In the center of Bushwick, Brooklyn, beneath the clattering elevated train, Broadway, Myrtle Avenue, Jefferson Street, and Stuyvesant Avenue intersect to form a sloppy six-point star. Getting to Bizarre, a two-year-old dive bar located a few steps up Jefferson, is a harrowing experience—traffic seems to come from all sides, and it’s hard to discern what pedestrian signal refers to what street.
That sense of dangerous bewilderment continues inside Bizarre, where, on the third Thursday of every month, you can attend the Folk Circus, a rock show accompanied by aerialists, contortionists, fire-eaters, and burlesque dancers.
Bizarre, named for the legendary Greenwich Village bar that was a favorite of Andy Warhol’s, was founded by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, a French film director who lives upstairs. Sauvaire was scouting film locations when he discovered the derelict building in 2008, which he bought and transformed into “a place for artists to exchange ideas.” Red lightbulbs in fringed lamps, antique mirrors, chandeliers, and a disco ball beaming through the smoke-machine miasma created an atmosphere that was half Val’s nightclub on Broad City, half Burning Man.
Despite the show’s DIY vibe, I was reassured that the hook in the ceiling from which the aerialists would spin was not as precarious as it looked. “Once, a fire eater singed off some eyebrows—his own eyebrows,” said Joshua Brocki, one of the show’s producers. “They’re professionals.” Brocki checked his phone with consternation—the night’s fire eater, Jack Sullivan had been stopped by police on the subway.
The donations-only show got rolling at 10:20 with an eery dance by Leeon Sugar, brother of co-producer Manquillan Minniefee. Sugar began in a beige suit, shaking a book like a preacher at a tent revival. Then he started to strip, revealing a fishnet bodysuit and sculpted abs.
The capacity crowd of about 80 people barely had time to murmur “What was that?” before the start of next act, by aerialist Sylvana Tapia, who spun herself in fabric up to the ceiling, then suddenly unraveled almost to the floor, her long hair flying.
Allison Schieler contorted herself between the tables, then Sullivan (having apparently successfully evaded arrest) came out in a mask and snapped a mousetrap on his tongue. Much ink has been spilled concerning the empowering virtues of burlesque, but it’s hard to overstate the life-affirming confidence of Deity Delgado’s strip-tease act.
Then it was intermission. Sauvaire made the rounds, seeming to know everyone, and half the people I spoke to were either employees of the bar or past performers—Bizarre also hosts regular burlesque events, art shows, comedy nights, and something called “Bacon Disco.”
Madame Vivien V, who hosted a bordello on July 23, attracted a few glances from pedestrians on Jefferson. She was nearly seven feet tall in heels, with her chest and back elaborately painted with a giant moth.
Her companion, Sasha Velour, wore a white feathered cape and carried a large pair of eyeballs.
The band for the night, the Hate My Day Jobs, had the nostalgic sound of Hot Hot Heat, if Hot Hot Heat had two female backup singers. Why the name? Artie Fleishmann said all the bandmates had coped with terrible jobs, but his was perhaps the worst: he had been an aircraft cleaner at Long Island’s Republic airport, and once dropped J. Lo’s jacket in the mud.
The circus was supposed to have an overall plot that united both music and performances, but it wasn’t really in evidence—something about escaping from hell. The evening’s host, Richie Alfson, made off-color jokes about Bill Cosby and Jerry of Subway, and anointed various sinners in blood.
After Kyla Ernst-Alper’s aerial hooping and another crowd-pleasing strip tease, this time from Nyx Nocturn, Jack Sullivan returned, lit his head on fire, lit his sleeve on fire, and, as a grand finale, blasted giant clouds of flame high enough to scorch the ceiling. The room smelled like kerosene, and was only silent for second before the audience rushed to the center to begin an extremely energetic, flailing dance party.
So how did Sullivan convince the police that he was okay to carry an assortment of torches, kerosene and naphtha on the train? “I say I’m a sideshow performer,” said Sullivan, “and I have to show them I have a performance. I just had a bucket tonight, which is good, because I keep machetes for human cutting board in my duffel.”
In the show’s aftermath, as No Doubt’s “Hey Baby” blared from the stereo, more than one person offered me a free drink. I don’t often feel this way, as an introvert par excellence, put it was the kind of place where you could make friends just by coming back.
Photography by Molly Dektar.
Molly Dektar is from North Carolina. She has an MFA from Brooklyn College and lives in Brooklyn.