When Good Room popped up in Greenpoint in the space where the Polish bottle service Club Europa used to be, we were immensely curious about who the owner might be.
A member of the Polish syndicate cashing in on house music? An organic coffee shop owner expanding into nightlife? It didn't help that it was proving to be impossible to get the guy to respond to our emails. He kept trying to pass us off to the (quite lovely) press liason Lauren Murada, or the talented talent booker Ana Fernandes (who has, granted, electronic music knowledge deeper than the Mariana trench. Seriously, go talk to her and get schooled). But no, we insisted on figuring out who the owner was. You know, just to make sure we're not handing over our money to a terrible person.
Meanwhile, as we chased him down, Good Room was becoming more and more compelling. At $8 for a mixed drink and $6 for a beer, the drinks are affordable. The bartenders are chill and helpful. The sound system is great. The artists getting booked – Hot Chip, Tensnake, Aeroplane and Lindstrøm, to name a few, plus all of our friends – made it impossible to stay away. Björk showed up for a surprise set in the vinyl room (officially called the Bad Room), Flight Facilities had their afterparty there, Justin Strauss and Lloydski picked up a residency, and recently Red Bull Music Academy booked a party there for May. In fact, we were having a hard time finding something wrong with Good Room. Who runs this place?
We finally got to meet the dude at the end of a Playdate party, when he was hanging out at the end of the bar with a friend. Greg Brier is a gregarious guy in his late 40s with salt and pepper hair, a husky, warm voice, and a quick, full laugh (no, he's not Polish). When we introduced ourselves, he was welcoming and quickly agreed to a proper interview.
And so on a Thursday night, as the bartenders set up, the sound guy tested the equipment, and the goths wandered in (they had a goth DJ playing that night) we sat down for an interview with the man himself. Brier was in a good mood – just that day New York Mag had anointed Good Room the best nightclub in New York. "That was a surprise," he says. "If they had asked me to do an interview, I probably would have said no. I don’t want that kind of exposure to the Manhattan crowd. But it’s very complimentary and I’m glad they did it."
We really do love it when we discover a source with a good story. And Brier is one of those guys.
Heading South to the Beach
Brier is originally from Colorado. He moved to NYC to attend NYU, and his first job after graduating was at a Japanese bank in NYC. "I hated every minute of it," he says. He took a vacation to South Beach, Florida. "At that time, South Beach was a cowboy town, you could get away with anything," Brier says. "It was a wild time." His friend offered him the opportunity to invest in a restaurant. So he said, "Teach me how to bartend first, and I'll invest." He quit his job and took up bartending, and within six months, opened up a restaurant, and then his first bar/lounge called Rebar. Brier was a punk rocker, into Sex Pistols and The Clash, but when he walked into a club playing dance music, he fell in love with the energy. "I didn’t know what the fuck I was listening to. But I knew immediately I wanted to open a club like that," Brier says.
He opened up a club called Velvet in what used to be a gay club. The Winter Music Conference was just kicking off, and Velvet threw the first ever Danny Tenaglia party, a 15-hour affair. "I think 15 people showed up," Brier says. "But it was awesome. It was very different."
Velvet lasted a year before getting shut down due to "politics," Brier says. (He means regulations that he didn't quite follow.) So he opened up another club called Groovejet, lovingly profiled in this retrospective. Paul Oakenfold, Sasha and Digweed, and Steve Lawler were emerging as the stars of the genre. "Myself and a club named Firestone up in Orlando were the first people to bring these guys over. We did a flight share, they would play in Orlando, and then I would fly them down to Miami."
Getting in the Groove
Groovejet expanded its reach, opening up an offshoot of the club called Jet Lounge on Spring Street in 1992, and flying to Ibiza once a month for a Saturday night at Pacha, then on to Ministry of Sound in London for the next Sunday.
"At the time I was looking after Angel Moraes," Brier says. "Space in Ibiza was open at the same time, it was a 10,000 person outdoor, crazy nightclub. They would do a great set at Pacha, and they would all disappear and go to Space. And I would have to get them on a plane for Ministry the next day. Everyone was popping pills, and it was like herding sheep. I would take them the airport and rifle through their pockets to make sure they didn't have a load of Ecstasy or whatever. And we would finally get on the plane. By the will of God, we never got caught."
Then he paired up with Pagan Records and Miles Copeland, releasing remixes of songs from the artists like The Police, Danny Tenaglia, Fatboy Slim, and Groove Armada.
Models and Bottles
Meanwhile, he opened Jet East, a bottle service club in the Hamptons.
