By Katarina Hybenova
Stevie Cain and Aaron Augenblick opened Cain’s Tavern at 36 Wilson Ave more than 6 months ago.
Just right. That’s how the bar at the corner of Wilson Ave and George St feels. Cain’s Tavern is a bar with no other ambition than to be your neighborhood bar where you go after work and chill. It has a rather conservative interior and the bar is made of hard wood. A large mirror above the bar makes the tiny place look optically bigger than it actually is. Whiskey bottles are nicely lined up, windows face the street, and an old fashioned juke box plays your favorite song. Every little object has a story and was carefully chosen by the husband and wife duo of the owners- Stevie Cain and Aaron Augenblick. Stevie has been a bartender for 17 years and Aaron has an animation studio in Dumbo. More than 6 months ago they made their year long dream come true and they opened a bar in Bushwick.
I stopped by at Cain’s Tavern to chat with the owners, curious about the history of the space, the ups and downs of running a business in Bushwick, and their vision….
Stevie, you manage the place, right?
Stevie: Yes, I am here at the daytime. I also bartend, but we have staff. We open at 3:30pm. I manage the day to day operation and have to be here anyway, so I might as well open the gates early.
Aaron: Stevie has been a bartender forever. Since we met, basically.
Stevie: 17 years in New York.
Aaron: This is definitely her world. She knows everything!
Stevie: Yeah… But you can never stop learning. You can never stop trying to get better. I have always wanted to do this, and I was finally ready also monetarily, because we did this all on our own. We don’t have partners; we didn’t take loans.
Aaron: We saved up money until the point when we were like: we can do this!
So why in Bushwick? Do you guys live here?
Aaron: We live in Fort Green, but we wanted to do this in Bushwick for a couple of reasons. We live nearby, and we would come over sometimes, and this place has such a great vibe.
Stevie: We used to live in the Lower East Side in the early ’90s, and Bushwick reminds us of that era. Bushwick has a lot of heart.
Aaron: It used to be really cool at the Lower East Side. Everyone was an artist or a musician. There was no pretention. It’s not like that anymore.
Stevie: Baby, it’s also 20 years later. We’re not 17 anymore [they are both laughing].
But it was also a good decision, because this neighborhood is going to blow up, and I want to be here when it happens. I want to have my roots here already. I want to be one of the first. Plus we have a lot of friends around.
Aaron: Yes, the people are really good, really creative…
Stevie: We also like other establishments in the area; we like that everyone is kinda doing their own thing. There is no competition. There is sense of community, which is really really important to me, because that’s the way I work. I don’t compete with people, I share…
I believe that’s the right approach…. Do you know anything about the history of this space?
Aaron: It was a bodega before us. The bodega was pretty nasty. We had to completely cut it and start from scratch. I’ve talked to some of the local old-timers here, people that grew up here, and apparently a long time ago, this used to be a Puerto Rican speakeasy, a jazz club. And I’ve heard a rumour that it was owned by Tito Puente!!
Stevie: When we pulled out this wall [she points at the wall behind the bar], there was a huge hand drawn map of Puerto Rico. It perhaps could have stayed, had the wall been structurally sound…. But we had to tear it down.
Aaron: The map was hand drawn using magic markers. There were palm trees and bikini girls…. It was pretty awesome.
What are your customers like?
Stevie: I couldn’t be more grateful for our customers and humble how much everyone has been good to us. Because when you’re coming to the new neighborhood you never know how people will receive you. You are betting on a fact that the people will like the same thing you like, which is a really raw thing. You know, I’m a private person in a sense that I’m not up to be a billionaire, I’m not up to own a thousand bars, I don’t want to own a 2-storey club. I will die in this space… This is my baby… [they are both laughing…] My point is that I set out to create a neighborhood bar…. I just want people to come in, hang out, talk to other people, drink whiskey and listen to music. I just want them to be comfortable, and that’ it…
Aaron: Our goal was from the start to have…
Stevie and Aaron together [and we didn’t rehearse this ]: …. a neighborhood bar.
Aaron: We didn’t try to create a large drink menu. We wanted to create a drinker’s bar. That’s what’s great about Bushwick- all the bars have their own vibe…
What is the best time to be here?
Stevie: The weekends are good, weeknights are really good too because most of the people that come here live around here. A ton of our customers live right up George Street.
Aaron: The weeknights are our locals’ nights.
Stevie: No matter what, anytime you walk in here, you will know somebody, if not the person behind the bar… You’ll always have a pleasant experience…
Cain’s Tavern, at 36 Wilson Ave, Bushwick