Union Pool: We Find A Secret(ish) Music Room At The Popular Hipster Bar
Because of it’s access to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Union Pool (once-pool-supply-store-now-bar-with-a-music-venue) has always been a safe haven for the bridge-and-tunnel types whose relationship with the Lower East Side has gotten complicated and who are considering getting to know Brooklyn. It has also established itself as the place for young hipsters to earn their wings before graduating to spots like Bossa Nova Civic Club and One Last Shag.
But it’s not the crowd, temperature-regulated yard to smoke in, cheap beers, taco truck, photo booth or numerous private bathroom stalls for activities that require discretion that draw us to Union Pool. It’s the less popular music room.
Here’s how to find it: The next time you’re at Union Pool, fight your way across the sprawling dance floor, pass the bathroom line and go through the double doors that lead to the yard before looking for the scantily-marked venue entrance just off to your right. The only flyer you’ll see at the entryway will be of today’s show and the door to the venue will be closed until about 20 minutes before show time - they don’t actually want anyone who visited for the bar to get curious and come inside.
Welcome To The Jingle
Once in there, you’ll find wood-paneled walls and floors that are aesthetically and sonically pleasing, a few dainty chandeliers and a modest bar on the far wall: this room feels like a comforting cross between a community theatre and your local VFW hall.
The stage at Union Pool is just the right height; high enough to remind you you’re here for a gig but low enough to cultivate a synergy between musicians and attendees; it’s also framed by a single row of yellow light bulbs with a rustic red curtain as a backdrop, perfect for grabbing a snapshot of that scruffy Brooklyn-based band your Instagram desperately needs. Thankfully, there’s no “Union Pool” banner lining the stage, a marketing tactic that is unfortunately ubiquitous throughout other venues in NYC.
Based on several trips to the venue, the type of music you can expect to hear varies, but it always sounds and feels good. At a recent trip we checked out a show headlined by Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Steve Gunn. As we entered the venue, we noticed that the opening act Mind Over Mirrors had elected to set up their rig in the center of the room instead of on stage. As their set commenced, everyone gathered to form a circle around synth player Jamie Fennelly and guest vocalist Haley Fohr as they led the audience through a hypnotic exploration rooted in rich synth layering, colored by exploratory vocal murmurs and bursts of Fohr.
The second act, folk guitar duo James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg, told stories of life on the road through beautifully phrased, intertwining guitar parts, sprinkled with warming anecdotes between songs for those who don’t speak guitar. Gunn had a lot to say that night, and each word rang clearly over the hum of his well-oiled band.
Union Pool succeeds as a venue in a very fundamental way - it’s like listening to music in a good friend’s cozy living room, where everyone involved has the same motivation for being there. It also doesn’t hurt to think about all those 20-somethings outside, sweaty and beards-aquiver, fighting for their orders of small batch ale at the overrun bar, laughably ignorant of the real party that’s happening just one door away.
Getting there: 484 Union Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211, take the L and G trains to Lorimer/Metropolitan.
This story was contributed by Justin Gaynor, a Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist and composer who specializes in folk and improvisational music.