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Welcome to the Neighborhood: Francis Kite Club, 40 Avenue C

Today we welcome a new small business to our neighborhoods — help us welcome the next. Tell us which new independent store in Greenwich Village, the East Village, or NoHo you’re excited about by emailing us at info@villagepreservation.org.

As advocates for local small business, we find great satisfaction in hearing of new independent establishments opening in our neighborhoods. These arrivals give us hope that reports of the death of mom-and-pops have been greatly exaggerated. Whenever such occasions present themselves, we like to share our enthusiasm with the world in the hopes that others will join us in wishing our new neighbors a warm welcome, and more tangibly, patronize and spread the word to help ensure their success and survival.

Our neighborhoods have a long and colorful history of quasi-public spaces borne out of a conviction that, if you foster a free exchange of ideas, some of those ideas might just change the world. These establishments have included salons that catalyzed political movements, cafés that facilitated groundbreaking collaborations, and saloons that served as hotbeds of radicalism. We are thrilled to welcome to the neighborhood the Francis Kite Club at 40 Avenue C (aka Loisaida Avenue, at 3rd Street), a hybrid space that hopes to extend this history into the future. This part-bar, part-social club, part-art space is already hosting a wide and ever expanding range of performances and gatherings, some organized by members of the community. The next one could originate with you.

The COVID pandemic laid bare a number of social needs and exacerbated some of them. It made us notice the dwindling number of welcoming shared spaces in our neighborhoods and their further decline, as public health precautions took their toll on the few that remained. While many lamented such developments, some were inspired to look for hope and opportunity amidst the crisis. For organizer (and former East Village resident) Laura Hanna, the social isolation and vacant storefronts brought to mind the stabilizing effect that she had seen a Puerto Rican social club have in Los Sures (South Williamsburg) in the face of displacement pressures that had forced out artists and other early gentrifiers along with their gathering spots. They also recalled the vital role played in New Orleans by social aid and pleasure clubs, which at once serve as convening venues, provide emergency assistance, and constitute part of the local cultural infrastructure. Laura shared these ruminations with friends mired in their own social isolation and found that they also yearned for these types of spaces. So widely was this sense shared, that the conversation quickly spread among their network of friends and drove several of them to action. Within a few months, Laura Hanna, Kyp Malone, John McEnerney, Alice McGillicuddy, and Laura Raicovich had launched the Francis Kite Club, bringing to bear a diverse set of skills, networks, and sensibilities developed through work in the fields of organizing, film, music, and the arts.

The club is located in a storefront that had been mostly vacant since its last occupant, the club Bedlam, shut down. The co-founders and their supporters rehabilitated the venue with sweat equity. Highlight include a bar and stage built from salvaged materials by John McEnerney; a set of paintings by artist Nina Nichols that envisions the post-capitalist rewilding of the neighborhood, including the ruination of the Merchant’s House (an eventuality, dear reader, that won’t be happening on our watch); a found stuffed vulture that surveys its domain from atop the bar; and a grown assemblage of pictures of mothers (including Francis, the late, eponymous mother of one of the founders).

The overall effect is that of a beautifully appointed space that is vast and partitioned enough to accommodate several concurrent programs. Ultimately, however, the space is defined less by its furnishings than by the programming that animates it.

The co-founders’ organizing concept for the Francis Kite Club is nothing less than to offer, at once, the comforts of a home away from home and the productive discomforts of engagement beyond the rut of professional and social habit. These paradoxical aspirations reflect both a desire to be around people as well as a recognition of the generative potential of having those people come from different backgrounds. Many aspects of the club’s operation and programming have been expressly designed to serve these goals, starting with the decision to make the club a bar.

Bars, especially ones kept deliberately affordable like this one, offer numerous advantages toward the purpose of facilitating inclusive exchange. They are familiar and accessible social venues geared towards conversation; their casualness blurs the boundary between performer and audience; and their spatial arrangement enables the conjunction of diverse programs and crowds. The club’s team have tried to capitalize on these attributes in order to nurture a space that encourages collaboration, welcomes experimentation, and democratizes the process of creation. To that end, they’ve invited artists to try out ideas and take advantage of the interactivity of the venue; they’ve made a point of booking multi-disciplinary shows; and they’ve eagerly solicited proposals from the public. The result has been a wildly eclectic event series that, by design, does not easily fit under any one category. These have included a clothing swap and indigo dye workshop, a multi-part residency by Bread and Puppet, bi-weekly gatherings hosted by a left-wing publisher, a self-managed abortion workshop, the performance of an original live score by The Flushing Remonstrance to Japanese silent experimental horror film A Page of Madness, and a “neighborhood evening,” during which a nearby resident was given free reign to organize a program of art, music, and dance by and for local community.

© Daniel Efram

It should perhaps come as no surprise that the club’s welcoming overtures have been enthusiastically reciprocated by numerous locals. The neighborhood is, after all, in many ways ideally suited for the type of space that its founders are trying to build. It has a proud tradition of hybrid institutions that support artistic production and political activism — endeavors that have long flourished in the area. And its ample rent regulated and public housing stock has helped preserve, despite decades of gentrification, a high degree of local diversity, such as would ideally inform and enrich the venue’s programming. Already, a small group of regulars has started to form, several local residents have contributed to events and operations, and collaboration talks with nearby institutions like the Nuyorican Poet Cafe and LUNGS are underway.

Much about the Francis Kite Club remains a work-in-progress — a testament to the owners’ commitment to building and rebuilding the ship collaboratively even as it sails. That does not mean, however, that they have overlooked the rudder or left the helm unattended. The team is not only teeming with new ideas, but it is always actively reaching beyond its immediate networks in search for more. Current plans include a festival, an expansion to their current food pop-up offerings, and, further in the distance, the installation of a telephone booth that prompts callers with questions about life in the neighborhood and feeds fragments of the compiled answers to a display that turns them into a sort of scrolling, crowd-sourced, oral history of place. But you do not need to wait for the installation of the telephone booth. You can swing by Francis Kite Club today, welcome them to the neighborhood, and contribute your own chapter to the unfolding story that they have set out to collectively write.

If you would like us to welcome another independent business to the neighborhood, please let us know at info@villagepreservation.org.

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