If we hadn’t spotted a colorfully greasy group of young people smoking outside the unmarked door, we probably wouldn’t have known we’d reached the spot. The site of collective living space and events venue Surreal Estate is unmarked; but so is much of Bushwick, so by now I’m used to it. The room we entered, a lobby of sorts, was once a kitchen judging by the industrial-sized sink along one wall. It now hosts several folding tables covered with activist, anarchist and radical feminist pamphlets and readers on sale for $1, a few couches, and — at least on the night I was there — a guy giving haircuts to anyone who found their way over.
The narrow hallway leading to the back room venue is covered with bizarre and interesting art, including canvas-mounted displays of the inner workings of gadgets (ranging from bike gears to things far less recognizable) as well as graffiti and portraits of political influences.
The back room is ideal as a low-key and flexible events venue. It’s large and empty enough to host a generous dance party (on Thursday the DJs played an upbeat mix including the Beastie Boys, Kanye West, and Daft Punk) and to have space left over to fill a corner with couches, backlit by fluorescent fish tanks. There’s plenty of art in here as well, but this is rounded out by pages upon pages of poetry tacked on the walls, many covered in red-penned scribbles and edits. The space was still mostly empty when we arrived at 10:30 p.m., but was surprisingly full by 11:30, when the dance party got started in earnest.
Surreal Estate is a “community space” with emphasis on “community” — 55 people live, work, and play in the three floors that the founders and friends have gradually taken over since finding the place last summer. Depending on the night, various floors will be open to guests, sometime with different activities going on in each, such as jamming, reading, or dressing up in glittery pink outfits. Whether through necessity or circumstance, many of the tenants are electricians or carpenters or otherwise equipped with some building expertise. This has allowed the crew to make a cozy and funky home out of what was, at first, more warehouse than house.
The event benefited several local activist organizations in line with the Surreal Estate ideals, including the Bushwick chapter of Food Not Bombs; Reclaim the Screens, a screen printing workshop at 123 Community Space; and the Radical Tea party, also hosted at 123.