The Morgan Avenue bar Our Wicked Lady had started out as all great clubs should: the vision of a man who says he would rather see a group of twenty-year olds tear the house down than cough up a small fortune to sit a football field away from a band on their tenth “farewell tour.” That man is Keith Hamilton, a Brooklyn native who has been running the bar since 2015, with his business partner, Zach Glass, and his wife Sarah, who runs private events and the bar’s presence on social media.

“We do not want those ‘I’m too cool for school bartenders,’ it’s gotta be people that are warm,”Hamilton told me.

The club’s booker, Christiana Bartolini, has been employed there since the very beginning. The roster of bands and DJs who she’s booked at Our Wicked Lady have included local rock ‘n’ roll and punk acts like Native Sun and the Bobby Lees, as well as the all-female Latin DJ collective, Discolocas, and Greg Caz, who used to regularly spin the club’s ‘Brazilian Beat’ parties in the past.

Hamilton says that he feels that, “someone who maybe mostly loves punk rock can come and then afterwards, we have a Brazilian DJ and they’re like ‘holy shit, what is this!” 

Local bands swing by Our Wicked Lady, like Uncle Skunk (top left) and Spectre Jones (top right). Inside, the club is a multi-floor experience

The club has slowly become an essential place for bands to stop by in Brooklyn. This past month, when a Los Angeles-based indie-pop band called Spectre Jones played New York for the first time and booked Our Wicked Lady, they told me that they’ve heard it’s a “staple” venue for New York bands. 

Inside, it’s a multi-floor experience – there’s a spacious bar on the ground floor and a stage on the roof. As Hamilton puts it, Our Wicked Lady isn’t a place that is trying to directly compete with the neighborhood’s other clubs. Instead, he says, they are trying to create an atmosphere. This atmosphere has been cultivated by the venue’s transformation from a warehouse to a full-concept venue with offices, a green room, a band rehearsal room, artist studios, and a retractable roof cover that was recently installed to create a year-round functioning live space upstairs. 

This past February, after years of COVID-19 related insecurity, the bar’s rooftop restarted things by putting on its second, so far, battle of the bands contest, which Hamilton structures like NCAA’s March Madness contest. (He calls it “Winter Madness.”) This year, the club had selected 16 bands to compete for a top prize of $5,000. 

The winner of the contest in February had been a Brooklyn post-punk band called Dead Tooth. In an email, the band’s singer, Zach, told me that playing “Winter Madness was a blast and ended up opening a lot of doors for us.” He went on to tell me how night after night at Winter Madness “kind of felt like when you’re on tour for a while and you get to know the crew really well. At this point, [Our Wicked Lady] feels like home base to us.”

In the recently-published oral history, Bands do BK, the bassist of a local band called THICK, Kate Black, highlights the club in order to say “you can tell that the bar is owned by people who are invested in and part of the community.” Sam Sumpter, who put together the book, tells me that “Our Wicked Lady is Bushwick artists’ home base… Killer roof, great sound and most importantly, great people.”

“It’s gotta be people that are warm,” says Keith Hamilton, the Brooklyn native who has been running Our Wicked Lady since 2015.

The other week, I caught a new band out of Bushwick play there called Two-Man Giant Squid. Their sound is alternative rock, with flashes of bands like the Strokes and Pavement. I’ve seen them play some three times so far, each time with a bigger crowd. When I ask singer Mitch Vinokur about the bar, he tells me that “Our Wicked Lady has that rare combination of being a place where you feel like you’re ‘making it’ as a band in New York City while also being that local spot where your friends can watch you play and get drunk and thrash around on  Wednesday night.” (The band was recently tapped to play the New Colossus Festival next year in the LES and their latest single is “Versechorus.”)

Other local singers on the rise were similarly effusive. 

The singer of a band called Uncle Skunk, for instance, calls the club “an artery for the up and coming acts of Brooklyn.” They’re a band with two lead guitars and one acoustic, and sound like if My Bloody Valentine and the Beatles made an album together. Droning soundscapes, melodic and meditative escapes. They just put out their second EP, Heaven River, back in July.

Ofer Shouval, singer for an indie pop band called O. Wake, told me that the club’s appeal is all about logistics, since a lot of those bands practice right nearby. His band has released three tracks so far, which that they call “psychedelic post-pop,” which ranges from indie-pop, rock, and a nod to house music, on a record like “Riper Than Ripe.”

Shouval adds: “they sell genuinely good earplugs.”

Our Wicked Lady is located at 153 Morgan Avenue. Check out their calendar here.

All images taken by Brett Wachtel for Bushwick Daily.

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