Every Monday night, a new pair of Brooklynites settle in at a candlelit table at The Richardson bar in Williamsburg for a few drinks and a long talk between friends.
Mauricio Gonzalez-Aranda and Andrew Mullen, the creators of the docuseries “Bar Talk,” set up directly across from the duo with a camera and some recording equipment to capture every second of the conversation for their series.
Each week since last summer, the duo have invited a new pairing to appear on Bar Talk for an unscripted, unguided conversation. Mullen and Gonzalez-Aranda don’t interrupt, don’t ask questions — they just record.
So far, they’ve featured 54 people in 27 episodes — actors, musicians, shop owners, even Santa Claus. The guests are New York natives or transplants, people who run businesses or go to school or otherwise live their lives in the borough.
Individually, the episodes are snapshots of those friendships, and where those people are in their lives. Together, they’re an archive of Brooklyn at the time of the recording — what locals are talking about, worried about, looking forward to.
“The reason we’re doing this is because we’re highly curious about what other people are talking about at the bar,” Gonzalez-Aranda said. “That’s the core, right? You’re at a bar, you wonder what other people are talking about.”
He and Mullen came up with the idea for Bar Talk during one of those conversations themselves. One night at The Palace, they wondered how many great ideas or moving moments between friends were washed down with a drink and forgotten the next day — and decided to try to capture those moments instead.
Those first few episodes, finding guests was near impossible – not many people are thrilled to join two total strangers at a bar on a weeknight for a series that doesn’t exist yet.
“We were literally walking up and down the street, knocking on doors,” Mullen said. “Which, I think, creates a really interesting vibe, because it feels grassroots. It feels like you’re talking to people in the neighborhood, or listening to them.”
They were desperately searching for guests as they prepared for Episode 4 last summer, and ran into a couple in McCarren Park — Sasha and Josh — and invited them to come on the show that night. The duo are nomads who, at the time, were living in their bus beside McCarren Park — and their conversation wanders through their experience in Williamsburg to how many kids is the ideal number and back to how they live on the road.
Finding guests has become easier with time – they find them online, or through recommendations from friends — some guests have even reached out directly, asking to come on the show.
There’s no “wrong guest,” Mullen said.
“I would love if there was almost a sense of collective ownership of it,” he said, “This is all of our city, I want the people in it to feel like they have a place on the show and come on.”
Mullen and Gonzalez-Aranda also have a list of archetypes they’d like to feature on the show — ballerinas, construction workers, Uber drivers, trust fund babies — that they use as a “compass” for picking guests. In practice, though, they often get sidetracked, and tick multiple boxes at once, or throw the guidelines away entirely.
“The real world is complex, you never are one thing alone,” Gonzalez-Aranda said.
Bar Talk is something like a podcast, except there’s no host – Gonzalez-Aranda and Mullen don’t appear in any episodes to urge the conversation along. They also never choose two random people to throw together — to keep the show true to their mission, they invite their guest and tell them to bring a friend along for the conversation.
“If you probably have someone in mind who you think is super interesting, and you invite them on the show, they’ll bring their friend, and together they’ll be interesting in a way you could never see because you’d interrupt them,” Gonzalez-Aranda said.
“It’s their best self, knowing they’re with somebody that they’re most comfortable with,” Mullen added. “
In November, they had Una Chaudhuri, Dean of Humanities at New York University, and her niece, Indian filmmaker Subhadra Mahajan. Chaudhuri was “one of the most distinguished” guests they’ve had on, Gonzalez-Aranda said, but one of her most distinguishing characteristics was how well she listened to her niece, and how willing she seemed to change her mind as the conversation went on.
“And because you are not participating in the conversation — I think this is key — you don’t have any opportunity to get involved in any way, to interject your own antagonistic opinion,” Gonzalez-Aranda said. “You just sit there, and hopefully … you are not in a position of judging them. You’re just wanting to hear their point.”
The visual component of the show helps, too. When they can, Mullen and Gonzalez-Aranda like to show examples of what the guests are talking about: photos, short video clips. It draws viewers into the story — and seeing the guests adds a layer of understanding.
“It’s way more easy for someone to connect with two people speaking when you can see them, when they have an idea of what they look like, and how they dress, and carry themselves,” Mullen said. “I think that sort of empathy is very important in what we’re trying to do in terms of rekindling a sense of community, and just learning to listen to people that we otherwise would never come across.”
To that end, they hope to invite some more authoritative figures on the show at some point — elected officials, firefighters, police officers. Cops are “the source of so much controversy,” Gonzalez-Aranda said.
“Hearing them speak would be a great way to learn more about them, empathize with them,” he said. “I’m not saying we have to side with anyone, but the nature of hearing someone speak for two hours is that you learn something new.”
Right now, Bar Talk is mostly self-funded by Gonzalez-Aranda and Mullen. They have a Patreon page where supports can make small donations each month — but eventually they hope to get some sponsors or even public funding to make the show sustainable. Maybe, someday, they’ll expand the show to different cities and towns across the U.S.
“One of the main goals of the show is it’s meant to be a collection for posterity — what is New York like in 2022, 2023,” Gonzalez-Aranda said. “In my mind, it could be a collection that future anthropologists, or historians … can reference. It’s supposed to be immersive for contemporary viewers, but also for people who look back on it.”
Correction, 2/21/2023, 4:46pm: This story previously misspelled Una Chaudhuri’s last name. We regret the error.