Monday, July 21, 2014

Broadway Alternatives: The Bell House

   Few venues in the city are as eclectic as The Bell House. The venue stands in a former printing press building near the banks of Brooklyn's industrial waterway, the Gowanus Canal. The location might be uninspiring (unless fetid sewer water inspires you) but the ramshackle old industrial buildings bristle with creative energy. Up the hill in either direction might be the fine homes and well-to-do families of Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, but down in the valley it's more freewheeling. The Bell House anchors the neighborhood with some great entertainment for folks who aren't impressed by bright lights and expensive bottle service.
   In the front of the venue is a large and charming lounge. The old garage doors open wide onto the street allowing people to gather around outside on pleasant nights. Inside, sofas and lounge chairs allow everyone to hang out before the shows start. It's a striking thing about the best venues in the city that they all have comfortable places to hang out separate from the venue. It helps when the front bar is a simple neighborhood place that you'd want to hang out.

   Once inside the venue, the space is ample but still cozy. The stage is pushed forward and quite large for the space. And there's a second bar inside to make it easy to get whatever you need. But what makes The Bell House so fun is how varied their offerings are.
   Music might be the core offering but it's only a part of what gets presented. Performances include burlesque shows, trivia led by local news anchor Pat Kiernan, cult movie showings, science and exploration talks, and free-wheeling dance nights. The music tends to lean towards Americana and Rock N Roll. One performance I caught was a great collection of folk and bluegrass acts to raise money for an old waterfront bar damaged by Hurricane Sandy. There's a regular recording of a quiz show for the local public radio affiliate WNYC. And still going strong after 12 years is their monthly house party, dubbed "The Rub." The ethos is one of fun and inclusion. There are no guest DJs there to show off obscure records, and everyone is welcome to come as they are, enjoy some cheap drinks, and dance the night away to old school soul, funk, hip-hop, and disco. And as an added bonus, the local subway station has the highest elevated platform in the city, with awesome views of Lower Manhattan.
   And if The Bell House doesn't have what you're looking for, their sister venue Union Hall up the hill in Park Slope for plenty more stand-up comedy, bluesy rock music, and fun times.

The Bell House:
149 7th Street, Brooklyn
Take the F or G train to Smith-9th Street.

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