Bossa Nova Civic Club is the rare New York nightspot that offers a very real kind of membership. The space’s co-owner and founder, John Barclay, estimates there are about 300 supporters of the dance music-focused venue and bar that carry actual, laminated club cards (flashing one waives the cover charge). On a recent Saturday at midnight, the entry line reaches down the block. It’s a scene you’d normally expect to see outside a swank club in Williamsburg or Manhattan, only Bossa Nova is located on the humbler-looking border of Brooklyn and Queens, under the Central Avenue M stop. Since it opened inside a defunct party hall, Bossa Nova has established itself as the city’s go-to destination for out-field club sounds, hosting DJ residencies by L.I.E.S. alumni Steve Summers and Bookworms, live sets from the likes of Huerco S. and Mutual Dreaming founder Aurora Halal and parties with names like Tropical Goth. “We opened to stand in fierce defiance of the Cracker Barrelization and Portlandification of Brooklyn nightlife,” Barclay says. “The antique-fixtured, reclaimed wood, tattooed-and-flanneled-bartender business model that has dominated nightlife around these parts for the past half-decade alienated a lot of us, and we saw a chance to offer a refreshing alternative.”
Bossa Nova’s popularity might be due in part to the unreliableness of others, like beloved DIY space 285 Kent, the sub-legal Williamsburg venue that Barclay ran as a rave space in its first four months of operation, and which recently shuttered. A longtime promoter of underground dance parties, Barclay worked for more than a year to open Bossa Nova “legit,” lining up money with investors and navigating a thicket of permits. “In my experience, NYC government regulates licensed nightlife far more harshly than it does DIY nightlife, which is the primary reason DIY is so huge here,” he says. “Cool places open, people start to have fun, the city shuts them down.” As the police continue to crack down on below-board spaces, Bossa Nova points to the possibility of going legal without compromising on curatorial vision and vibe. Its backlit liquor bottles and black leather banquettes offer a touch of tongue-in-cheek glamour, even as the dungeony lighting and reams of fog machine smoke make Bossa Nova a place where someone who feels at home in the thrum of a techno beat can genuinely lose themselves.