Last Wednesday I walked into Sunnyvale. Yes, Sunnyvale, like the Nova Scotian trailer park, home to Canadian drunkards and ex-convicts in the hilarious mock-reality series, Trailer Park Boys (season 10, on its way!). The Sunnyvale I walked into, however, is a brand new bar and event space on an industrial strip of Grand Street in Bushwick. There aren’t really other bars in its vicinity, except for the excellent strip club Pumps [Ed. note: When asked, Natalie Rinn confirms that she really has been to Pumps and it is indeed “excellent”] a block away, and the nearby Kings Tavern, which, when I passed it on my way to Sunnyvale, had only one guy at a bar crowned with brightly flashing TVs.
And so, as I dodged slush pits and snow banks walking to Sunnyvale, I was not at all sure I was in the right place. Just a lot of old industry surrounded me. And indeed, as Sunnyvale General Manager Tim Pioppo told me when I did learn I was in the right spot, Sunnyvale—which he co-owns and runs with five partners, and which will throw a big, grand opening party this Saturday—was hand-built by partner Jesse Greene inside a 160-year-old building that used to hold a paper and lithography company. “Right now you’re standing in [what used to be] the boiler house,” Pioppo tells me. Actually, I was standing in front of a long wooden bar with a whole bunch of vintage lamp shades suspended above me, and bar manager Conor Brooke was waiting for me to place an order.
Sunnyvale is the passion project of partners Pioppo, Brooke, Greene, assistant general manager and booking manager Alexandra Lukens, and venue manager John Weingarten. Finally, there is Sunnyvale’s “LLC overlord,” Dr. Pooyan Aslani, who Pioppo describes as “a 40-year-old atheist Iranian, civil engineer, and New York University professor.” The rest of the partners are younger and come from varied backgrounds—music and DIY venues like the original Market Hotel (now resurrected!), 285 Kent, Silent Barn and Cheap Storage. Partners Weingarten, Pioppo, and Lukens also form part of a14-piece garage psych soul band, The Love Supreme.
“We all come from slightly different areas of the world, but as a unit it’s fucking flawless,” says Pioppo of his team. “I’m not even kidding.”
Bar manager Conor Brooke is an actor (“everything but porn and soap operas,” he says) and bartended extensively at high-end establishments in Lincoln and Rockefeller Centers and in the Meatpacking district. “‘I’ve always wanted a bar of my own, but I was like, I don’t want to bring that (all the fancy Manhattan elements) to Brooklyn,” says Brooke. “Still, I made everything here unique as fuck. All those drinks, you’re not going to find anywhere else.”
Scanning the menu (can of beer, $4, cans plus a well shot, $7, draft beers $6 and $8, and Brooke’s house cocktails, between $6 and $10), my eye caught on “I am the liquor.” Its description is just an html emoticon, grinning and shrugging its shoulders.
“Are you familiar with the show Trailer Park Boys?” Brooke asks me. In one scene Randy asks Mr. Lahey, who is downing a big bottle of liquor, “Is this you talkin’ or the liquor,” and Mr. Lahey tells him, “Randy, I am the liquor.” Brooke asks if I’d like one and I say I feel decent about it. “It’s a very trashy drink,” he tells me. “You won’t be disappointed.”
I Am The Liquor is handed to me in a big plastic cup. It’s bright orange. I take a sip and it is definitely orange soda and, I guess, bourbon. Overall, it’s reminiscent of Robitussin DM and incredibly strong. “It’s a trailer park Long Island Iced Tea and that’s as good as you’re going to get if it’s on the record,” says Pioppo.
Because Sunnyvale’s bones are industrial, it can hold a good many people. The team intended the space to operate as a live-event catch-all. The only thing they won’t host is crap. What they will host, however, is a lot of live music, burlesque and drag shows, comedy nights, Latin nights, birthday parties, djs, trance and house music.
“The entire space is devoted to being a place that brings in different parts of the community,” says Pioppo. “It’s a professional space with the spirt of a DIY space.” Pioppo and partners spent months shedding blood, sweat and tears converting the space and making sure all the permits for coding upgrades were won. There are kitsch remnants all around from their various old stomping grounds. Two pieces are particularly prized: an old now-valuable work from graffiti artist Dark Clouds (Lukens took it with her from the old Market Hotel) and a custom Sunnyvale print with everyone’s favorite Sunnyvale characters, donated by a friend, called “Welcome to Sunnyvale.” “We want people to come in here and feel comfortable,” says Pioppo. “Eventually we’re going to have tables that can fold into the wall so we can pull things out and move things around within twenty minutes. It can function as a cozy space, like on an off Tuesday night, and it can also, like, easily turn into a great place for a big show.”
The soft open the weekend before, apparently, was a rager. “Our opening night was the biggest shit show I’ve ever scene,” says Greene, the contractor. “I’ve been bartending thirteen or fourteen years and I’ve never worked harder than that in my life,” Brooke chimes in.
While venue Manager John Weingarten heads up booking, there is a collective of people outside who have input—people from booking company Ad Hoc, PS1, Market Hotel, and Brooklyn Bowl. All have access to Sunnyvale’s calendar. If there’s an open slot and their venues are not right for a show, they can bring it to Sunnyvale—and vice versa. “We don’t want to compete, let’s collaborate,” says Tim. “That’s why it’s called Sunnyvale: It’s a funny reference, but it’s also a name that is innocuous enough that people can ascribe their own purpose to it.”
And if your band, or drag show, or Latin night, ends up on Sunnyvale’s very large stage, Weingarten assures: “We have the best sound system in town, for our size. Without a doubt. Our speakers are absolutely top of the line.” That includes two “incredible vintage Meyers” and a full digital board, says Weingarten, which allows them to record and then save material when a band comes in to soundcheck. The team did a test run with their own 14-piece band, The Love Supreme. “It sounded great,” says Lukens. “We always want (bands) to have good, good gear should they choose to play at our venue,” Weingarten added.
At that point, I’d been slurping I Am The Liquor for a while. I tell them I am starting to feel like the liquor. “How many do you think you could handle?” Weingarten asks. My guess is 1.2. They ask if I want another, but I decline immediately. I have to meet someone afterward at least half sober. “We all had to take a test to know how much alcohol we could serve as part of our insurance.” Pioppo says, who then reveals I Am The Liquor’s strength. “It’s the equivalent of three drinks. It’s a great deal. You can get drunker for way cheaper.”
Then Weingarten proceeds to tell a story about how this guy Jack, a “brick shit-house,” ordered six I Am The Liquors one after the next, and how if anybody gets to four at Sunnyvale, it’s on the house. Somewhere along the line I drop an F-bomb, because then, Jesse Greene, the contractor—who had been otherwise quiet—suddenly jumps in.
“I am really comfortable that you drop F-bombs just as much as we do,” he said. “You’re amongst good company.”
Sunnyvale, 1031 Grand Street, Brooklyn. Grand opening Saturday, February 6. Doors at 8pm; music from Oberhofer / Genesis P-Orridge & Edley ODowd of Psychic TV / LODRO / DJ Cassie Ramone. Show starts at 9, tickets, here.