If you’ve ever stepped off the train in South Slope/Greenwood Heights/whatever, you passed Supercollider and probably didn’t even realize it. Their signs in front of its location on Fourth Avenue between 17th and 18th streets were always barely lit and hard to read. The adjacent buildings were all but vacant and plastered with poison warnings. Even when compared to the mostly-desolate stretch of Fourth Avenue north of the bar, it still seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere.
But hidden behind its humble entrance was a large, friendly place that served as an offbeat hangout for people looking to get more than a few drinks in them, creative types looking to hone their craft and everyone in between. They were all strangely drawn to the allure of a lonely little bar in a part of town where places with more notoriety were only a block away on Fifth Avenue. It was rarely, if ever, packed to the gills, affording passersby and regulars alike a place to chill, listen to a blissed out, dreamy soundtrack and hide away for a bit in its dimly lit atmosphere.
But Supercollider abruptly shut its doors last week to make way for another condo project, further proof that small bars with a large artistic following will eventually cease to exist in favor of upscale living spaces, costly storefronts, and stylings that strip character from a neighborhood and turn it into more of the same.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s not like a longstanding neighborhood institution bit the dust. Supercollider opened in May of 2013 and almost made it to the three-year mark. Places like Jackie’s Fifth Amendment and the original Freddys were around for much longer and had a juicier sob story that saw them off.
At any time, Supercollider was also a coffee shop, an art gallery, a performance space and, to many, a place to go when they didn’t want to go home. It was the place you could play pinball, eat an ice cream sandwich and drink a beer at 3am. It had strangely chocolatey cocktails, amazing grilled cheese and beers aplenty. It smelled like olives and rust.
Most importantly, it had a lovely cast of characters tending bar every evening. The bartenders took time to learn your name. When you ran into them outside of the joint, they spoke with you at length because apparently that’s what decent humans beings do. (Full disclosure: my fiancée remained a bartender there until its closing.)
In Supercollider’s three years, a community grew, especially around the Tuesday open-mic crowd. Bands formed after a single impromptu performance. People actually went up to other people at the bar and talked to them without looking at their phones. It wasn’t unheard of to get a ride home from a patron. It also wasn’t unheard of to go home with someone you met 10 minutes prior. Everyone knew everyone else, or knew of everyone else.
It was a weird yet comforting place to be. I once witnessed a pack of hammered construction workers come in and harass the bartender on duty, only to find myself banding together with the more sober patrons in the bar and dump the drunkards onto the street. Another time, a friend I had made there played an impromptu solo gig that moved me to tears hours before he left the city for good. There were drunk men in suits falling asleep in the booths as people played shredding heavy metal riffs. There were deadly serious trivia devotees who had to be asked to calm the fuck down. One man frequently handed out tasteful philosophical stickers to anyone who was willing to listen to his stories. It was definitely a unique place to take in, and not one that could be replicated in more sterile, manicured setting beneath dozens of premium, custom-built apartments.
Supercollider bit the dust in the most truly New York way imaginable. The owner of the building wanted to sell it, the interested parties purchasing it were going to raze it and the buildings south of it, and Fourth Avenue is now going to have itself yet another massive condo building. Even before all this happened, a Manhattan-based coffee shop opted to open their first Brooklyn location directly across the street from Supercollider, taking the bulk of the bar’s morning coffee business with it in a matter of days.
After some legal pushback, the bar was ordered to close for good on April 11. That Friday, some of the now-former staff held a house party in the neighborhood for bar regulars. By my count, more than 100 familiar faces made an appearance, exceeding any record at Supercollider itself. People told their favorite bar stories, sang familiar songs and reflected on the closing without getting teary. It was a major bummer, for sure, but everyone was happy to see each other and make plans for a post-Supercollider world.
The bar’s popular open mic crew recently moved to Wednesday nights at the lovely Fifth Estate, which a couple of former Supercollider employees now call home. But even though the transition to a new bar has been welcomed with open arms by us regulars, we’re all going to miss their strange light fixtures, secluded porch and everything that made Supercollider, well, Supercollider.
No one moving into their condo in a couple of years will even consider that their new home was built on top of a place that meant something to people, or what once was a small bar in an equally small neighborhood will probably make way for a hallway or a utility room. And sure, such is the nature of Fourth Avenue now, where big buildings are the norm and local hangouts either move further east or disappear, but when the people inhabiting them want to have a few drinks and express themselves, will they have their version of a Supercollider, or will it be buried under more condos?
Follow Scott before he’s turned into a condo: @ScottFromNY.
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