Over the last six years, co-owners Bill Dozer and Dan Oestreich have built The Acheron into a punk oasis in the middle of concrete nowhere. On an empty strip of Waterbury Street in East Williamsburg, their venue played host to a impressive run of local, national, international, and legendary acts across the spectrum of dark, angry, passionate, or deranged music until two weeks ago, when they announced it was all coming to an abrupt end.
Unlike other late, lamented Brooklyn spots like Glasslands or Death by Audio (and maybe Palisades, too as of this summer) the closing wasn’t due to neighborhood friction, police pressure, or massive corporate expansion. In the end it was a mundane insurance dispute, and the raised rates that came with it, that made continuing on impossible. “We could get re-insured, but then the cost would be astronomical,” said Oestreich. Running these spaces for love instead of money can often be just that tenuous. And for an operation he calls “family-run,” bringing on outside investors, or potential corporate backing, is not something they considered a viable option.
Tonight, the venue holds it’s last pure punk show featuring Acheron regulars Aspects of War from Boston, alongside locals Warthog, Indignation, and Conspiracy. Tomorrow, they host an early metal bill that brings together acts from Seattle, Detroit, and Brooklyn, and another late show with stars of the subculture like Magrudergrind, Techgrinder, and Uniform that’ll be the spot’s final performance before the stage is razed and it’s absorbed back into extra space for Anchored Inn, the connected bar and music community hub next door.
There’ll be tickets available at the door for all of this weekend’s shows for what’s likely to be a wild Viking funeral. Oestreich hopes to pack in the room as best they can. “We want people to show up. At this point, what the fuck could happen?” he jokes. “I don’t want to turn anyone away this weekend. I like to think that if people really want to come this weekend it’s for the bands. Even if just an iota of it is for the space, that’s something. I want everyone to have some kind of final experience and leave thinking and feeling like it was as much for them as it was for us.”
Plus, it’s only an ending in part; the Acheron team will continue on as promoters, carrying out all the shows originally scheduled for Acheron across Brooklyn this summer and beyond. But Oestreich indulged us in some further Acheron reminiscing to mark the occasion just the same.
How did you and Bill starting working together?
We kind of both got into this in the same way, just growing up going to shows, then starting to book shows. Bill started Acheron before me and once it opened, just as someone who booked a lot of punk shows in town, I was happy to have a new venue and booked one of the first shows for a band called Masakari from Cleveland. My old band Death First played it, and a couple others.
Growing up in Manhattan, were there spots he went to for punk shows as a kid that served as a model for what The Acheron would become?
I think I snuck into a show at CBGBs before I was 16. But seeing ABC NO Rio was kind of eye-opening in terms of what DIY could be. In terms of running this, I’ve been going on tour pretty nonstop since I finished school, and getting to see so many different venues around country and now around the world sort of picking and choosing things from them.
What do all the good ones have in common?
First and foremost bands have to be treated well. If a band can come and no one comes to their show and its a total flop but they leave thinking, “I would play there again, because I was treated respectfully and the staff went out of their way.” That’s the most I could ever want out of running a venue.
And how was the experience of having a home base different from booking around, being a punk nomad?
It was awesome. The knee-jerk reaction is, this is great, you know where every show will be! But it’s easy to become complacent as the booker when you have just the one place. If it was three nights in a row of the same scene, by the third night, no one would be here? But, I think my view on that is maybe a little neurotic or something.
We did have a pretty tight knit group, though. It’s where everyone comes to have a drink after they’re practicing at Sweat Shop, and so much about it became a focal point or meet-up spot beyond just for shows. That’s one of the things that made this place feel so special.
Do you think it had that feel pretty quickly?
I think it started once Anchored Inn opened up, having this place that was open all the time made it a lot easier. The two places together sort of worked in a very symbiotic way. Acheron was open for maybe like a year before Anchored Inn opened, then there was another year and a half or so when it was completely separate. The door wasn’t there. The door being put in was like this big moment!
And that brought with it a higher level of city regulation?
That’s when this became a full on legal space, and not the DIY space it started as. Money-wise, it was pretty negligible. It made it so this side needed to have a liquor license. The biggest thing for me was going from never having booked a show that wasn’t all ages to booking 18 plus shows. That was the first jarring thing. It’s sad if anyone ever has to get turned away, but I was happy that even with that it still maintained and definitely grew from there to what it is now.
Was there a single show that gave you the first real rush of “Oh shit, we’re doing it”?
Even though I hate them, when Refused played here, which was pretty early on, that was the first real, like, “Whoa!” It was an after show for their Terminal 5 reunion show. We didn’t know it was going to happen, pretty much until they were offstage there that they were going to come. We made an announcement and five minutes later there was a line around the corner.
The street is two blocks from the L, so it’s not really off the beaten path. But when you look at it, it feels desolate. I think that’s what sort of made it appealing. It felt like this sort of autonomous zone. All these spaces have lasted. Shea is there, Paper Box is there. There is something to be said for being in this little whatever it’s called…East Williamsburg Industrial Park? No one lives here.
Is there a natural place for punk and hardcore shows to go after Acheron?
Look, there’s tons of shows all the time in the area. I like to think that Acheron served a great purpose and was a resource for all these different scenes, and I truly believe it was. But even in just these last two weeks, seeing all these venues that reach out to us, before we even reached out to them saying we’d love to host whatever shows you have to move, just seeing how open and welcoming a lot of places have been. If anything, that’s really softened the blow. There are places, maybe not tons, but there are places.
But not with the same sort of laser focus on punk that you had?
I would agree with that. I’ve always kind of believed that there’s a real cyclical nature to punk. We’ve come to this age of nonstop reunion bands, but to me punk is always these bands that I never got to see because they broke up after a year, or one 7”. Or never getting to go to this venue because it got shut down. As sad as I am that this is closing and the loss that it is…if it didn’t happen today, if it was ten years from now and it would close and someone else would start something or there will be something that will kind of evolve. I do think with having the bar continue on next door that the sense of community will continue. That’s not going to change. But in terms of a sustainable venue where every punk knows they can go there and be themselves? Yeah, I don’t know.
Are you still a little too in this moment to have your next moves mapped out?
I think there’s a part of me that’s still kind of waiting for the dust to settle, but we have a decent idea. We already had so many shows booked that we had to move, I think in a way Bill and I are just sort of looking at it as business as usual from here on out. I’m not going to stop doing what I’m doing, whether it’s under the handle of Acheron Presents or whatever. We’re still going to be working just as hard. We just can’t book here.