I used to love going to Bossa Nova Civic Club. It was old reliable as the place to get late-night crazy with my pals—the DJs were always great, the smoke machine pumping away, the crowd was hyped-up and hip (we’re not talking only new New York hip either, thankfully), and the booze flowed freely. Best of all, the price tag for a night at Bossa Nova is infinitely cheaper than going to any other club I can think of. That’s precisely what I liked about the place–it didn’t feel like a club, more a crazy dance party full of like-minded weirdos. Grit reigned over glamor. But then suddenly, it became a pain to get in. There was always an intimidating line and the cover charge was imposed earlier in the night. Both of which seem like minor obstacles that, like, I should have just gotten over in the interest of having a killer time. And suddenly this might start to sound like a tale of personal laziness or a case of slipping into boring adulthood. But turns out there are a reason those days are over, in keeping with the dramatically changing landscape of nightlife and the DIY scene over the past year. Two bloggers over at Under the Sound, Alden Wicker and Illich Mujica, spoke with John Barclay (owner of Bossa Nova and a guy who knows a thing or two about DIY) and found that the club ran into some serious trouble with the MARCH task force. During the Giuliani reign, the city saw a widespread crackdown on underground parties by the Quality of Life Task Force and eventually the Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots (MARCH), which, as the name implies, is a coordinated effort by the State Liquor Authority and the NYPD. Mayor Bloomberg continued the take down of DIY venues and after-hours spots. MARCH appearances would go and come back in waves, setting off renewed panic that underground nightlife was in danger of being squashed.
It’s reasonable to think some of this party pooping would fall by the wayside under de Blasio’s tenure, seeing as how he’s encouraged the NYPD to shift their focus away from going after marijuana users in the interest of devoting more attention to, you know, serious crime. But the threat is still real: DIY venue owners I spoke to recently said the number one reason they only hold weekend shows is to avoid the potential for getting shut down. There’s only so much the cops will turn a blind eye to and in light of sustained quality of life policing, cops could actually be stepping up their enforcement. Community members can lodge complaints, which MARCH then responds to.
In the case of Bossa Nova, it was media attention that brought the cops to Barclay’s doorstep. “We got a write up in the New York Times, and they showed up with a copy of the New York Times on their clipboard,” he told Under the Sound. “We didn’t really see that coming.” But with Bossa, it seems the MARCH responded without community outcry. “We have a pretty safe crowd overall,” Barclay said in the same interview. “We’ve never had any insurance claims, we’ve never had any real police incidents, no one has ever been hurt, no overdoses, no fires. Everything is up to code.” There have been no 311 complaints called in for Bossa’s address.
Despite an otherwise clean record at the end of August, the club was handed a serious DOB violation—operation of a place of assembly without a certificate of occupancy. As the law is written, all Bossa has to do to make that violation go away is obtain a certificate. But apparently that’s not as easy as it sounds, considering the paperwork that has to be filed and the hefty fines the club has yet to pay off. According to DOB records, Bossa still owes the city $8,000. The long lines I kept seeing appeared for a reason—the club had to cut their capacity in half, to just 74 people. But things are looking up, a Facebook post shows the club received on “A” on their sanitary inspection.
Under the Sound contacted Barclay because of a rant he posted on Facebook, long after the MARCH raid, in which he called out “freeloaders.” He was clearly frustrated by a sense of entitlement some Bossa goers have feeling they deserve free drinks, free entrance. Barclay’s explanation? “My rant was aimed at people who won’t financially support a project that they emotionally support as a point of pride,” he said. Barclay also argued he’s underselling Bossa Nova, and that if people don’t come out and support the place by agreeing to pay their fair share, it might not survive. So if you’re still mourning the loss of all the great places that closed last year, consider drying your tears and open your eyes to what’s still around. I know I’ll be going back ASAP.