Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Weekend: 7.30-8.1

Friday, July 30

Park Slope: Swoon to the indie folk of the Swell Season at the Prospect Park band shell.

Brighton Beach: Explore Coney Island's neighbor to the east in our handy guide.

Gowanus: Celebrate 30 years of "The Big Takeover" at the Bell House.

Fort Greene: The always funny Gary Shteyngart celebrates his new book, "Super Sad True Love Story," at Greenlight.

Saturday, July 31

Park Slope: Return to the Prospect Park band shell and rock out to Sonic Youth.

Coney Island: A talent show comes to the Boardwalk.

Manhattan Beach: Sit outdoors and get swept into the Bohemian cabaret ensemble Vagabond Opera at Kingsborough.

Gowanus: Come early for the beatboxing, stick around for The Lost Circus at Littlefield.

Sunday, August 1

Sunset Park: Get an inside look at Brooklyn's newest gin facility, with the opening of Breuckelen Distillery.


Brighton Beach 2010 - livelier than ever

By Damian Harris-Hernandez and Stephen Witt

Coney Island, with its topsy-turvy amusements, sports bars and sideshow freaks, tends to grab the spotlight for nightlife in southern Brooklyn. But its neighbor to the east — Brighton Beach — is a sea of debauchery in its own right.

Long known as “Little Odessa” for its influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, the neighborhood sports several excellent nightclubs and restaurants that — with a little help from the ever-flowing vodka — will make you feel more like you’re at a Black Sea hot spot than a few blocks from Coney Island. And it’s livelier than ever, thanks to the long summer nights attracting revelers to the Boardwalk and weekly entertainment.

“We are always trying something new, whether it’s a new dish or a new dance number,” said Sofia Vinokurov, owner of National Restaurant and Nightclub owner, one of the neighborhood’s premier spots, known for its Vegas-style floorshows. “That’s what keeps people coming back.”

With Asser Levy Seaside Park just a stone’s throw away, throwing free concerts all summer long on Thursdays, you can also make a night of it with dinner and some music.

Here are a few key places to start:

National Restaurant and Nightclub

The swinging doors open into a two-tiered banquet hall with lavish carpet, gilded ornaments and giant chandeliers at the National. Roses and a bottle of vodka (of course) bedeck every table.

The Brighton Avenue institution treats club goers, from multi-generational Russian families to New Jersey party girls, to smoked fish, beef tongue and scrumptious creamy crawfish salad while singers perform American and Russian hits.

Then it’s time for the main event. The 30-year-old family-run nightclub provides Brighton Beach’s answer to an Atlantic Ci

ty floorshow, as six skillful dancers in Marie Antoinette-era masquerade costumes perform professionally choreographed numbers. To call it over-the-top is an understatement.

National Restaurant and Nightclub [273 Brighton Beach Ave. between Brighton Second and Brighton Third streets, (718) 646-1225]. Call ahead for show schedule and to make a reservation.

Primorski Restaurant

As one of Brighton Beach’s original nightclubs, Primorski prides itself on offering live music seven nights a week. The large dance floor accommodates an all-ages crowd of Russians, Georgians and Americans.

As for food, diners can order from either the Russian menu or the “Caucasian” menu, which features Georgian specialties. Both menus boast a smorgasbord of cold and hot appetizers including Russian crepes, fried Georgian cheese, and khinkali, a Georgian dumpling.

Primorski Restaurant [282 Brighton Beach Ave. between Brighton Second and Brighton Third streets, (718) 891-3111].

Cafe Arbat

Café Arbat has been a popular restaurant for over 20 years, and it has the pictures to prove it. Autographed photos of famous Russians and even Liza Minnelli taken at the restaurant adorn the wallpapered dining room.

The small, down-home restaurant caters to an older crowd that isn’t afraid to get out on the dance floor and shake a leg when t

he club brings out the accordion player on the weekends.

Besides live music and dancing every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it’s the menu that draws people far and wide. Waiter Alex K. touts the Chicken Kiev ($12.90), a breaded chicken breast stuffed with garlic butter and herbs. The kitchen also does a mean shrimp scampi.

Cafe Arbat [30

6 Brighton Beach Ave. between Brighton Third and Brighton Fourth streets, (718) 332-5050].

Pastorale Restaurant

Pastorale is known for its French and Russian food. Owner Sofia Erenburg, a Belarus native, claims she even introduced Ukrainian borsht to Brooklyn.

