A New Kind of Very

Written by Amre Klimchak on . Posted in Eat & Drink, Posts.


If the usual line-up of dirty dive bars, over-the-top meat markets and pretentious lounges triggers your urge to purge, Veronica People’s Club just might be the antidote.

VPC has the laid-back feel of an art studio turned communal space that happens to serve drinks. It draws on Fluxus sensibilities and a collaborative spirit to fuse a retro soundtrack, cult film screenings, handmade food and, of course, integral beverages, in an inclusive and expansive Greenpoint bar that’s turning out to be a launching pad for ambitious independent chefs.

This multifaceted vision is one that Heather Millstone, a co-owner of VPC, began exploring when she opened her first bar, Heathers.

“I was really interested in sculpture, space and the Fluxus artists,” Millstone explains as she tends bar, serving beer, wine and cocktails on a recent Wednesday evening. “And when I built Heathers—and it really transitioned into here, because this is like Heathers cubed—I thought, ‘How do I take all of this and build a vibe?’ How do you do that through space, design, art, music, and how do you repeat that over a period of time?” Since Millstone opened Heathers 2005, it has become one of the East Village’s most beloved bars because it simultaneously pays homage to the neighborhood’s punk roots with its ’80s fixation and rock ‘n’ roll attitude and cultivates a non-judgmental atmosphere. But because of high rent, a compact space and neighbors who don’t like the noise from happy revelers spilling out of its doors in the middle of the night, the East 13th Street space has always had limitations.

So when Millstone, who has a master’s degree in photography, went looking for a new studio space last year, she instead felt the right “vibes” for a new bar when she walked into a bricked-up storefront and saw a door inside emblazoned with “People’s Club.”

“I said, ‘That’s exactly what we do…in a very egalitarian way,’” she explains of her epiphany at that moment. “Heathers, I’ve always said, is an everybody bar… not straight, not gay, not lesbian, not any of those things.”

She decided to use the space to open a second bar and enlisted the architect for Heathers, Julie Torres Moskovitz, to transform the raw building into a roomy but minimalistic den filled with industrial elements and re-purposed items. Before the work was even begun, she already knew it would be called Veronica, in reference to Veronica Sawyer, Winona Ryder’s sullen teenage character from the angsty ’80s film after which Millstone’s first bar is named.

But there’s little angst to be found at Veronica People’s Club, the less unruly sister to Heathers. VPC opened two months ago on Franklin Street near Greenpoint Avenue, across the way from one of the area’s most crowded bars, the Pencil Factory. But unlike its darkly lit neighbor, whose close quarters encourage hunkering down in one spot for hours, VPC’s open design inside and covered garden out back, plus a rotating cast of DJs, encourage circulating amongst friends and those who soon could be. At the thriving bar, the crowd is wide-ranging in age, but mostly relaxed and friendly in demeanor. And on sunny Sundays, children play in the back garden and drink mocktails while their parents commune over beer.

“We’re right on the route to the playground,” Millstone explains. “It’s fun for us… I’m of that age.”

Friends
with children inspired the kidfriendly Sundays, which include a
barbecue and a DJ spinning vinyl. And this is just one of many
opportunities to create a dynamic different from Heathers that the
larger space and lower cost of Brooklyn afford.

Millstone
and her two partners, Stevie Howlett and Dre Herrera, (who’s the chef
de cuisine and will keep VPC stocked with tamales made from her
grandmother’s recipes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights), are also
tapping into the booming Brooklyn food scene.

Millstone
says she’s willing to take risks to explore the experiential
possibilities of the space and give up-and-coming cooks a venue for
experiments. A duo of neighborhood snack mavens has launched the brand
Ovenly at VPC, which delivers pastries—from zucchini spice bread to
strawberry mint muffins—every morning to accompany the Intelligentsia
coffee VPC serves from its walk-up window. And the bar’s weekend “dinner
and a movie” series gives guest chefs—who range from established cooks
to newcomers looking to cut their teeth—the chance to match a meal with
cult classics like Xanadu or Valley Girl.

“It’s big. There’s a lot of big in there.

But
at the same time, there are enough small, simple things where I’m not
trying to take on too much,” Millstone says. “I’m just trying to set
things in motion.”

VPC’s offerings will develop over time, but Millstone’s happy to let its various aspects evolve organically.

“There’s
a lot of meditative things, to let things be and grow and let people
add to it,” Millstone says. “People don’t have to necessarily know that
they’re a part of it, but they are. And the people who want to be a part
of it actually add to it without knowing it. It’s a complicated
concept. You just let it be. Oh my God, I’m such a hippie. Please don’t
make me sound like a hippie.”

>> VERONICA PEOPLE’S CLUB 105 Franklin St. (betw. Greenpoint Ave. and Milton St.), Brooklyn, 718- 349-2901.

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