"Everything started to turn," Brier says. "It just became a business for me, a job, a way to make money. It got kind of ugly, as far as the people who were going out, the music that was being played. I didn’t like anything about the business at the point. Hip Hop was blowing up, Top Forty was going on. The club thing was done. It was all about lounges, models and bottles. But I was like, OK, we can make good money on this."
"What used to drive me crazy, is people would actually buy a bottle and sit down, and my partner would kick people out if someone bought more bottles. I was like, Are you kidding me man?"
"Leonardo DiCaprio walked into the club – it was that kind of place – and my wife is like, 'Leonardo DiCaprio just walked into the door, you should go greet him.' So I walk up to him and introduce myself, and he’s like, 'Uh, I want that table right there.' And I’m like, ‘Well there’s someone sitting there, clearly. I have another table in the back for you.’ And he’s like, ‘I want that table.’ And I’m like, ‘Someone is sitting there.” He goes, ‘Do you sell … champagne?’ Brier scoffs at this. "'I don’t care if you’re buying all the champagne in the night club, that is taken. You have to go to the back of the club, where the only open table is.’ He turned around and left the club."
"Everyone was so mad at me."
Brier broke up with his partner around 2000, right before Jet East became famous for an incident involving a socialite backing her Mercedes into a crowd of people, and his partner was outed as a notorious asshole.
Brier and the Groovejet people managed to bluff their way into managing the DJ tent for Moby's 2001 Area 1 tour, where they had artists like Carl Cox playing. One of the shows was at Jones Beach with John Digweed.
"It was probably one of the first tours that had a DJ tent," Brier says. "We didn't know what the hell we were doing. We were a bunch of guys running a small nightclub. But we bullshitted our way into telling these people that we could do this whole DJ tent. A friend of mine who was an ex-weed dealer had Janet Jackson’s old primo tour bus. We shrink wrapped the bus with our record label, which they didn't want us to do, so we could promote the underground as we went from city to city on a 15-day tour. We did the whole DJ tent: Built it, did all the visuals, broke it down and did it again. We didn't even have road cases; we had Tupperware containers. Clear Channel at the time was running the show. When their roadies saw us, the ragtag team, a bunch of Brooklyn kids, they were like, 'You’re not going to make it to the second date, there’s no way!' But we pulled it off. To this day, I don’t know how we did it."
2001 was also the year Groovejet released a compilation record. "I’ll never forget it," Brier says. "I was walking down Broadway, and the Virgin Records off Lafayette had our record in the window. I was like, 'We made it!’ I was getting calls from friends of mine in Tokyo who said they were seeing it. They were putting real marketing dollars behind it. I think we sold in the first 15, 20 days something like 10,000 copies. Which was huge. That was a lot of copies to sell for a dance record."
"And then a month later 9/11 happened. And it killed all the music scene. We ended up folding the label."
Brier went into the restaurant business, opening up Aspen on 22nd Street (later closed for tax reasons), Amalia on 55th Street (now closed), Aspen Social Club on 47th Street (now operating under the name Maple and under new management), and Highbar (now closed). He even helped open an opulent luxury venue called Lan Club in the LG Towers in Beijing. His designer for almost all of these spaces was Steve Lewis, the same Steve Lewis who was banned from managing a nightlife club after Limelight, where he was the director, got shut down. Brier got to play whatever music he wanted in these restaurants, but they weren't particularly notable. Also, they were in Midtown. He was hibernating, hiding from what he saw as an anemic music scene. "If you went into any the clubs, like Marquee, it just wasn’t my scene," he says.
Then Brier was offered the chance to invest in Output and passed. "At the time, only Brooklyn Bowl was open," Brier explains. "I knew that things were happening in Brooklyn. I’d been to Blkmarket parties and really good warehouse parties. But I couldn’t get my head around it at the time. Now I don’t regret it, but maybe a year before this I did."
LLoydski, a local NYC DJ who regularly graces the decks of Good Room
"I saw the change that was happening in underground dance music. I started to see people really with a great knowledge of music going out with a passion, and people from all over the world flying to Williamsburg and Bushwick. Just that re-energy, the cycle was happening again. But I wasn’t looking. Even after I passed on the Output opportunity, I was like, I’m too old for this game. I’ll just stick to restaurants."
In 2014 he got out of his last restaurant. "I could not stand to going to Midtown again," he says. "It was too painful." For a half a year he chilled on Shelter Island.