Whether that’s true or not, she is most proud of her special Salad Pastorale, the ingredients of which she refuses to relinquish for fear that everybody will steal her mad culinary skills.

The 10-year-old restaurant brings in new customers and regulars alike who enjoy the pan-Soviet cuisine.

“We have a lot of old patrons that love the kitchen so they always come back,” said restaurant manager Ivan Moroz.

Pastorale opens up the dance floor on weekends with live music and, if you’re lucky, belly dancers.

Pastorale Restaurant [410 Brighton Beach Ave. between Brighton Fourth and Brighton Fifth streets (718) 648-5484].

Le Soleil Draft Barn

Operated by the New Winter Garden, Le Soleil brightens up the Boardwalk with outdoor ocean-view seating. Beer lovers can choose from over 120 beers, 10 of which are on draft, including Krusovice and Gruut, a Belgian wheat. But after a hot day on the beach, nothing goes down better than a cold, refreshing Czechvar.

The beer barn also rustles up hearty Balkan soakage. How about some hog knuckle ($15) or, for the beach bum, a gypsy steak ($15)? For the vegetarian, there’s lecho ($12), a multi-colored dish made of sautéed bell peppers.

Beach revelers come from far and wide to drink, eat and, on the weekends, dance to live music.

“A lot of tourists from France and England come in here as well as Russians,” said Marina, one of many friendly bar staff on hand.

Le Soleil Draft Barn [3152 Brighton Sixth St. at the Boardwalk, (718) 934-6666].


a Restaurant and Nightclub

Plurality is the name of the game at Tatiana, a restaurant that shares the Boardwalk with Le Soleil.

“We serve continental food,” said manager Igor Kvetnoy. “Italian, French, German, Ukrainian — you name it.”

On weekends, an 11-piece band performs the hits from a multitude of countries ranging from Russia to Mexico as part of a Vegas-style floorshow.

For those who just want to dance while saving a few bucks on food and drink, Tatiana’s Bar and Grill located a few doors down the Boardwalk stays open late. Goldfish even swim beneath the glass dance floor!

Tatiana [3152 Brighton Sixth St. at the Boardwalk, (718) 891-5151].


Mad Max is the man behind the grill at Kebeer, an airy German beer hall serving Central Asian fare. He’s got the only “lamburghini” in town. “It’s a burger made of lamb,” says proud owner Max Arron. “What else could I call it?”

The name, a zany contraction of kebab and beer, aptly describes the bar. Kabeer flaunts 12 beers on tap and over 70 in the bottle. The impressive food menu offers a large selection of kebabs as well as other Uzbek and Tajik

specialties including plov, lamb served over rice, onion and garbanzos.

Kebeer presents the Big Boy Challenge, a tempting dare that awards anyone who drinks four liters of beer in one sitting with yet another liter on the house. If the thirsty lush finishes the fifth, then he can drink a free half liter with every meal forever.

Kebeer [1003 Brighton Beach Ave. at Coney Island Avenue, (718) 934-9005].

Club Oceana Hall

From artist performances to DJ dance parties, there’s always something going on at this old theater-turned-events venue.

“The entertainment changes every night,” said Jamie Czerniawski, who books shows at Oceana Hall. “We could have a comedian one night, live bands the next.”

While the club occasionally hosts private parties, most events are open to the public. With a full bar on hand, the party warms up around 10 pm and carries on until four in the morning. There’s typically a $20 cover at the door.

Club Oceana Hall [1029 Brighton Beach Ave. between Brighton 11th and Brighton 12th streets, (718) 513–6616].


Get in the spirit in Sunset Park

By Aaron Short

If one could distill the essence of Brooklyn, it would probably taste like Brad Estabrooke’s gin.

Estabrook’s Breuckelen Distillery will open its long-awaited Sunset Park-based distillery for tours and tastings on Sunday, adding a much-needed jolt to Brooklyn’s spirit world.

The venture is part of a trend of several microdistilleries, from Kings County Distillery’s moonshine and bourbon operation in East Williamsburg to Tom Potter’s New York Distilling Company in Greenpoint, which will soon make rye and gin.

For Estabrooke, gin is where the money is.

“It’s a great and much more interesting spirit than vodka,” said Estabrooke. “Vodka is supposed to be neutral, tasteless and odorless. Who wants to drink that?”

