Meeting a friend for dinner off the Jefferson stop a little while back, I did a double take walking down the block past Hana Natural—a massive new venue had popped up right next door, fully formed, elaborately constructed, and seemingly out of nowhere. (I hadn’t been the area for a month or so, but still, what?).
Of all the new Bushwick bars, restaurants, and venues that seem to be just materializing out of the ether, this one looked to be a particularly impressive undertaking (turns out, it was designed by James Beard award-winning architect Andre Kikoski, so that explains that). And, like all stories of “overnight” successes, it had years of work behind it. Owner Tari Sunkin has had the lease on Radio Bushwick (a cavernous former warehouse she found on Craigslist) for three years, and the idea for much longer. Having managed the Knitting Factory in the mid-90s and seen Pianos through its early years, she describes the experience as “like an apprenticeship, learning how I did and didn’t want to do things when I opened a place of my own.”
She’s also been staking out the neighborhood for close to a decade: “In ’92 I moved to Berry and South 3rd, my landlord even worked for the Domino Sugar Factory,” she explains. “In 2004 it closed, he retired, and I had to leave my 4-bedroom $900-a-month apartment. When I was looking for a place, I was looking for the same thing—starting out in a place that not a lot of people were at.”
Of course, the place happened to open up at a time when demand for anything new in Bushwick—let alone its first honest-to-god venue, with an actual lease and 12 beers on tap—is almost comically insatiable, and its very first show back in November was a shoulder-to-shoulder blowout (Tandem vet Scot Bowman is heading up the programming).”I didn’t quite expect the amount of people who really wanted it to open, so I sort of though ‘Oh I’ll open up the bar, then I’ll get to the venue part of it, and eventually get to the radio station in a year or two,'” Sunkin told us.
As such, the 24-hour radio station is still a work in progress, but will eventually be a source for livestreams of the venue’s shows and content Program Director Annie Witter describes as “holding a mirror up to Bushwick.” Witter explains, “Even though we’re starting on the internet, I’d like it to have the feel of traditional radio, with a top of the hour news break, or ‘Hey, the L train is not fucked,’ that kind of thing. The idea is for someone in another city to tune in and listen for a day, and think ‘I get it, I know what that place is about.'”
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.