What Sank the Shank?

Written by Jamie Peck on . Posted in Posts.


AN AFTER-HOURS club of unprecedented size and bravado, The Shank opened its doors the first week of January 2009 to a neighborhood crowd of nightlife professionals, nocturnal unemployeds and those who, for whatever reason, just weren’t sleepy when the bars closed.

Fueled by word-of-mouth, it didn’t take long for the club to blow up. The sprawling 8,000 square feet of usable studio space was located on Bayard Street in Williamsburg. On any given night, one might encounter 9-to-5ers mingling with such cool-kid-approved figures as Spank Rock, members of The Deathset and DJs and bartenders just getting off work. According to one insider, it was a healthy mix of rock-band dudes and vintage-store employees.

Upon first visiting The Shank in early January, local resident Debbie Allen arrived at 3 a.m. for an after-hours party and was impressed. “The first time I went, I loved it,” she recalled. “The DJ was awesome, and there was room to move around. There were cute boys, people were hooking up. It was just a lot of fun, dancing and hanging out with friends.” She described how the word spread: “It seemed like every time, more and more people knew about it, but it was mainly just people who lived in the neighborhood.” The first few nights were promoted only a few hours beforehand in nearby bars like Enid’s and The Royal Oak by the studio’s residents and neighborhood cognoscenti.

The parties, former manager Miles Engel explained, were conceived purely as a way to create overhead for the space’s other life as a photo and video studio. Singapore native Kevin Foong, who already ran several studios in Chelsea, asked Engel and his two roommates (one of whom rented studio space from Foong) to move in on December 30, 2008, and help build and run the space, officially known as Bayard Studios. Indie record producer Lou Galluch became Foong’s first client when he leased space to build a recording studio. Galluch saw an opportunity to bring his Bury Me in Brooklyn parties, which had previously featured underground bands like Golden Triangle and Pterodactyl, to the club late nights, but rather than booking live music, he asked Jonathan Toubin (and later, likeminded folks such as Alix Brown) to DJ. “My weekly after-hours [parties] were what put The Shank on the map,” Galluch boasted.

Engel is a Baltimore transplant whose relevant experience was limited to house parties. He figured out how to run the place’s day-to-day operations on the fly. “I’d go into the V.I.P. room, which was really just our bedroom, with the suitcase of money and say, ‘Everyone close your eyes, don’t look where I’m taking this,’” he recalled, opening a laptop-sized bag to reveal the inner pockets he’d use for various money drops throughout the night. After a month, he stopped drinking during the events, purchased a lock box and stepped up as the responsible one. “I pretty much did everything myself there,” he said. “We’d often have shoots booked the next day, and I’d be bringing out the garbage as the crews were coming in. They’d be like, ‘Man, it smells like beer in here! Did you have a party or something?’”

By the end of January, proud complaints of “I got Shanked” could be heard over greasy brunches from Bushwick to the East Village. For Allen and many others, The Shank was a return to the neighborhood’s bohemian past, “before it got too safe.”

Todd Patrick, aka music promoter Todd P, used the space for two Japanther shows and thought it fulfilled a need created by recessional uncertainties. “A lot of people who would have told you they were too ‘professional’ or ‘adult’ to do drugs and drink and stay out late suddenly changed their tune, either out of anxiety for the future or out of temporarily not believing in the tenets of grown up, get-a-job professional capitalism anymore,” he said. “For a second there, people were partying like it was the 1990s, or the 1980s, again.”

Jah Jah Brown of DIY rap group Ninjasonik said, “The fact that you could go there after going to a bar and not leave until 10 in the morning was pretty gnarly. I always had a lot of fun. It felt like you weren’t supposed to be there, but anything goes while you’re there. Just stay out of the streets so no one knows what’s going on inside the building.”

What went on inside soon became the stuff of legend, so much so that very few revelers were willing to go on the record for this story, even to admit they’d visited The Shank. Engel declined to comment specifically on The Shank’s reputation as a drug den, but admitted to the obvious: “We weren’t exactly policing things.” Prerequisite hedonisms aside, the vast, windowless space seemed to radiate depravity from its very walls, from its unmarked entrance to the plank patrons had to traverse over murky waters to get to the much-abused bathrooms. “I bought the same jeans twice,” explained Telli Gramz, also of Ninjasonik. “I like dirty white jeans, but these just got destroyed. The Shank will fuck your shit up.”


With a non-exclusive door policy and plenty of Internet buzz, it was only a matter of time before the club attracted a new type of crowd. Former door manager Darren O’Brien explained that once they started booking all-ages shows
earlier in the evening, college and even some high school kids would
arrive anywhere from 8 p.m. to midnight and stay for the after-hours
parties, which began around 4 a.m.

