A whirl of activity at newly-opened Beauty Bar on Broadway. — Photo by Diego Cupolo
Is there anything hipsters like less than being told that they’re hipsters? A few months back, in my hometown of San Francisco, an American Apparel expressed interest in moving into a Valencia Street location in the Mission District. (Since New York parallels are a MUST for a New York audience, think of Valencia as Bedford Avenue, but wider. You can feel free to think of the Mission District as Williamsburg, but nicer and cheaper, if you must.)
In short, San Franciscans blocked Amer Appy from joining the neighborhood based on a law requiring chain stores to be approved by the Planning Commission. The irony here is that many of AA’s political opponents regularly shop at AA, (like the Haight street location, ha!), and admit to that.
It seems that part of what upset Mission residents about American Apparel moving in was not that it is a corporation — most people recognize that as corporations go, AA is a relatively good one. What I believe upset Mission District youths about American Apparel is that it made it apparent to them that everyone knows what they consider to be a secret: they are hipsters, and it is somewhat predictable how they will part with their money. For Mission hipsters, American Apparel moving in was like hearing “You are not a special snowflake,” in the form of your favorite retail clothing store.
“What in God’s name does this have to do with Bushwick?” you may be wondering. Fair question. As you may have heard from other outlets or just from the opening-night throngs, the newest branch of Beauty Bar has opened at 921 Broadway (at Melrose). For those unfamiliar with Beauty Bar, it is a chain of bars that caters to the young, hip set. Each bar is decorated with salvaged 60′s-era beauty salon paraphernalia and actually has special happy hours where ladies can get free manicures with the purchase of a specialty cocktail.
Generally speaking, Beauty Bar usually has good DJs and live shows, and other things that members of the target audience like to do with their free time at night. The website has bios on all the different bars that say what we all know in somewhat awkward coded language. The San Francisco location, for example is “a local favorite among the discerning locals”; the Los Angeles location is “a well known attraction amongst the in-crowd.”
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to go to the Friends and Family and Press opening last week (in a “Press” capacity, natch!) and sip some free Brooklyn Lagers. I was by myself, and I hung around rather awkwardly for my first three beers before befriending a pair of brothers from Cardiff, Wales. It turned out one of them was an investor, and it wasn’t too long before I got to talk to the man behind it all, Paul Dewitt.
Of course, right off the bat, I asked him “Why Bushwick?” and he told me — as he told others — “Why not?” However, having been briefed on the Beauty Bar’s branding and business strategy, I think we have reasons to believe his reasoning is more complex.
Before I could even ask him about his neighborhood selection criteria, he told me about how he opened up a Beauty Bar on Mission and 19th Streets in San Francisco ten years ago, and how he was right on the money with his location. I agreed, he “nailed it” (which, of course, led to some bawdy jokes from the Welsh brothers). Beauty Bar SF is, also, right around the corner from the above-mentioned proposed American Apparel location. But ten years ago, the Northern mile of Mission Street was a bit of a gamble. It was trendy, but was it Martinis-and-Manicures-trendy? I don’t know, I was in middle school at the time. But I think it’s safe to assume it was not.
As a contrast, I also asked him about his San Diego location, which is about 30 San Diego (LONG) blocks East of the now-trendy North Park district. On record, he admitted, it was a “mistake.” His employees left him for bars in North Park. As he put it, “There’s only so many hipsters in San Diego.” True indeed, there are few hipsters east of the 15 (don’t ask) in San Diego. And yet, there’s his bar.
I suppose what fascinates me about the Beauty Bar chain is that, because of its peculiar branding, it needs to be located in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood, but can’t afford to be seen as piggybacking on the success of other similar businesses — then they’d just be trying too hard. This leaves Mr. Dewitt in the position of forecasting how hip a neighborhood is going to become in the near future. In the case of San Francisco, he was right. In San Diego, he was wrong.
Something tells me he’s right to move to Broadway, but I imagine there will be some half-assed resistance from hip kids who moved to Bushwick two years ago — simply because they don’t like knowing that Mr. Dewitt is a smart business man, and worse, knowing that they’ll like his bar. It’s a nice bar, by the way. Great decor, two ladies’ rooms (tight!), good looking people, and a tin ceiling. It opened this weekend with a party hosted by Green Shoelace, whoever that is. I wouldn’t know, I’m not a hipster.