The idea of transforming the experience beside the Gowanus Canal - whose murky waters are undergoing a fair share of environmental scrutiny - from an industrial wasteland into a scenic backdrop for a lively dance party, is highly appealing.
It's not a new one. The dance parties at the space formerly known as the BKLYN Yard were once legendary. And now, after a year with no canal-side parties in Gowanus, DJ duo Eamon Harkin and Justin Carter are back with Mister Sunday, a summer music and dance series at the newly-minted Gowanus Grove, formerly known as, you guessed it, the BKLYN Yard.
“This is really a uniquely Brooklyn production. The history of the neighborhood, the story of the Gowanus Canal, none of this would be what it is without these things," said Eamon. "The experience is made possible by the stories that surround it.”
The location, a canal side oasis of sorts, has gone through various transformations over the past years. It was first the home of art space Issue Project Room, and later the host of the Sunday Best dance parties, which last year were canceled altogether due to a falling-out between event organizers and the landlord. But once that lease was dissolved, Harkin and Carter – the musical force behind the parties – took over the lease and reportedly enjoy solid relations with the landlord.
The name Mister Sunday is inspired by the already existing Mister Saturday Night, Harkin and Carter's popular Saturday night sets that take place in various lofts and spaces around the city.
For 2011's Mister Sunday series, the industrial space along the Gowanus is transformed into a thriving dance floor. Complete with a revolving disco ball and strands of Christmas lights wound through foliage, the Grove promotes an ethereal backdrop to the bass heavy techno, jazz and soul favorites that play nonstop from mid-afternoon to 9 p.m.
On its Memorial Day weekend opening party, on site security estimated the Gowanus Grove was visited by as many as 2,200 people throughout the day. This week's gathering was a little more modest, with about 800 to 900 visitors, but was still festive, and felt comfortable.
The shift in management marks an important change in the outdoor dance party series.
“What people will see different this year is faster improvements,” said Carter.
With Carter and Harkin as the sole proprietors of Mister Sunday, the event will no longer suffer the too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen syndrome of a larger management team.
“Last week, someone mentioned we needed more bathrooms, so we went ahead and installed a whole new row," said Carter. "We needed more bike racks, so this week we have more spaces to accommodate people.”
Carter's statement was validated later on in the evening, when a concerned guest asked if there were more bocce sets available – there were not, but the guest was assured that the observation was appreciated and would be taken into consideration.
This year, the mission is simple.
“We want people of all ages to have a fun time – but in a real way," said Carter. "We don't promote ourselves as a family event, but we provide an experience where people can sincerely enjoy themselves."
The party throwers do urge guests to bring their children along, as well as their dogs, to embody the true spirit of a laid back Sunday afternoon celebration - and bring them they did. Mothers and fathers with kids in tow were spotted all over the tree and chair strewn yard.
The party starts at 3 p.m., and picnic benches fill up quickly. Botanica, a Manhattan bar, provides liquid nourishment for party-goers, including specialty sangria and PBR. Local favorite serves up sausages, brownies and lemonade.
As afternoon wound into evening, the pace of the party picked up as people crowded onto the dance floor and let loose. The energy was testament to what Mister Sunday does best: create an atmosphere that is laid back without ever dragging its feet, with a sincere high energy that stays casual and fun-loving.
Regardless of cleanliness, the banks of the Gowanus Canal looked admittedly scenic from inside the Grove, with the Brooklyn skyline looming in the distance. As sunset began to creep in, the party kicked it up another notch. It is this very setting that makes the summer parties such a hit.
Samantha Karjea was impressed by both the crowd and the location. The Williamsburg resident had heard of the Yard in the past, but this weekend was her first visit.
"I was surprised by the pretty environment - I imagined the Gowanus canal as super polluted, but the trees and nature distract you," she said.
The crowd brought another pleasant surpise.
"No one's looking at each other sideways like they do at a lot of events - no ones checking to see if everyone else is cool enough, we're all just dancing. Its unpretentious," she said. "It makes the crowd cooler."
Party-goers Richie Scott, Michael DiGirolamo and Paul Toma agred.
“This is our first time here, but certainly won't be our last,” said Toma. “We don't see parties like this in Brooklyn anymore.”
“The vibe is great!” added Scott.
“Very relaxed, non-pretentious,” agreed DiGirolamo.
Carter and Harkin have been providing music for the canal-side events, in one form or another, since 2007. As professional DJs, the two are first and foremost drive by the music – and those who have been coming to their events for years return time and again for their quality dance floor collections.
“People's perception of DJs, and what it means to be a DJ, is not always accurate” said Carter. “People think of parties, drugs, raves – not something you would enjoy with your family. With our music, we are presenting something as artistic, as creative. Through our music, we are exposing people who didn't necessarily know they enjoy this music."
“We are passionate about our music, but the music is really only a part of what it is about,” added Harkin.
Mike Parrilli of Bushwick was happy to see the party back in action after last year's cancellation.
“I was shocked and pretty disappointed when it was shut down last year – it was definitely a summer staple and I'm glad it's back,” he said.
But the canal will never escape its past.
"You don't smell the canal as much as before, they've cleaned it up a bit," said Parrilli. "I'm looking forward to the summer!”
Part block party, part picnic, and mostly dance floor fun, Mister Sunday gives us another reason to hang canalside.