Breuckelen’s smooth spirit tastes remarkably different from commercial brands for two reasons: Estabrooke makes his own gin from scratch using New York State wheat and uses only five botanicals to flavor his gin, as opposed to the 15 or so ingredients that global conglomerates use.

“There’s no way you can pick out the flavors in commercial gins,” said Estabrooke. “We’re using Juniper berries, lemon peel, grapefruit peel, ginger, and rosemary.”

This month, oenophiles and spirit lovers can visit the Breuckelen factory on 19th Street just off Third Avenue and taste the difference themselves. The factory will offer bottles for sale at $35 and three samples to choose from: the predistilled wheat spirit, the finished gin, and a gin and tonic medley using a splash of Brooklyn’s own Q Tonic.

Estabrooke hopes Brooklyn’s demanding palates will embrace the spirits coming from the microdistillery craze. He takes his straight with a twist of lemon.

“It’s because of the way we distilled the wheat which gives it a smoother, rounder fuller flavor,” said Estabrook. “It’s not a sip of Beefeater.”

We’ll take ours shaken or stirred (or any way we can get it).

Breuckelen Distilling Company [77 19th St. west of Third Avenue in Sunset Park, (347) 725-4985]. Opens Aug. 1 at noon. For info,


Coney Island's got talent

Fire breathers and vaudeville-esque dancers will be put to the test this Saturday in the first annual Coney Island Talent Show.

“I’ve wanted to do this event for a couple of years. I was surprised there wasn’t a Coney Island talent show already, it seemed like a natural thing to do,” said Jen Gapay, the producer of the talent show, to be held on the Boardwalk.

With burlesque notables as Miss Saturn and The World Famous Bob leading the festivities as the hostesses, participants will compete in such categories as Best Drag Performance of Celebrity Impersonator; Dance Your Pants Off (not literally — but then again…); creative kids ages 9-12; and, for those on the opposite spectrum, sassy seniors (the latter two are open to anything from magic acts to jokes).

And this wouldn’t be a Coney Island-based talent show without a Circus Freaks and Sideshow Geeks category.

“Anything goes in this one,” said Gapay. “We have everything from sword swallowers to magicians to a contortionist.”

The Bushwick-based Minsky Sisters (pictured) will be showing off their 1920s-inspired dance act in the Dance Your Pants Off category.

“We’ve never performed in Coney Island and figured why not, we love Coney Island,” said Jen Minsky, who, along with her sister, Kristen, make up the duo, which has been tap dancing across Brooklyn in flapper dresses at places like Williamsburg’s Public Assembly, Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO and the Montauk Club in Park Slope.

The sisters hope to hold their own against the evening’s other acts, which include step teams and break-dancers.

“We will certainly be unique,” said Jen, who plans on doing the duo’s fan dance, which involves the use of two large white feather fans, for the performance. “Especially in New York nightlife, tap dancing is a little bit of a rarity.”

The Minsky Sisters and other contestants are vying for $200, a season pass to the amusement park, and future performance opportunities in Coney Island if placing first in their category. Deciding in that will be judges Dick Zigun, who’s seen it all as the man behind Coney Island USA, burlesque performer Ms. Ghost Hole and musician Don Undeen.

“They’ll be judging on who has the most talent, and also what’s the most entertaining act,” said Gapay. “Somebody can be a great singer and have no stage personality.”

Because in Coney Island, it’s all about the personality.

The Coney Island Talent Show on the Boardwalk (between W. 10th and W. 11th streets), July 31 from 4-8 pm. Free. For info, visit


Get lost in this cabaret circus

Ringling Bros. is for kids; for a real circus experience this summer, Littlefield’s got you covered.

On July 31, party people Gemini and Scorpio throw “The Lost Circus,” a late-night extravaganza at the Gowanus space where the big top and cabaret collide.

There’s no wheel of death or magic acts here, but aerial dance courtesy of Madeline Hoak, tribal fusion bellydance by Lauren Robbinai, and a fire show by Ali Luminescent. Kai Altair will even read your fortune.

Electronica outfit Copal (pictured) will provide the tunes in between the acts, playing a dark string fusion, while Vagabond Opera will entertain with bohemian cabaret in 13 different languages. Transforming the space into a dusty circus will be an art installation by Molly Crabapple and Kathleen Green.

As if that’s not enough, a few surprise guests are also planned, which you’ll only find out by going.

