartenders at the venue were the “worst bartenders in America for a DIY indie venue.” Apparently this wasn’t far from the truth. According to Andy, the bartenders, hired by their third partner, had some trouble with the clientele. Andy describes the bartenders as older, gruffer, with a penchant for rockabilly music. When more eclectic groups took the stage, the bartenders would sometimes share some unkind words with them, says Andy. When booking agents heard of this, the venue suffered.
“It’s sad—I’m not too macho to say it,” says Nick. Bruar Falls was from the beginning a personal project for him. The especially long bar at Bruar is just one sign of Nick’s personal touch, as he says he hates going to shows where there’s nowhere to sit and thus designed his own bar accordingly. The saddest thing, says Nick, was to build the place only to have it be no fun to be around, “and I’m walking away with nothing to show for it,” he says. Nick is not sure he’ll ever have another opportunity like Bruar Falls.
Nick has a background in business as long as the Bruar Falls bar. He started when he was 13, washing dishes at the Georgetown Saloon in Connecticut, and he learned everything he knows from the two men who ran the place. “I told myself when I was 18, ‘By the time I’m 28, I want my own business,'” he recalls. His first one was a coffee house in the East Village called Alt. Coffee, which he owned and operated for 14 years. When Starbucks came along, Nick sold stickers with the Starbucks logo, only these said “fuck off.” A kid he knew who was making the stickers got nabbed by private investigators hired by Starbucks and confessed to the stickers’ source. Nick was taken to court by Starbucks but hired a lawyer instead of settling. The charges were dropped, but in the end, Alt. Coffee ended in a fashion not unlike Bruar, though Nick had higher expectations for that venture.
“Bruar was a deal where I could set everything up myself,” he says. “It was the next step in the building process. That’s why it’s frustrating to see it closed.” He takes his business to heart, doing his best to respect neighbors, satisfy landlords and meet all city requirements. He believes in the stabilizing effect business has on a community, recalling the rough and crime-ridden Lower East Side of the ’90s that was the norm before venues like Cake Shop opened. He’d hoped to do the same in Brooklyn. “I have a tattoo that says ‘no regrets'” says Nick, “but I should have let it go.”
The brothers will be refocusing their efforts on Cake Shop, expanding its output with a Web series in which performances are taped and put online. Special events by invitation only are also in the future, say the brothers.