In 1970, Iggy Pop sang “she got a TV Eye on me.” Today, there’s a club in Ridgewood called TV Eye, and it’s located off the Halsey L stop, right on the neighborhood’s border with Bushwick. When you walk into the club, you’re greeted by a dimly lit room complemented by crimson walls and a shrine-like painting of Pop himself, wearing nothing but black leather boots and a blue bandana.
I stopped by TV Eye one night to see Zopa, a garage-rock band fronted by Michael Imperioli, the star from the HBO show “The Sopranos,” and more recently “The White Lotus,” along with a number of Spike Lee movies. His band, Zopa, wear their influences on their sleeve, earnestly calling back to ‘80s & ‘90s alternative rock bands like My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr, and Sonic Youth.
Reaching further back in his influences, Imperioli led the band in a cover of the Velvet Underground record “Heroin,” part of the band’s set opening for a reunited ‘80s punk band called the Bush Tetras. A compilation of the band’s visionary, underground dance punk records recently netted an effusive mark-up from the music blog Pitchfork. Proceeds from the show had gone to benefit Planned Parenthood.
Imperioli later told me that he thought “rock and roll is alive and well thanks to the folks at TV Eye.”
“When you are there you feel like you are in the right place at the right time and all is well in the world,” said Imperioli, “I love you TV Eye people.”
Zopa’s bassist, Elijah Amitin, echoed the idea, telling me that “there’s this genuine positive and enthusiastic spirit there.”
“It must be said Jonathan Toubin has a lot to do with that. He’s an inspiring character with a whole lot of soul,” added Amitin.
“I wish more people in this industry put music, people, and culture above easy money,” Toubin, one of the owners of TV Eye, later told me.
For Toubin, running a venue is about connecting to a community. “Brooklyn has been my spiritual and physical home for most of my New York experience and where I’ve spent so many of the formative, and best years of my life,” Toubin told me, describing the club’s demo as an “alternate universe – not only for ourselves but for people who also feel alienated from contemporary popular culture.”
Toubin has been making a name for himself in the city’s nightlife scene for the last 25 years; his event production company, called the New York Night Train, which hosted their 17th annual, multi-room ‘Haunted Hop Halloween Spectacular’ this past October at the Knockdown Center in nearby Maspeth. That night featured a total of 31 bands, nine DJs and a $500 costume contest.
In addition to TV Eye, Toubin also recently opened a new rock ‘n’ roll bar called 96 Tears next to Niagara on Avenue A alongside influential New Yorkers, Johnny T and Jesse Malin, in tribute to their departed friend, DJ, musician, and New York punk figure, Howie Pyro.
As a DJ, he shows off an eclectic knowledge of American rock ‘n’ roll and soul, with VICE once calling him “the only DJ we actually like” in New York City.
In addition to Toubin, some of the new club’s other owners include the founders and managers the Bowery Ballroom, who had initially bought the former factory space for the venue, as well as WFMU DJ Todd-O-Phonic and Jasper McGandy, once a singer in punk bands like the Virus and the Vigilantes and, more recently, in Sacred Bones bands like Cult of Youth and the Hunt. It had been the Bowery’s Brian Swier who came up with the idea for the eye-shaped bar that now snakes through all four rooms of TV Eye.
Despite what must be an obvious range in music taste, Toubin tells me that Iggy Pop’s early band, the Stooges, remained “ground zero” for all their different listening habits.
“Our entire space is designed for the purpose of people coming together socially before, after, and during the shows,” Toubin said. In addition to the bar and a club, the spot also boasts a kitchen run by Ross Noyes, under the name Barker & Sons. Emily Ashenden, who plays in a Brooklyn band called 95 Bulls, confided in me that not only does she think the sound systems at TV Eye are amazing, but that “Ross of Barker and Sons makes the #1 bar food.”
Walking through the gallery in front of the kitchen, I discovered walls of artwork done by Yusuke Okada, who Noyes says he met 20 years ago in Tokyo.
Okada’s work, inspired by the late Brooklyn DIY punk musician Jamie Ewing, spoke to Noyes because of its themes of “sadness, depression and alienation,” according to the punk chef.
While Ewing’s work went largely undocumented, according to Noyes, “it’s incredible to see its influences living on and taken to such incredible places as it does in pieces on display in Yusuke’s gallery.”
Another night at TV Eye, I caught a solo headline show from Andrew Savage, the Parquet Courts singer, who regularly plays solo shows in the neighborhood. While his band’s lyricism can come off as satirical, his solo set felt more personal. Alongside a tenor saxophonist, and a brush drummer, Savage’s singing brought to mind the tender folk rock of the late John Prine. It was late December and Savage happened to cover Prine’s 1973 record “Christmas in Prison.”
TV Eye is located at 1647 Weirfield Street.
All images taken by Brett Wachtel for Bushwick Daily.
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