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Changing his tune: Way Station owner shakes up programming

Bar rescue: Way Station owner Andy Heidel has shifted the programming at his bar more towards trivia and theater events as the audience for live music has waned.
Brooklyn Paper
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Call it the year the music died.

At the end of 2017, the owner of the Way Station bar and venue in Prospect Heights noticed a change in his clientele. The bar’s original following of local artists and musicians had moved away as rents rose, and the new crowds were no longer showing up to see bands on weeknights, said Andy Heidel.

“This used to be a big musician neighborhood — now, not so much,” he said. “The local support for live music had dried up some, so our nights with live music, earlier in the week, were severely under-attended, even while the music quality was still getting better and better.”

When he opened the bar in 2011, Heidel modeled it after Park Slope music venue Barbes, which hosts musical acts seven nights a week — and which launched a crowd-funding campaign in 2017 in order to stay afloat. After six years, audiences were no longer coming out to see music.

So in January, Heidel began mixing up his programming, leaning into the nerdy climate created by the bar’s signature Tardis — the time machine from British science-fiction show “Dr. Who.” Heidel added events that gave nerds a chance to learn about science, at the “Biology on Tap” and “Astronomy on Tap” lecture series, and a chance to show off that knowledge at a weekly “Geeks Who Drink” trivia night, and he experimented with adding theatrical events.

Seven months later, the changes have paid off, he says.

“Comedy shows and science talks are outperforming the music I used to have on Wednesday nights,” said Heidel. “The customer base has changed to loyal followers of these events, especially our trivia night on Tuesdays.”

The monthly “Shakes-Beer-ience” show, a booze-heavy Shakespeare performance from local troupe Seven Stages Shakespeare — happening next on July 9 — has been a boon for the bar.

“ShakesBeer­ience is my best Monday night of the month — proving the appeal of immersive theatre,” said Heidel.

There is still plenty of music at the bar, but Heidel now mostly confines it to Friday and Saturday nights.

“Those are the nights that more people are available to come out and help support their friends,” he said.

He also makes sure not to book bands too often, to keep them from wearing out their appeal.

“I just have to be more selective and make sure bands rest in between times they play, and make sure their fans don’t have band fatigue,” he said.

This Saturday night, for instance, will feature Dalton Deschain and the Traveling Show, performing the album “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” in honor of the soon-to-close David Bowie exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. The band last appeared at the Way Station when the exhibit opened in March.

The Way Station [683 Washington Ave. between Prospect and St. Marks places in Prospect Heights, (347) 627–4949, www.thewaystationbk.com].

Reach arts editor Bill Roundy at broundy@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4507.
Updated 5:40 pm, July 9, 2018
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