“I could handle 250 of what were
mostly my friends, but the crowd kept getting younger and rowdier,”
O’Brien said. “There were discussions of how to keep making money
without letting in undesirable people.” According to him,
however, “a steady flow of mismanagement” ensured this never came to
fruition. There were also issues of delegation. “Nobody could
ever agree who was really in charge,” explained O’Brien.

These
disagreements spoke to an underlying disconnect between Foong’s goals
and those of his young managers.

“He doesn’t care about the
scene, he just wants to make money however it might be,” Galluch said,
adding that Miles Engel also disobeyed an unwritten scene code with
some of his bookings. “Miles wasn’t very picky about who he’d let
book…it opened [the club] to people we really didn’t want knowing
about it,” Galluch said. According to Galluch, these “undesirables”
flocked to such tacky happenings as “crazy raves and weird Goth
bullshit,” and once they knew about the place, it was tough to shake
them. “This sped up the progression that was going to happen anyway,”
he said, clearly bummed.

Galluch also voiced his annoyance at
Foong’s practice of giving jobs to anyone who moved in. “These people
had no idea what they were doing,” said Galluch. “It’s cheap
labor…you get what you pay for.”

Engel, too, saw this as contributing
to The Shank’s deterioration but admitted that his own hires weren’t
always paragons of professionalism. One night, he recalled, he caught
two of his higher-up employees midcoitus in the back of the coatroom
while they were supposed to be doing their jobs. “All I saw was flesh
at first, then I looked up and saw who it was. I was like, ‘What the
fuck?’ And then I just laughed my ass off.” The two ran back to their
respective posts.

There was also dissension over Galluch’s
reportedly erratic behavior. “He’s a friend of mine, but he’s also a
pain in the ass,” said Engel, with a sigh. “He caused a lot of problems
for me. I knew him as a sweet guy, but I began to see he had a darker
side to him.” According to Engel, this translated into incidents like
Galluch chasing an enemy out with a 2-by-4 board, ejecting O’Brien for
“getting too friendly” with a coat-check girl Galluch had his eye on
and generally “freaking out” and “pissing people off.” Galluch declined
to comment on these events, but said he regrets certain “drunken stupid
nights.”

Despite all this, the parties raged on into February,
growing steadily stranger but remaining nonetheless cop-free. Situated
on an isolated industrial block, the club was accessible to the L train
and Williamsburg bars, yet miraculously immune to noise complaints. “We
had a good relationship with the cops,” said Engel. “We were never
actually busted. One time at 7 a.m., they told us to turn off the music
and that was it.” DJ Jonathan Toubin said he advised Engel, who had
initially hired only O’Brien as door security, on how to deal with the
police. “An off-duty cop makes a good doorman, you know what I’m
saying? They cost a little bit of money, but particularly in [The
Shank’s] case, it’s very necessary.” Engel took his advice, and, for
one reason or another, the NYPD ignored the long lines of livery cabs
that would wind down the block each night.

According to many
people I spoke to, the club’s real decline started when Engel asked
Toubin to take a Saturday off and booked a one-off party thrown by
promoters Bikes in the Kitchen. The evening began with sets from local
party fixtures like Juiceboxxx, Ninjasonik and Team Robespierre, and
culminated in a performance by Spank Rock and Amanda Blank.

Even
Carlos Valpeoz of Bikes in the Kitchen, who set up the show, admitted
the night got out of hand. “By 1 o’clock there were 1,100 people
there,” he said. “Everything that could’ve got destroyed, got
destroyed. It was a disaster, but it was fun.”

“The joke was on them,”
said Toubin. “The place was packed, but it was all 16-year-olds, and
they made less money. And the people who were coming regularly quit
coming.”

“I went up until the Spank Rock night,” recalled
Allen. “The floor was covered in mud, my white boots got ruined; there
were tons of little kids and the beer had run out. The heyday of The
Shank was done. Everyone I’d brought with me was like, ‘Where the fuck
did you bring us? What is this shit?’ I was like, ‘I swear to God, it
used to be a lot cooler.’”

Bushwick resident Julie Vick was
also among those who decided she’d had enough that night. “It was so
bizarre,” she said. “I’m surrounded by teenagers. People are tagging
and ruining things; things were getting a little Altamont-y, and the
fun was ending.” Then, according to Vick, a teenage girl grabbed her
beer, poured it on her and punched her in the head until she broke free
and ran. “I was like, this is humiliating. I’m 30 years old, getting
beaten up by 16-year-olds. I’m too old to be somewhere that teenagers
are going to beat me up.”

Subsequent chaotic, teen-filled nights hosted
by hip-hop artist/promoter Anton Glamb sealed the deal: The Shank’s
clientele had gone from what Toubin described as “girls in their early
to late twenties who like to stay out late and dance,” to people
O’Brien labeled “thuggish teens and drug dealers.”

