Goodbye Blue Monday May Say Goodbye For Good Without Some Help
Photos Hannah Palmer Egan Saturday's benefit at Goodbye Blue Monday
By Hannah Palmer Egan
On a recent Tuesday, Sunday Wright sits at a table at the back of Goodbye Blue Monday. The room is dark: lit with colored bulbs, brick-a-brack and the afternoon glow of 10 or so day-drinkers, conversation keeps to a quiet lull as warm notes of jazz noodle through the air. Later, performers and poets will take the stage in a weekly open-mic that draws artists from the neighborhood and beyond; for some of them, tonight will be their first time performing in New York. Outside, J and Z trains clatter over Broadway; the bar/junk shop/music venue toes the line between Bushwick and Bed-Stuy, inside, all is an insulated hush.
But crisis simmers subsurface, and eavesdropping casual bar chatter reveals a space is in crisis:
"I have no idea what's going to happen," Wright tells me: at the end of the month, Monday's operating permit expires, and to renew it, the venue -- or rather, the rag-tag team of twenty-somethings who run it -- needs to pay off $7,000 in fines and violations, some of which accumulated before any of them ever set foot in the place. It's a paltry sum, but for these kids, who make rent selling $2 pints of PBR and $8 burgers, it's an unfathomable sum.
Even if they get the cash, which is looking more and more possible - an online fundraiser through GoFundMe is inching closer to its $7,000 goal, and they held packed benefit shows all weekend -- Wright says the lease is up June 1, and they expect their rent to double.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Goodbye Blue Monday founder Steve Trimboli owned Scrap Bar in the West Village, a fabled metal bar and preferred watering hole for a laundry list of New York City rockers. Trimboli ruled the roost with a strict set of mores, and when Scrap Bar closed in 1995, he decamped to Brooklyn, to a space leased by his friend Richard Pogostin. Pogostin still owns the building, and several around it, to this day.
Back then, Broadway was a burnt-out channel through the nether-reaches of a dangerous, drug-ridden North Brooklyn, but the space was cheap and big, the lease long; here, Trimboli could store his things: records, artwork, electronic equipment, antiques, whatever else.
Zak Vreeland is a musician and archivist who used to live upstairs from the space and remembers the early days: "Steve was in here selling comics and dirty pulp novels on Ebay," he recalls. "Slowly stacking it with the debris that fills it today, and the basement...He was like, 'I'm going to open something in here,' and we were like, 'No you're not.'"
Trimboli dubbed the space Goodbye Blue Monday (an alternate title for Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Breakfast of Champions) in 2005, opening incrementally as a coffee shop, performance space, and bar, still selling whatever he could. Anyone could play and there was never a cover. He also brought Scrap Bar's tough, take-no-prisoners leadership style to Brooklyn
Clear Plastic Masks frontman Andrew Katz says his band played their first shows at Monday's. Now, they're based in Nashville: a signed, traveling band who recently opened for Woody Nelson, heading out on tour with Hurray for the Riff Raff this summer. But they still play Monday's whenever they're in town.
Katz moved to Broadway as Trimboli eased into business. "Steve had a set of rules," he says. "Once you walked in that door, everybody followed the code, and it was really tough love; if you pissed him off, you fucking knew it. But there would be gangsters and crazy motherfuckers who would go in there...We were just kids, trying to deal with it, but Steve was the bottom line. And he had this dog -- this big brown dog -- and he didn't give a fuck. He would stare down and talk down the gnarliest fucking dudes, with pistols in there; you could see their guns. The landlords were just happy to have white people in there, because they wanted to flip that shit. And Steve was a big reason a few of us started moving in there...It was like Oliver Twist or something."
A Dickensian fable, set in a battered Brooklyn on the cusp of gentrification. "It's what I grew up thinking New York should be like, as a kid in the midwest," Katz says. "It's like the last vestiges of that really gritty, New York thing...But as soon as a real estate office opens on a street, you know that it's doomed," Katz says. "You know the script; it's just like they're plugging in a CD or a tape that's just been played over and over in New York, especially in the last 15 years or so; I'm just waiting for the Starbucks and the Capital One Bank to show up."
The kids loved it, but Eden was sinking; Trimboli gave up the venue in 2010 during bankruptcy proceedings, and within 18 months, he moved on to grittier pastures in Detroit, leaving a stand-in owner in care of the space. The kids behind the bar picked up the torch, Wright says the new guy is a silent owner. "He's been trying to get out," she says; "He was going to sell last summer. He has his own life, his own job."