Brooklyn’s House of Yes nightclub strives to be the place where just about anything can happen.
Opened in 2015, the club is the brainchild of New York artists Kae Burke and Anya Sapozhnikova. On any given night, party-goers might encounter trance DJs, aerialists, circus performers, marching bands, burlesque dancers, magicians, and tarot card readers.
The club is notorious for out-there parties with themes like Prohibition Disco, House of Love, and Bad Behaviour. Costumes are just about required for any party at House of Yes, which makes sure things get weird.
We recently headed to House of Yes to attend the “Ancient Aliens” party and talk with Burke and Sapozhnikova.
House of Yes is located at the Jefferson L Train stop in the Bushwick neighbourhood of Brooklyn. Bushwick is a predominantly Hispanic neighbourhood that has seen an influx of artists and young professionals over the last decade.
The place is hard to miss. The space, opened on New Year’s Eve 2015, used to be a laundromat. House of Yes raised the ceilings and added all the lighting, sound, and theatre equipment you could imagine.
HoY grew out of NYC’s Do-It-Yourself and Burning Man scenes, starting in a rundown loft in 2007 before moving to a warehouse a year later. The warehouse closed in 2014 due to rising rents. A year later they partnered with artists and nightlife veterans Justin Ahiyon and Ilan Telmont to launch the Bushwick space.
Burke and Sapozhnikova never went to school for theatre or hospitality. When they first moved to New York at 19, they started working at legendary parties in the DIY scene like Rubulad and The Danger.
As part of those experiences they learned everything from theatre directing to acting, lighting, costume design, set design, and everything else involved in making live events.
Then they started developing those skills through their own events and parties at the various iterations of House of Yes.
When we got there, they were preparing for that night’s Ancient Aliens party. The venue has events nearly every night, all with different themes.
The big dance parties are on Fridays and Saturdays, but they have burlesque and cabaret shows, poetry nights, and then events that are kind of hard to explain like Foreplay, a show of “emotionally and physically intimate acts” where the lines between performer and audience get blurred.
The space was custom-built to be “the most versatile possible thing” that could showcase all types of performances and events. For example, above the main bar is a cage for performers to dance in.
HoY aims to be a place where “people truly connect, be themselves, express themselves,” Burke said. The themes, costumes, and “disorienting” weirdness are a huge part of breaking down barriers so its “easy to make new friends,” she said.
The vending machine on the left sells sex toys.
Participation is the key to having a good time at HoY. “Even if you don’t usually dress up to go to parties, trust us that you will have a more fun time if you intentionalize how you come here and give something to the event,” Sapozhnikova said.
Each night, “the club puts on costumes too,” Burke said. In the timelapse below, you can see just how many events and “costume changes” the space goes through in two days.
Costumes can be intimidating, so Burke and Sapozhnikova put together inspiration boards to “visually communicate” the theme. But they love when people come with their own ideas. This is the Ancient Aliens board:
“I get a kick out of coming up with an idea, not being sure if its going to work or if people will understand the theme, but trying it,” Burke said, adding that the inspiration boards and the flyer copy are efforts to get people “inspired to participate.”
For example, Burke talked about the “Endless Summer Pool Party” held in September. Burke’s idea was to throw all of that summer’s party themes into a blender, but she wasn’t sure people would understand what she was going for.
When people showed up dressed as yachtsmen, jungle people, sunbathers, and mermaids, she knew it worked.
With Burke and Sapozhnikova’s advice that “putting in the effort results in a better time,” we headed to a costume shop to brainstorm some ideas.
Following the general idea of glow-in-the-dark ancient civilizations with a lot of glittery things, we picked up: glow sticks, glow in the dark hair spray, black light make-up, finger lights, a silver cape, a weird mask, and an Egyptian head-dress. Total cost: approximately $US40.
The other costume apparel was stuff we found in our closet, like the necklaces and the silver dress.
Getting ready is half the fun. We looked up some quick glow-in-the-dark face paint patterns and gave it our best shot.
When we got to HoY around 11 PM, the club was in full swing with a line building up and lots of costumed revelers hanging around outside.
If you forget your costume, HoY usually has this pop-up costume box out front where you can buy affordable costume options.
The Costume Box has an overwhelming number of options of partygoers. Stylists for the night included Arielle Avenia & Eylem Yildirim.
Check out more on their Instagram.
You can buy tickets at the door, but if you purchase tickets ahead of time, you can skip the line. You’ll also get priority if you come in a costume, even if you didn’t buy a ticket.
We headed inside. At most clubs, people head to the smoking area so they can talk. Burke says she wanted to create a place where “you don’t have to smoke cigarettes to connect with people.” This airy courtyard seemed like a good start.
After surveying the scene, it looked like we were in the ballpark with our costume idea to go glittery, silvery, and ethereal. These partygoers nailed it.
