Written by: Emily Niewendorp
Union Pool is a long-time popular, neighborhood bar that buzzes with humanity without feeling crowded. Small-looking from its exterior, it actually provides several areas for hanging out, a beautiful music room, and well-thought-out music scheduling.
The stage is an attractive jewel-box style theater, fronted by a large dance floor of which people do not hesitate to take advantage. Union Pool’s other spaces include: a main bar with aqua-colored walls and a DJ booth, and the patio area, which is outfitted with benches, lounge chairs and a little botanical pool and water fountain. A taco truck from which tasty midnight snacks are dispensed sells amazing tamales and more.
Union Pool has always nurtured community and band relations. Its long-time employees and bartenders are also artists and musicians who promote and connect the venue with great musicians. Bands at Union Pool are fed by the house, and the cover at the music room’s door and band merchandise sales go to the musicians and sound person. Maintaining these standards is important to Union Pool management under the philosophy: “The band has a hard enough time as it is.”
The room draws bands who are on the verge of playing larger Brooklyn and Manhattan rooms; acoustic musicians, indie bands, touring national acts, secret shows, private one-offs and tapings. Well-known bands that have played at Union Pool are Cat Power and TV on the Radio. Shows at Union Pool are often at-capacity, signaling one of the final, intimate-sized shows for the band on its way up. The venue does not try to follow trends, but strives to provide stimulating, original, quality music.
Union Pool offers music five to seven nights a week. Reverend Vince Anderson plays two sets for his devotees at 11 p.m. every Monday. Free shows are usually offered every other Tuesday. On Friday and Saturday nights DJs play after the bands—there are occasional DJ parties as well; and summer-time brings Sunday evening shows, as well as free Saturday afternoon shows on the patio, from 3 – 8 p.m.
Back in the ’70s, Union Pool was a concrete warehouse for pool and exterminator supplies. The building went dormant for 15 years, until it opened as a bar in 2000. Music came to Union Pool still a few years later. On the outskirts of the Bedford Avenue art scene at that time, the venue’s first shows were raw and punk in nature, and could only offer performers a ramshackle stage and PA system.
Around 2006, the space was upgraded, adding a back patio, the music room’s bar and a proper sound system. The venue began to focus on low-key, local country and folk music, with the occasional trendy show brought in by outside promoters, such as Todd P. When current manager, Sage, came on board he expanded the music program beyond two or three shows a week. The venue also experimented with more music styles, and built on what worked best sonically within the space. In the spring of 2010, the music room was sound-proofed to heighten sound quality and counter noise complaints from neighbors. The Brooklyn Queens Expressway runs right past the venue, but the traffic noise does nothing to disrupt enjoyment of the music—it actually helps buffer the noise impact, as well as provide an easy access for patrons.
As Williamsburg has developed, Union Pool has become the epicenter of the area. It is between two major train stops and train lines and in a thriving young, artistic neighborhood.