Originally published in the Bushwick Daily. Photos by Claire Worsley and Ambria Michelle
A new speakeasy bonanza on the border of Ridgewood and Bushwick (Bushwood, as the owners think of it — don’t ever call it “Ridgewick”) features everything from your wildest trip: unspeakably good pastries, intelligent chit-chats over film, one bathroom lacquered in Golden Girls memorabilia while another is plastered with cinematic porn cut-outs, highlighted in neon lights (visitors are welcome to add photographs of their own flesh to the wall). Sample events include its “Sunday Bake,” taking place each Sunday, featuring dinner and a movie marathon. Their first season this past fall opened with “90s Kids” (“Slacky,” “Tommy Boy,” “Office Space”) and will finish Dec 22 with “Jewwy AF” (“A Serious Man”; “The Hebrew Hammer”; “Yentl”).
The project is the brainchild of photographer Diana (she keeps her last name hush-hush and goes by “D”), whose energy, vision, and nurturing camaraderie has earned her the nickname Mama D among her followers. Her desire to support artists, build community, and ignore dividers of genre ended up launching the company now known as Mama D’s Sneaky Speakeasy.
Located on the first floor of D’s house, visitors pass a bright, non-descript hallway into a dimly-lit enclave where any imaginable art is welcome. Purple abounds. There’s a noticeably ornate clawfoot tub in the Golden Girls bathroom
“You have to look for the feet,” D advises on finding one’s own regal bathtub.
Its Halloween party, “TRICK or SNEAKY TREAT! HALLOWEEN PICKUP PARTY” is a soft launch of D’s “infused goods” line, with sounds by DJs Talkings Rings and L Vibes. D, who bartends and works as a gourmet chef, will cook up vegan stews, her famous bread, and a smoking cauldron. There will be, as she says, “dried ice ass motherfuckas!” to create spooky effects, augmented, most likely, by infused goods available for purchase.
D grew up in a rural suburb of Philadelphia, and has been living in and out of the city since 2001 when she moved to New York as an art and philosophy student, starting classes just two days before 9/11. She spent some time in Paris and fell in love with the salon-esque culture. When she moved back to New York and settled in the Bushwick/Ridgewood area nearly seven years ago, her goal was to rekindle that sense of collaboration from salons. Around 2014, she started throwing parties in her loft near the Halsey stop. She made food and mixed drinks, and over the years, the persona of Mama D organically formed.
“We jammed all night and had fun and were all weird artists together. I wanted to do something to combine that sort of party with art performance and presentations.”
Thus began Second Sunday Salons, a monthly party (the next one is Nov 9) that began with a cocktail hour and assorted visual art on display (often a solo show), a series of short-performances from music to performance art, a Jell-O shot toast “and an ode to being an artist and keeping things celebratory and positive because it’s certainly isn’t the easiest path,” then a party with DJs until 2 am.
D has worked to extend each component of those monthly parties. There’s now an opening for solo shows by that month’s visual artist. Mama D’s has a new audio system, which will support the institution’s fledgling production studio, Bushwood Productions (the preferred portmanteau for this area where Ridgewood and Bushwick meet). D plans to make quality recordings of live performances and album recordings. In her view, it’s essential to document the Salon and accompanying events so artists can point to their work.
“We want to provide artists with really quality shit: a lot of us know how to film or great lighting or audio engineering. So the question is how do we all come together as a collective and make sure everyone’s art is being captured and available to them after the initial party.”
She wants to bolster artists further with “Sneaky Sessions,” a podcast. In advance of a show or party, D and several collaborators will record sessions in the basement studio.
House institutions like Mama D’s that double as artistic collectives are not unheard of, especially in Brooklyn, but very few have the level of intimacy, discussion, and genuine warmth as Mama D’s. Many of them over the years have also been priced out of the area (something that happened to several of D’s friends). When she started Mama D’s, D was determined to own the space so she could set the vibe unafraid of being forced out. Along with that sense of permanency, the intimacy stems from the fact D hosts these events in her house.
“You’re coming to my home. You know, you’re hanging out with my dog and my cat. My books are on the walls. You can play my piano. It’s not some impersonal or corporate space. It’s an intimate experience and that effects the tone we hit.”
Mama D’s has taken a life of its own and remains hungry for artistic collaborators. The group is launching a recording studio, and quickly adding recording abilities in what D thinks as Bushwood Projections.
Frequent collaborators include her right-hand woman, Shari. Mama D’s is very queer-friendly and many collaborators are women of color. Shari (who like several collaborators prefers to remain on a first-name basis) started working with D about 18 months ago, after realizing a Craigslist posting was for someone very close to her neighborhood. The two hit it off immediately, and have attracted about 12 other routine collaborators for the many projects, as well as the “Sunday Bake squad.” Other collaborators include Emily, the resident academic; Roderick Thomas, a filmmaker and director of “Black Masc.”
D aims to bring people together who will inspire each other. She loved the notion of Parisian salons for bringing all sorts of figures together, from painting or literature, politics or music.
“I don’t know if that was what was happening back in the day, but this idea of breaking down historically distinct art forms — all of that is starting to erode. We really want to embrace that erosion and create a space for people to share in a way that’s really welcoming.”
Mama D’s has a lot going on, but D is not at all concerned about burning out.
“Everyone’s been telling me I’m crazy and I do too many things my whole life. I just ignore them. We’re almost at the point now where I can just take my pants down to my ankles and moon the shit out of all of them.”
True to the speakeasy spirit, D only divulges the address to those who purchase a ticket. But all are welcome to her home. She’s especially fond of “Bushwood,” whose small businesses seem like the New York her grandmother experienced in the 30s when every street wasn’t Disneyfied.
“It feels like if my grandma were still alive, I could invite her over and it’d be like yep, this is New York.”