And don’t be lame; costumes are required, so think steampunk Victorian, the macabre of Edward Gorey, the quirkiness of Tim Burton, the futurism of “Mad Max,” the fantastic fairy tale “City of Lost Children,” and, naturally, traveling circus. But please, no red clown wigs.

“The Lost Circus” at Littlefield [622 Degraw St. between Third and Fourth avenues in Gowanus, (718) 855-3388], July 31 at midnight. Tickets $15 with RSVP, $20 without. For info, visit


Big Takeover, big party

It would take more than one weekend to fully illustrate the 30 years that “The Big Takeover” magazine has been covering the independent music scene. But publisher Jack Rabid’s upcoming July 30-31 party at the Bell House isn’t a bad sampling.

It shouldn't be — he picked the bands himself.

“This is my dream to do something like this,” said Rabid, pictured on the far left in a photo with his band, Springhouse, in 1991. “I just got frustrated that a number of my favorite bands were never going to play here unless I made them, and I’m deeply honored they’d come on an occasion like this.” (Read our extensive interview with the punk journalism godfather here).

Indeed, the festival has some acts playing their first U.S. show ever, including New Zealand’s ex-Mutton Birds member Don McGlashan and Newtown Neurotics frontman Steve Drewett (both on July 31). Others are reuniting just for the show, including the post-punk band Flower, playing its first show in 16 years on July 30.

Rabid’s own band, Springhouse, is playing its first show in nearly 10 years with its original lineup, performing both nights, playing its 1993 shoegaze classic, “Postcards From the Arctic” in its entirety on July 31.

Other post-punk acts playing the fest include The Avengers on July 30, and Mark Burgess, For Against and Paul Collins on July 31.

“It will be an amazing event with all kinds of great artists performing, all bound together by their love of rock ’n’ roll and the whole DIY fanzine ethic,” said Collins, who’ll perform solo acoustic songs from his career and forthcoming album, “King of Power Pop.”

After 30 years in the business, going from a one-page newsletter to a 200-page glossy, “The Big Takeover” hasn’t gone soft. And its readers — both music appreciators and makers — have noticed.

“I personally have been reading the magazine for over 20 years, back in the days when Jack would have punk rock bands sleeping on his floor on Eldridge Street,” said Perry Serpa, of the orchestral pop band The Sharp Things, who play on July 31. “There’s no other music magazine that has that much informative and intelligent text about underground and alternative music and no other person with the tenacity to put it all together. Hail Jack Rabid!”

“The Big Takeover” 30th anniversary festival at the Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus, (718) 643-6510], July 30 at 6 pm and July 31 at 4 pm. Tickets are $25 ($40 for a two-day pass). For info, visit


'Blind' love

By Damian Harris-Hernandez

A beautiful and recently married Italian dame is going blind, but nobody believes her except a nutty inventor. In order to help her overcome her disability, he devises a novel machine: the typewriter.

Passion, adultery and the imagination run naked in “The Blind Contessa’s New Machine,” the first book by Fort Greene author Carey Wallace.

Based loosely on the love affair between Countess Carolina Fantoni and inventor Pelligrino Turri, the story is what the author, who reads from her debut novel tonight at Greenlight Bookstore, located right around the corner from her apartment, describes as “historical fantasy.”

The typewriter’s racy history accidentally fell into Wallace’s lap one day during an unrelated Google search. Instantly, the writer knew she had the makings of a book. She began typing it (yes, on a typewriter) three years ago at a rural Michigan arts retreat, which she founded 10 years ago to bring city artists to the country.

In the story, it first appears that the countess must choose between her husband and the inventor. But “The Blind Contessa” is not your typical bodice-ripper. Wallace allows Carolina to choose beyond the men by finding a place of her own within her imagination.

“It’s about invention of every kind: lies, dreams, technology,” says Wallace. “The triumph of the imagination and the way it fails us.”

Carey Wallace at Greenlight Bookstore [686 Fulton St. at S. Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 246-0200], July 29 at 7:30 pm. For info, visit


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Our Celebrate Brooklyn! pick of the week

Indie rock gods Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore have been pushing the rock envelope for three decades as the seminal rock band Sonic Youth, delivering arty, experimental sounds to generations of head-bopping teenagers and cool dads alike.

Sometimes jarring, sometimes soothing, but always epic, Sonic Youth’s longevity and willingness to explore new avenues of noise has earned the group tenure and respect in the contemporary indie scene.

