Verboten

Revives New York Nightlife

Places

This is where the future of audio is being shaped right now - places that are full of music and great sound. It’s where people who love to innovate and experiment are drawn. Where they treat themselves and others to phenomenal audio experiences. “Places” invites you to take a look behind the scenes at these “places to be” in audio, from remarkable music clubs, to legendary recording studios and even art and audio conventions.

In Verboten almost everything is allowed. The electronic music parties in the popular Williamsburg club are wild and free – in contrast to the chic and expensive nights out in the rest of New York. It’s no coincidence the neighborhood is being called "Little Berlin".

  • Author: Simon E. Fuchs
  • Photos: Razberry Photography, Csquared Photography, Khadija Bhuiyan, Menbar Photos, Oliver Correa
  • Video: Write on the Money Productions and Rocky Ramniceanu

When you look over from Williamsburg at night, the lights of Manhattan sparkle on the surface of the East River. Manhattan was once what Williamsburg is today: The new epicenter of club culture in New York. Students, musicians and artists have left the expensive Manhattan and have moved into the former factories of Williamsburg. Club Verboten is only four minutes from the water. It is located in the new party district around Wythe Avenue in western Brooklyn. Unpretentious clubs made of brick have replaced Manhattan's snooty rooftop bars.

"New York nightlife was in a dire state for a while, with clubs more focused on celebrity than music, and the mayor actively trying to close legitimate venues," says John Perez, co-owner of Verboten. He opened Club Verboten in a former industrial area in Williamsburg near the East River just over a year ago.

The old machinery has fallen silent in the former metal factory. Nowadays, electronic beats pound the ears of the up-to-750 clubgoers. The unassuming brick building is home to a veritable dance temple. Once visitors pass through the coat check, there are two rooms, which together make up over 900 square meters of electronic party space.

A giant disco ball reigns over the dance floor. Under the bare beams, bright sound waves bounce across the panoramic screens in the large "control room." Here, old-school industrial charm meets new technology. Cocktails named after science fiction novels are sold at the bar for $14. At the counter, visitors can head to the left and enter the more intimate "cabaret bar," where a smaller crowd dances to techno music spun by a second DJ.

There is no oversized pulpit from which the music is preached. The DJs are almost at eye level with the audience when they spin their records. It’s not just the club’s ambience that’s special. The dance floor itself is literally a piece of history. The club’s wooden floor came from a warehouse of American inventor Thomas Edison – the vibrations of the bass lines are conducted straight into the clubbers' legs. Black leather sofas frame the dance floor in the large room. You can sip cocktails on giant red sofas in the room next door.

The club also lacks a strict dress code. “We wanted to get away from all the old club rules and cliques and get back to the kind of place where people of all walks of like partied together on the dance floor,” says Perez. Looking for a VIP space that's been cordoned off with red rope? Champagne bottles that are dramatically carried to the tables in buckets? You’re in the wrong place. Here, understatement is the order of the day – not bling. Think Williamsburg, not Manhattan.

Verboten has already brought big names in electronic music to New York like Jamie XX, DJ Koze and Lee Burridge from Britain. DJ Carl Craig of Detroit, who made a name for himself with his genre transgressing mixes of classic and electronic music, also spins here.

Visitors dance through the night until 6 a.m. When the night becomes day, Verboten serves breakfast. On weekends, hungry clubbers can eat brunch from noon to 8 p.m. in the "cabaret bar." The menu offers pancakes and scrambled eggs for 13 dollars each. Verboten wouldn't be a club if there wasn’t a DJ spinning in the afternoon. Events are also held on a regular basis outside the club's brick building. The outdoor festival property is located directly on the East River, a few blocks away from Verboten. At the StageONE party series, DJs spin outdoors and revelers can dance in front of a breathtaking backdrop: the Manhattan apartment buildings that tower over the other side of the East River. The Monday and Tuesday evening yoga class, which goes by the German name “Willkommen,” is accompanied by spherical house music. The course either takes place in the club or, if the weather is good, with colorful yoga mats spread out in McCarren Park right near the Williamsburg Bridge. At these events, water and coconut milk replace cocktails and beer as the drinks of choice. Once a week, rather than dancing until sundown, people can be seen breaking a sweat at sunrise at a special dawn party.

But Verboten wasn’t always a club. In the past 12 years, the name stood for half-legal parties that transformed abandoned factories and downtrodden lofts into underground temples. These parties even won awards, scoring both Time Out Magazine's "Best Party Award" and "Best Event Promoter" at the International Dance Music Awards in 2012. The success fostered the desire to open a permanent club.

The married couple Jen Schiffer and John Perez, and co-owner Michael Roche, found the red brick building last year in Williamsburg and remodeled the industrial warehouse. The new club also keeps good company, with two others – Output and Brooklyn Bowl – also located nearby. Trendy bars like Crown Victoria, Pete’s Candy Store or Union Pool are just a few blocks away. The hip Wythe Hotel is also located at the next corner.

Before becoming club owners, Schiffer, Perez and Roche racked up quite a bit of experience in the international nightlife scene. Roche previously worked as tour manager for Deep Dish and Erick Morillo and organized parties in clubs like Warung Brazil and Womb Tokyo. Jen Schiffer and John Perez described themselves to the New York Times as "club kids." The couple even got engaged at a club on Ibiza. Now the three are trying their luck with Club Verboten. So why the German name? "We wanted to honor the German tradition of techno," says Perez. He adds that he would like for New York to once again be named in the same breath as dance music hotspot Berlin.

Verboten’s creators want to evoke old New York clubs like Paradise Garage or Twilo, which in their time created a reputation for New York as an electronic music heaven. "These clubs were all about the music and vibe," Perez enthuses. The trio’s philosophy is to offer an alternative to the conservative champagne-serving clubs in Manhattan. The New York club scene doesn't need to be a shadow of its former self. It has succeeded: Clubs like Verboten have revived New York’s nightlife.

Address: 54 N 11th Street, Brooklyn, New York, NY, 11211, USA
Capacity: 750.
Dress code: Everything is allowed, but suits and raver clothing are discouraged.
Opening hours: 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.; brunch: Saturdays and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.; yoga: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Cover: In advance, $20, at the door, $ 40.
Homepage: www.verbotennewyork.com