“I don’t
know where they came from,” Darren said of those under-21 patrons.
“Some of them were in [college] somewhere and some were probably in
high school. It was always a pretty varied crowd, even among them…there
were white middle-class kids, and also [predominantly black and
Hispanic] local skater and graffiti kids.”

Whatever their various
origins, many of these youngsters shared an aggressive bravado and a
disregard for the space. As for the reputed drug dealers, Toubin
explained that while there had always been some present, “the quantity
had multiplied over time. By the end, every fourthrate Scarface wannabe
with the ingenuity to fill a little baggie with baby laxative from
miles around was drawn into its doors.”


The
spot may not have officially shut down, but it was no longer attractive
to its original patrons. This change in atmosphere, coupled with
Toubin’s suspicions he was no longer being paid as per his original
agreement with the club, was enough to make him call it quits. “We had
a bit of a standoff,”he explained. “I pretty much said I wasn’t going
to do it anymore unless I was being paid fairly. Also, I was getting
tired. Everyone there that I knew was having a horrible time.”

On March
14, he arrived to find the space nearly empty. “The only people who
were there were a few teenagers and a lot of neighborhood bangers. One
guy slipped me a $20 to play him Young Jeezy. It was the worst. It
reminded me of what happened to that spot Boogaloo, just a bunch of
thugs and drugs and totally dark.” He decided he’d had enough: “Knowing
when to quit is the most important thing in what I do.”

The
space had a few after-hours parties after Toubin’s departure, but
Foong’s misgivings were growing. “He heard rumors that there was a lot
of drug use going on,” explained Engel. “He didn’t want a reputation
for being an after-hours party house and all the things that came along
with it.” According to Engel, Foong had no clue that after-hours
parties would breed debauchery. “Kevin’s a smart guy but very naive in
a lot of respects. He didn’t really understand what hipsters were. We
had to explain it to him.”

Engel agreed to kill the after-hours parties
but would continue renting the place out to other promoters. “I didn’t
really fight it at all because I was fucking exhausted,” he said,
sighing again. For several weeks after the parties ended, people would
show up anyway, either on suspicion there might be a secret bash, or
because they simply hadn’t heard the news. “People would bang on the
door at 3, 4 o’clock in the morning, or text me asking if there was
anything going on,” said O’Brien. “I had to convince them there wasn’t.
These are people who are afraid to go to sleep because they might miss
something.”

It
wasn’t long after this that Foong asked Galluch and, later, Engel to
leave Bayard Studios. According to Engel and O’Brien, when Galluch left
for South by Southwest in March, Foong asked him not to return and
bought him out of his share of the studio. “That’s not true at all,”
said Galluch when asked about it. “I’m still very much the owner and
manager of Bayard Sound. I still have a lease. When I came back from
tour it was important to get back in and be able to work. I’m suing
[Foong] for lost revenue and breach of contract. I don’t trust people
like him anymore.”

Foong declined to comment on this detail or
any other aspects of the story. Nevertheless, Galluch says the
experience was still largely positive. “I’m not jaded. Why be jaded? It
wasn’t expected to last forever.” Engel went much more quietly
than Galluch. “[Foong and I] got in a huge argument about a Saturday
we’d double booked [in March],” he explained. “I ended up losing my
temper and yelling at him in front of his whole crew. Two days later,
he asked me to move out. I’d already been looking for a place.”

Engel’s
life was changing. Following a whirlwind romance, he’d recently married
an Australian woman he met at The Shank, and the two moved into an airy
northside apartment on April 1. “Besides all the friends and
connections I made, two great things came out of the Shank,” he said,
sounding upbeat.

“Meeting her, and [finding] this apartment.”
Despite all the drama, Engel doesn’t regret his time at the club
either. It gave him the satisfaction of building something, both
literally and figuratively, sought by so many young artistic people.
“My life broke apart, but it also came together.”


Since
Engel’s departure, the venue has booked fewer events. “It was sad to
see it wind down,” said O’Brien. “If they got their act together, they
could be a rival to Studio B,” referring to the popular but recently
closed nightclub in Greenpoint. The Shank still plays host to
occasional shows and parties, however, and remains available to book
for the reported price of $500 to rent the space, and another $500 to
rent the bar, which promoters must then stock and staff on their own.

For now, The Shank’s former patrons are resigned to late-night skulking
in living rooms and on rooftops until the next underground hotspot
emerges. Galluch said he plans to resurrect his after-hours party in a
new location.

The ebb and flow of nightlife’s natural cycle
remains impossible to predict.

Telli Gramz of Ninjasonik summed it up
with a devilish grin: “It’s what happens when you cater to us wild
animals who do nothing but party, drink, destroy and drug. Everything
must come to an end. Nothing lasts forever in this city.”

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