The Genesis of Good Room
Then, last summer in August, when he got a call from Lewis, who had been hired to redesign Club Europa. "He said, 'Greg, you gotta check this place out.' I walked in and I was like, Oh my God, I’ve been here before." At one point, Club Europa had been a notable punk rock club. "I saw Black Flag play here, with Henry Rollins. I was in a mosh pit in the middle of this. When people mention club Europa, bands go, ‘Oh shit, I’ve played there before.’"
After the punk rock club washed out, it turned into a Polish night club that played pretty terrible music. But even plastered with rococo-Miami decorations circa 1995, Greg saw potential. The space has a great flow and is just the right size. It takes 500 people to fill it, and 800 people to get to "mass density" as Greg calls it. It feels warm and casual and friendly.
The owner of the club was looking for a partner who knew the business. So he partnered with Greg and let him make the creative decisions – the feeling, the music – from there on out. They started the renovation on August 31st.
"We just tore it down to the brick walls," Brier says. He modeled the DJ booth on his favorite one in the city at Cielo, designing it to be low enough so that the DJ feels like he's part of the action, but big enough so that friends could hang out and party behind it. He installed EV Line Arrays. "They sound a little bit more analog, which is perfect for house music. We have six double 18 bass cabinets. The system, it can go. But we’re still not Output. We don’t want to be that place where you can’t have a conversation."
He turned the side room, which used to be the smoking room, into the vinyl room. He struck a deal with The Thing to buy records for 10 cents apiece, figuring he would get about 1,000 for decoration. "I sent my buddy to pick them out. I just wanted them as a prop. But five days later he hand-picked every fucking record. I ended up with 5,000 records. There’s a ton of Acid House records. Loydski will play right out of the back."
The club opened on October 25th, but took some time to find its footing. "We had a hard time at the beginning finding our way. At all clubs, there’s a lot of change in personnel: bartenders, booking agents, etc." The first booker was more interested in dark tech-house, but Brier felt like the space deserved soulful house music. "It was a place where you could really go out and dance with someone and have fun."
When he hired Ana Fernandes, that's when it all clicked. "She knows more about music than I’ll ever know in my left pinkie finger," Brier says.
The first TBA fundraiser introduced hundreds of music devotees to the space. And then Björk showed up. "I had no idea," Brier says when we ask him if that was planned. "We had Savages play for us that night. They’re very arty, they played live. I think they must be friends. All of a sudden, someone said, 'Björk is sitting in the DJ booth. She wants to know if you have an XLR cable.' And I was like, ‘Get the fuck out of here.’ Sure enough, I go rolling around the corner, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, gotta get the XLR cable.’ Thankfully our sound guy had the proper cable." Social media and the chattering NYC blogs blew up with the news bit. If anyone in the music scene didn't know Good Room yet, now they did.
So what about the fact that Good Room is right next door to a police station? No problem, Brier says. "First of all, we have a very good relationship with them. We don’t do anything. We stay within the code of the law as far as our decibels going out onto the street and towards them. We see them, they hang out here sometimes when they are off work. I’ve had other clubs next door to other stations."
It also helps that Brier got a Cabaret license and followed all the city rules and guidelines to a T before opening the club. He's sympathetic to the nightlife owners who are struggling with regulations, but doesn't think it has to be that way. "I have had problems like that in the past, when I was a younger owner of clubs and restaurants. I used to not do everything perfectly from when I first opened up. And one thing I learned the hard way, it’s hard to make changes in the middle of your business cycle. Once you start it, if you have to stop it, it kills your momentum every time. So, I never cut any corners. It’s a hundred percent what the PA says, a hundred percent what we told the DOB it’s gonna be. So when they open up the plans, that’s already laid out. If there ever was a MARCH [a multi-agency raid on nightlife spots], when you pull up the plans, every stool, every chair, the DJ booth, every door and exit is where it says it’s gonna be. You gotta spend the money up front."
Despite all this up-front investment, Brier says the long-term lease on the club space allows them to keep drink prices low, the cover charge reasonable, and seating at the tables around the dance floor free. "We have a fairly reasonable rent, which allows us to pass it along to our customers. I want people to come back, I want people to hang, I want them to be able to get three drinks. You can’t even get a buzz off of one drink!"
With all these factors falling into place – an excellent talent booker, an experienced partner, and cheap prices – Good Room looks poised to establish itself as a cult electronic music favorite. And he's not worried about the competition a couple of G stops away in Williamsburg.
"I think there’s enough room for everyone. Underground is massive here, and it gets better every month. It still blows me away. You can go to a Cityfox party with 7,000 people at that party, and