In the heart of the West Village, at first glance, there seems little solace from the frat bars and lame comedy clubs. But one spot nearby secretly offers so much more than anything that the cheap glowing lights of its neighbors can afford. A few black steps down from street level on MacDougal street lies 124 Rabbit Club, a dark candlelit oasis of exclusive Belgian and import beers, some of the best playlists in NYC and most importantly no television screens. This punk bordello, replete with a GG Allin and the Murder Junkies poster hanging on the wall, recalls the feel of downtown’s gritty former days with a beer list that outclasses anything in town by miles. While hidden gems are often talked about, few are as worth finding. Owner and full time punk Drew Bushong talked with Grandlife about the origins of 124 Rabbit Club and NYC nightlife.
GrandLife: How did Rabbit Club first get started?
Drew Bushong: I was managing Death and Company when they first opened and had known my boss and now business partner for quite some time from the neighborhood and managing other spots. I knew he had the space the Rabbits in now and was trying to unload it. I guess I showed some promise and we partnered up to do the Rabbit Club.
GL: How do you see Rabbit fitting into the fabric of the neighborhood?
DB: My first memory of actually being on MacDougal Street was after I had already talked to Ravi and eagerly said I would do a bar anywhere I could. I had been living in NYC for 9 years already and hadn’t ever dared go to that block. “Lil Cancun” is what I had dubbed it and heard it had been called “Date Rape Row” on occasion as well. The block wasn’t/isn’t exactly ideal for the kind of people I would usually find appealing…puking and peeing and first time bar patrons. But with all that said I think we feel kind of at home there now. With all the nastiness going on out front it makes me feel even better to be tucked away inside.
GL: Who are you customers? On any given night what can you expect to see at Rabbit?
DB: In the beginning our only customers were people who knew how to read.
We didn’t have a sign and the walk down our stairs is a bit nerve wracking so the only people who knew about it were people who had read our reviews, that and the brave fun seekers just opening dark scary doors. I still don’t know who our crowd actually is. We get everyone; First dates and cheaters, music nerds and beer geeks, NYU law kids and NYU haters, Europeans and locals, people hiding from TVs and Internet reception.
GL: What are your favorite beers that you sell?
DB: We sell predominately old European beers in bottles and domestic craft on draft. I lived in Belgium as a kid and still have family there so I have thing for anything Belgian but a nice subtle English session is needed sometimes. I have a tendency to buy the weird stuff and love anything sour and biting, geuzes and oud bruins being funky and refreshing are my favorites to introduce to the new beer drinker. I toured the Rodenbach Brewery once and have always had a huge soft spot for their Grand Cru. My desert island beer for sure
GL: What is your favorite songs to play during your shift?
DB: Music plays a huge part of the bar. I’ve hired my music nerd buddies before they even knew what a good beer actually is. The range of music knowledge of these guys blows me away and I just love sitting around nerding with them about music. I managed CBGB’s for many years so I don’t mind the loud stuff at all. I still read Maximum Rock n Roll and anything punk, post-punk or anything upbeat and obscure is best to me. I’m hooked on anything Killed By Death records finds but I should probably chill on that a bit. Ha. Right now The Bats’ song “Chicken Bird Run” is blasting and amazing.
GL: What do you think separates Rabbit from other bars in the neighborhood?
DB: We’re the only bar on the block without a neon and when the only phone calls we were getting in the first month opening were about television package deals to compete with our neighboring bars, I told the spam caller I didn’t even need a phone and ripped it out of the wall and threw it away.
GL: What would you like to see more of in NYC nightlife?
DB: I miss Mars bar and the community of strangeness all meeting even if not alike there was a commonality of why we were all New Yorkers or wanting to be New Yorkers. I love the spots that look to do something away from just the typical Brooklyn trend that’s saturated the villages. That and places something ridiculous might happen every night. Though I’d never got to go I wish there was still a bar named ‘Downtown Beirut”. What an amazing name for a bar.
124 Old Rabbit Club
124 MacDougal St
New York, NY 10012