Formed in 1981, the prolific band has released 16 full-length albums, eight EPs and numerous singles, releasing their latest album, “The Eternal,” in 2009, less than a year after the duo gave fans a free sneak preview at the last McCarren Park Pool show in 2008.

Fans of the No Wave band or those late to the scene can see Gordon rock out on the bass and Moore shred on the guitar once again on Saturday at the Prospect Park band shell as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn festival.

“As a teen, I was very influenced by Sonic Youth,” said Andrya Ambro, who will open for the veteran noise makers with her band Talk Normal, a noisy Williamsburg pop rock duo. “They were such a wild and new sound for me.”

And for fans used to paying top dollar to see Sonic Youth perform, the free show is certainly something to celebrate.

Sonic Youth at the Prospect Park band shell [Prospect Park West and Ninth Street in Park Slope, (718) 855-7882], July 31 at 7:30 pm. Free. With Talk Normal. For info, visit


Life is a cabaret

By Alex Rush

How many musical genres can one band incorporate into its sound?

Portland-based sextet Vagabond Opera, a self-proclaimed Bohemian cabaret ensemble, manages to play at least 10. The musically catholic group will bring its fusion of styles and wild theatrics to Kingsborough Community College on Saturday as part of the school’s free outdoor concert series, “Hot Summer Nights.”

“They cover such a broad range of music,” said Anna Becker, executive director of the school’s theater. “And one of the things that excited me so much about them is their stage presence — they’ll run through the aisles singing and even bring out a fire-eating belly dancer.”

Clad in fedoras and other threads fit for a show at the Moulin Rouge, Vagabond Opera draws influences from klezmer, jazz, classical, swing, European folk varieties and of course, opera. Their vocalists include tenors and sopranos who sing in 15 different languages. The band even wrote and performed a full-length opera, “Queen of Knives,” in their home city this past May.

The man behind the musical madness is multi-instrumentalist and operatic tenor Eric Stern. Stern wanted to combine opera with kooky, burlesque-style theatre that could be performed in venues that are much smaller than the typical opera hall. He couldn’t have assembled a more eclectic ensemble to fulfill his vision. Group members include a bassist trained in Armenian music, a jazz drummer, a saxophonist who did time as a circus performer, a folk-rock cellist and another cellist who once took part in a Cirque du Soleil production.

Now that’s what we call a variety show.

Vagabond Opera at Kingsborough Community College [2001 Oriental Blvd. between Decatur Avenue and Quentin Street in Manhattan Beach, (718) 368-5596], July 31 at 8 pm. Free. For info, visit


Lip service

In an age where a machine can make any noise imaginable, beatboxing hasn’t lost its novelty.

Employed by artists ranging from Michael Jackson to Matisyahu, the quirky, jaw-dropping vocal percussion style, where sounds of drum beats are made using one’s lips, mouth and voice, has seduced musicians all over the world.

There are international beatboxing competitions every year overseas, but Bensonhurst actor and beatboxer Chesney Snow decided it was high time we had our own.

So on July 31, the World Beatbox Association throws its first American Beatbox Championships at Littlefield in Gowanus, where the best of the best here will show off their spitting skills. Throughout the weekend, the venue will also host the Sixth International Human Beatbox Convention, traditionally held in London.

“Overseas, it’s become so huge. I felt there was something that needed to spark the growth of the culture here in the United States,” said Snow. “And it was really important for me for this to happen in Brooklyn. There’s just something about the grassroots style of community here. It would not have felt right for any place else to host the first US championships.”

The first day will feature the competition — eight beatboxers from across the country, whittled down from 65 through months of online judging, battling it out on stage. Over the course of the weekend, there will also be beatboxing workshops, performances from beatboxing masters including Kenny Muhammad, film screenings and panels discussions, all focused on beatboxing as an art form.

“It’s more than just creating and mimicking sounds,” said Snow (who you can watch in action below in a performance at Southpaw). “There is a deeper sense to this, just as there’s a deeper sense to music.”

American Beatbox Championships and International Human Beatbox Convention at Littlefield [622 Degraw St. between Third and Fourth avenues in Gowanus, (718) 855-3388], July 31 from 10 am-midnight and August 1 from noon-5 pm. Tickets $35 per day, $85 for weekend pass. Use promo code CourierBOX to get half-priced tickets. For info, visit

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