The costumes can get pretty elaborate. Even though HoY is full of performances, Sapozhnikova says the goal is to create a place that “human-driven,” not “entertainment-driven.”
We dropped off our coats and headed to dance. This room, which doubles as an entrance, bar, and medium-sized dance floor, was all in blacklight. And those eyes opened and closed mechanically.
I’m not saying my costume was amazing, but, come on, the blacklight face-paint and Egyptian headdress worked out pretty well. My dorky “MEDIA” badge was a conversation-starter.
The main dance floor was sensory overload between the performers, the costumed partygoers, the blacklight, and the video art behind the stage.
One would be tempted to pull out a phone for a quick Instagram, but Burke’s advice for first-timers was to “turn off your phone” so you can be present and “participate.”
HoY usually features DJs with all sorts of styles ranging from deep-house to trance and everything in between. Oakland-based Americana band Dirtwire performed when we arrived before they did their own DJ set.
There are performers everywhere you look. This swing was above the bar. Looked like fun, but probably best left to the professionals.
HoY originally started as an aerial studio so Burke and Sapozhnikova could teach circus skills. The performers are top-notch. Jen James mixes aerial movements with contemporary dance.
This stage pictured above is in the middle of the dance floor.
It’s pretty mind-blowing when you see a circus performer start spinning on silks right in front of you, particularly when you are dancing and not paying attention.
Things can get trippy very quickly. Sapozhnikova says her job is to create “holy sh — t moments” that feel spontaneous and make each night feel unique. This freaky white-shrouded performer popped up out of nowhere.
Sapozhnikova said that her goal with those types of moments is to show partygoers that “reality is totally malleable” and that surprises can happen at any time.
Parties with that disorienting element were always Burke and Sapozhnikova’s favourite as twenty-somethings in New York, they say, leading them to want to create a place where they could make things like that happen all the time.
Over time, according to Sapozhnikova, they have developed better and better “technique of how to produce those kinds of moments.”
“When you do it at this rapid fire rate of constantly producing – especially constantly producing in the same space – your learning curve is insane,” Sapozhnikova said.
The performances can get mesmerising. But Burke and Sapozhnikova say their goal is to have different elements that make a night “amazing,” from obvious things like DJs to strange one-on-one interactions.
Sapozhnikova says that they are always looking for new ways to explore or use the HoY space to create new experiences for partygoers and performers.
Recently, they tried converting the Queen of Falafel shop next door (which they also own and run) into a candelit setting for tarot card readings. Then they had their resident “magician-tarot-card-goddess person,” according to Burke, “steal” people from the party one-by-one for intimate readings.
“It’s so unexpected when you go out in nightlife,” she said.
“It puts you in a different headspace,” Sapozhnikova added.
We headed out to the entrance room for a breather where HoY’s resident “magician-tarot-card-goddess person” was giving a reading. It looked intense.
There’s a lot to see and do. Artist Giovanny Mondesir was doing blacklight body art for $US10. It took a few minutes, but he was a pro. Those multi-colour waves on the shoulders were a single brushstroke.
It looked amazing in the blacklight once it was all finished. Much more elaborate than our DIY make-up art.
Painter Myztico Chango, who specialises in black light art, was working on a painting on the side of the dance floor. Chango was so inspired by the theme that he asked HoY to let him paint at the party.
The middle room was crowded, probably because it was a nice in-between the courtyard and the main dance floor. You could dance or talk, depending on your mood.
We made friends on the dance floor, forming a circle for everyone to show off their dance moves. Then the astronaut got in a dance-off with the guy in the feather vest. I’d say the astronaut won, but how could you really lose with that costume?
We took a break in the courtyard where we made friends with these people sharing a cigarette. The guy on the right asked to borrow my headdress and, in the theme of the HoY, I said yes. He never gave it back. Shame.
HoY is always subverting expectations, in even small details — like how the bathrooms are divided into stalls and urinals, rather than men and women. The bathrooms (which I couldn’t get a good picture of for obvious reasons) might be the most beautiful part of the club. Seriously.
But they could use larger bathrooms for a venue of their size. The line for the stalls was excruciatingly long.
By 1 AM, things were starting to get weird on the main dance floor.
The performers are constantly changing. And they don’t skimp on the outfits. Performer Julien Martin had a hypnotising costume strung with strings of lights.
Though the performances are highly produced and scheduled, Burke and Sapozhnikova say that it is important to them that the space stays and feels spontaneous.
For the Endless Summer party, stage manager Vincent Venuti found a bottle of sunscreen shortly before the club opened. He thought it would be hilarious if they had a performer sunbathing in the middle of the dance floor while he acted as her “beach boy,” applying sunblock and towels. Burke and Sapozhnikova told him to set it up.
“It was this hilarious thing that happened and very spontaneous,” Sapozhnikova said. “But it wouldn’t have been possible if we were disorganized and had to look for everything and if people weren’t already in this mode of trust and playfulness.”