Back in 1999, when Wall Street was in full bloom and jobs were casual and lucrative, three guys in the middle of Brooklyn opened a coffee shop. This was one of those things that just “popped up” during the dot-com boom, like free deliver-anything services and foldable bikes. Coffee shops were all the rage, the product of a five-year period of reckless investment and lavish employee perks, a caffeine-addled orgy that drew on late hours and long, purposeless breaks. Hot coffee was no less a signifier than a Nerf gun, and coffee shops were arsenals.
Halcyon was the natural extension of this culture of intense leisure, equipped with a sound system designed by a superclub audio craftsman, a collection of mod couches and tables (all for sale), a well-curated record store, a selection of quality beer, and what was arguably the finest DJ booth in the borough of Brooklyn. By day, it was home to young families with young tastes drinking coffee with toddlers; by dark, the mothers returned home and were replaced by edgy and discerning Manhattanites of a certain income. It was a brilliant execution of the bar-slash-lounge, and when the stock market emerged from its mania and the bubble burst, Halcyon became the sole provider, in perpetuity, of giddy multimedia latte nostalgia.
Six months into Halcyon’s life, I sat and twiddled Connect Four chips between my left thumb and forefinger as my friends played a set there, the room still spacious and breathlessly hip. The British guy across from me had taken a number of pills already, which seemed like a wasted experience when you couldn’t dance—Halcyon, like all New York clubs of any size, was burdened by Rudy Giuliani’s fanatic enforcement of the prohibition-era NYC Cabaret License Law, which dictated, in short, that without such a license no establishment could permit dancing by more than two people. Where other clubs scrambled and failed, shut down night after night, Halcyon instead prevailed—the couches that filled the room kept listeners comfortable and attentive, even under the influence, to a DJ playing for a room of avidly bobbing heads.
That night, my coworker was playing a set of Detroit techno with her boyfriend, the publisher of a local nightlife magazine and a reformed jungle fan. We had spent the previous Monday night trainspotting at Konkrete Jungle, watching people in large pants smoke dust and dance quickly. The DJ mixed the Beatles’ “Run For Your Life” with some aggressive techstep record, which I thought was the most interesting thing I’d heard in jungle for years, and the floor emptied; people couldn’t make the stretch. Halcyon, by contrast, was tolerant in the extreme—an environment so comfortable and solicitous that even the most arbitrary and minimal of soundtracks took on deeper meaning, a quality that kept me content and seated with my red Connect Four chips in the midst of an onslaught of particularly bleepy techno. As I twiddled, I was already wondering how I would be able to play a set in that room, to those assembled couches.
I’ve since had plenty of opportunities to do so, for which I am deeply grateful. As Knotty, Eden Marland and I picked up Acupuncture Fridays in 2002. I have spent nearly every Friday for the last two years in that room; watching the neighborhood grow and the walls fill with a dizzying range of table settings and limited edition pressings of obscure dance classics, I have had the honor of playing—and watching my friends and idols play—deep drum and bass for the residents of Carroll Gardens. I cannot think of a more relaxing way to pencil out one-seventh of one’s nightlife than by sitting next to a subwoofer and eating cupcakes in Brooklyn’s communal living room.
It has not been easy to accept that, in one month, Halcyon will have to move out of 227 Smith Street and into a storage container, a victim of the Natural Laws of Commercial Real Estate. They tell me they mean to continue elsewhere, and I am confident that they will, but there’s a lot that will be left behind in the former dentist’s office that Shawn, Stephen, and Ben converted into a post-dot-com community center. I will miss the toddlers, and the local high school students. I will miss the people working behind the bar, who deserve every bit of fame and artistic vigor they always wished for. I will miss the huge tabby cat—a late addition and a unique offering in a New York City club. I will miss, most of all, the sense of carefree leisure that still engulfs me when I sit in the middle of that room, watching dates as they size each other up for the long night in the city and seeing twenty-somethings bring their parents to show them Halcyon the way they might show off a boyfriend. It is a great thing, for me at least, that the Halcyon people have pulled it off; they have managed to create a space that captures the happiest moment of the last decade and suspends it, sharp and bright, in the confusion of the new one.
On September 14th, 2001, I sat in the back of the room at Halcyon with a couple of friends I barely knew, who had come to escape from the bewildered air of the damaged city for a moment. We ate cookies and talked about how we had spent our week, what we remembered, where we had been. It was a packed room that night, but quiet, full of others just as we were—unemployed or close to it, filled with loss, terrified of the future, and knowing we were someplace safe that remembered us.