Nestled in the corner of Gunbar’s dark and sleek underground room is a large windowpane. Through this sheet of glass, imbibing customers can watch the action as fellow patrons get inked up. That’s right — New York City’s Lower East Side-feeling lounge has a tattoo booth built in. It’s not a massive workspace, but it’s enough for Michelle Myers from Daredevil Tattoos to leave her mark on willing clients. (A serious waiver needs a signature prior to anyone dropping down into the chair, and, no, they won’t let anyone who’s drunk under the gun.) The ink shop is run by the stringent standards applicable to any tat parlor; no drinks, even water, are allowed inside the booth.
Outside the tattoo annex, Gunbar’s interior resembles a Warhol-era warehouse bathroom. Graffiti is sprinkled across the walls and bar, which mixes well with the 50 tables surrounded by vintage furniture snapped up at local flea markets and antique stores from around Gotham. A standout cowhide chair and a line of brown leather couches against the wall finish the space, the capacity of which is 150 people. It’s got the vibe of a gritty dive bar without the seedy and grungy element those types of establishments often exude.
That ambience was created purposely, per Gunbar Co-owner Aaron Elbaz.
“We wanted to shake up the luxurious, obvious money look that the Meatpacking District has moved toward,” Elbaz explains. “This nightlife district was here before us, and it’s going to be here for a long time.” He hopes to bring back a little of what the area was like “before the ’90s and the trendy stuff that followed.”
Gunbar’s décor was themed after the notion of “having a party in an old subway station after the station had closed,” Elbaz shares.
This is most evident in the graffiti adorning the intimate space created by the hands of Spanish artist Luca Beneroch.
“Luca was introduced by a friend of ours, and we told him what we were looking for. My partners [in the venue] are all from different countries, like France and India,” says the Israeli-born Elbaz. “We thought we could connect these cultures with the graffiti,” which features a number of international flourishes, such as “God Save The Queen” and The Who's logo cozying up to quirky gems like “Lick My Boobs.”
As for the clientele filling the subterranean establishment, Elbaz’s sought-after balance of “suits, punks, financiers and skaters” was reached when each group was represented at the-grand opening bash last week.
As co-owner Bobby Perrson describes it, “Gunbar is a clash between dirty and exclusivity — a mixture of the current Meatpacking mindset and the old NYC culture you see in films. We didn’t want it to look too organized. We wanted the same thing with the guests in the room. There is a permanent guest list, but unless you are a close friend or previous business partner, you’ll have to stand on line with everyone else.” Perrson adds that the doors are “non-exclusive.”
While relying on word-of-mouth to attract guests, Gunbar offers bottle service as well as carefully crafted cocktails, but doesn’t push guests in either direction.
“Compared to anyone else in New York, we have very low prices,” Elbaz claims, noting that their average cocktail runs around $16 and bottle service ranges from $275 to $2,200 (if guests are opting for the Dom Perignon Rose from ’98).
At first glance, it would seem Gunbar is an effort to make the Meatpacking District more accessible, but it also seeks to curate a crowd comprised of different genres of revelers. It’s a lofty aim, even though a number of factors are working in the space’s favor. Besides, how often can a club kid kick off the evening by filling in that empty skin on a nearly completed sleeve, then dancing through dark, tagged walls with pals all in within one venue?
Josh Cohen contributed to this article.