The newly renovated Alphaville in Bushwick was slated to reopen this fall, just not yet. Still, the owners flung open its doors in early August. “We needed money, so we just started letting people in,” said Kallan Campbell, one of Alphaville’s new owners. Since then, the work hasn’t stopped.
The dive bar and music venue on Wilson Avenue – easily identified by its blocky hand-painted sign and black and white stripe murals – first opened in 2014 and quickly became a touchstone of Bushwick’s rock scene. It’s where local indie band Sunflower Bean recorded their music video, where British math-rock powerhouse Black Midi performed before they blew up, and where Selena Gomez stopped by to see a show. So when Alphaville shuttered in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions, the community felt a major loss.
Meanwhile, Campbell and David Johnson – both members of the psychedelic garage rock outfit Max Pain and the Groovies – were looking to buy a music venue. After several months of fruitless searching, they were about to give up when they came across Alphaville, a place that evoked fond memories.
Originally from Salt Lake City, the band came to New York while on tour in 2016. Alphaville was one of the first venues they played. It was also memorable for another reason: the band’s touring van caught fire just around the corner during a desperate attempt to restart its old diesel engine. Johnson recalls staring at the 10-foot flames and saying: “I guess we live in New York now.” Sure enough, the group permanently moved to the city three months later.
In April, Campbell and Johnson took over the lease along with Alphaville’s co-founder Skyler Insler and friend Eric Schroeder. They spent the next several months arduously renovating the place.
“Me and Dave were on our hands and knees scrubbing shit,” Campbell remembers. “We wanted to give back to the community,” he said. “That makes it worth it because, honestly, you make more money as a bartender.” The biggest task was transforming the live room in the back from what Insler describes as a “cement box” into a proper concert space with acoustic treatment, two skee-ball machines, and a dance floor bearing the venue’s signature stripes.
Despite these improvements, Campbell and Johnson were careful not to lose the grungy, DIY essence that made Alphaville conducive to a wild night.
At a show on a recent Saturday night, it was clear all the hard work was worth it: the venue overflowed with heavily tattooed young people wearing either all-black or brightly-colored vintage prints. Outside, a pungent cloud of smoke hung in the air.
Most were Brooklyn locals who frequented the old Alphaville. For Gabe Camarano – who played drums that evening in Campbell’s other band, Tilden – the venue was always one of his favorite stops on tour, and he was especially glad to see it in the hands of a friend. “Kallan and I share the same birthday, so we have a strong cosmic connection,” Camarano said.
That connection wasn’t limited to just Campbell and Camarano. Inside, groups were huddled close, couples embraced, and a cacophony of laughter overpowered the music playing over the speakers.
Just before midnight, the crowd made its way to the back for the final set. A handwritten sign by the live room’s door wisely suggested: “EAR PLUGS AT THE BAR 2$.” A couple minutes later, Tilden took the stage and filled the room with a rowdy but cheerful alternative rock amid cries of love and support from the audience. Just like in the old days, crowd surfing ensued.
About the author(s)
Patrick Hagan is a multimedia journalist and graduate student at the Columbia Journalism School covering art and culture.