At the corner of Jefferson and Wycoff in Bushwick, an eclectic crowd is lined up along a fairly nondescript building, except for the massive “YES” written across the top half of the 29-foot wall above them. The bearded man in fishnets and a pink wig, and the girl wrapped in LED lights and a unicorn horn look like they’re waiting to get into a concert on Fhloston Paradise. The guy wearing a plaid shirt and jeans either has no idea what he’s getting himself into, or he’s waiting until he gets inside House of Yes to let his freak flag fly.
House of Yes opened in January, and the best part about New York's coolest new nightclub is that it’s not really a nightclub at all. There are no red ropes or obnoxious dress codes, and for the price of a ticket, anyone can head inside and teleport into a different world – one filled with glitter and flames, and beautiful women dangling 10 feet above the crowd to inspire them to keep aiming higher.
The third and latest incarnation of House of Yes brings a taste of the underground to the heart of hipster Bushwick in the form of a 7,000-foot venue that’s part nightclub, part performance space, part brunch joint, part cinema, part burlesque theater, and part whatever you want it to be.
House of Yes is everything. It’s hard to define, because there’s nothing else quite like it. It’s a constantly evolving unicorn. And it was all an accident.
The history of Brooklyn's favorite illicit nightclub
The original venue opened in 2007 when Anya Sapozhnikova transformed a deteriorating “hippie-punk squat house” into a creative live/work space that would host the occasional dance party, circus skill-share and sewing night. About a year in, the first House of Yes was outdone by a toaster.
The fire from a toasting tortilla reduced almost everything to ash. Shortly after, Sapozhnikova and partner Kae Burke held a fundraiser, and members of the now growing community raised enough to fund a bigger, better, House of Yes – this time in a dilapidated icehouse with 30-foot ceilings fit for aerial theater shows, a circus school and a lot more parties.
For the five years it was open, it also served as an actual home to a few dozen artists, performers and Burning Man enthusiasts (burners) that lived in the space – and as a second home to hundreds more. So when rising rent forced the second House of Yes to shutter, there was an aerialist-shaped hole in the community.
It took nearly three years, but Brooklyn’s favorite underground venue is back. And it’s bigger, (arguably) better, and perhaps most importantly, legal.
Co-founders and creative directors Burke and Sapozhnikova teamed up with friends Justin Ahiyon – a jack-of-all trades who, among other things, serves as in-house drummer, general manager and runs the venue's restaurant arm, Queen of Falafel – and Ilan Telmont, who headed up the construction of the venue and serves as the creative force behind the space's dinner parties and curator of various other events and installations.
Along with some very talented friends, the four owners of House of Yes transformed a defunct industrial laundromat into an ornate temple of fun. Every detail has been carefully designed and curated, from 3D-mapping on the custom-built proscenium that frames the stage to the sunburst of laser-cut mirrors and wood that frames the entrance to the main room.
But House of Yes also has a whimsical side; nobody takes themselves too seriously. For proof of that you don't need to look further than the funky bathrooms, complete with candy-colored encrusted jewels and mannequins bursting out of the walls above the urinals.
Where House of Yes has really succeeded (so far) is where most nightclubs fail. It gives guests, no matter what they’re wearing or who they know, the feeling that they belong.
And even though its transition to a legit venue has opened the floodgates to the general public, it's somehow managed to continue cultivating the community of circus performers, artists and burners that have pushed the owners to transform House of Yes from an illegal underground party house into what it is today.
“(We’ve) taken the best of the underground and put it into one building and made it consistent, and also affordable,” Burke said. “We have free parties that have killer entertainment, the kind of thing that would normally cost $50 at a warehouse party.”
A photo posted by House Of Yes (@houseofyesnyc) on
Something for everyone
House of Yes is quite possibly the city’s most aptly named venue, because “yes!” is exactly what you want to scream when you walk in the door.
An Oregon Trail-themed dance party with fire spinners, go-go dancers and “You have died of dysentery lounge?” Yes! An immersive, bilingual performance centered around chocolate? Yes! An erotically charged dinner party where food is served on naked bodies and eaten with raw abandon? Ye–well, I guess, as long as there’s not hair in my sushi.
You might not be saying “yes” every night, but the venue has something for everyone. If you’re not into a seeing elite DJs spin while you play in a ball pit, go on Sunday afternoon for the live jazz brunch and artisan market. If watching live classical music with accompanying aerialists isn't your thing, perhaps a comedy show with stand ups like 30 Rock’s Judah Friedlander would be more up your alley. If you don’t like watching a half dozen beautiful women doing a burlesq–oh who are you trying to fool?
The Little Cinema that turns movies into spectacles
On my most recent trip to House of Yes, I went for an immersive viewing of Purple Rain, shortly after Prince died. It was part of a weekly series called Little Cinema that seeks to turn movies into interactive experiences.
Paper doves flew over the crowd during "When Doves Cry"; A man on top of a bar was grinding a power saw against a metal pole, spraying a fountain of sparks over a go-go dancer during "Darling Nikki"; Circus performers hung over the bar; Costumed guitar and keytar players accompanied the film’s music from the wings.
A naked woman whimsically flailed around through the fabric waves of the not-Minnetonka River during the infamous skinny-dipping scene. That woman was one of the club owners, because at House of Yes everyone from the owners to the bartenders participate.
The whole thing culminated in an aerial performance that lifted Prince above the crowd as everyone belted out "Purple Rain."
Two lucky audience members watched the whole thing from a bubble bath – “House of Yes’ Lake Minnetonka” – as staff brought drinks, falafel and fresh buckets of hot water throughout the film, because at House of Yes, sometimes the audience gets involved, too.
Headed up by Jay Rinsky the founder and creative director of Little Cinema, the staff created the entire Purple Rain performance in 24 hours.
Collaborating with creative teams like Modern Gypsies, Hybrid Movement Company and The Love Show means the forces behind Little Cinema and other House of Yes productions can turn out original, high-quality content in an absurdly short period of time.
“It’s very interactive, so it’s like, how can we f– with them this time, as part of the game, and how can we entertain ourselves?” Burke said. “We keep consistent quality, but what makes it more fun for us is constantly challenging ourselves and creating new content.”
When I went to House of Yes to interview Burke, they were in the process of building a hot tub.
"Is that going to be permanent?" I asked.
"Semi-permanent," she said. "Until winter comes or it starts leaking...or until we decide we want to put something else there instead."