Bar 4 Is Shutting Down: How A Tiny Bar in Brooklyn Changed My Life

As one often does these days, I discovered the news on Facebook. After trying to decipher a series of posts in my newsfeed, I finally found the one that made them all make sense: a press release announcing that Bar 4, in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn was closing. I started crying.

“Friends and family,

It is with great sadness that we announce that after 14 years as a neighborhood institution, music venue and beloved Slope staple, Bar 4 will be permanently closing its doors on August 15, 2013.”

And not like wimpy crying. I was sobbing so much. I felt embarrassed about it even though I was alone in my apartment. I couldn’t stop, couldn’t calm down and couldn’t rein it in. I know this sounds overly dramatic (I DID do all the plays in high school), but I would love to tell you why a tiny bar in Brooklyn impacted my life to such a significant degree. It also relates to The Bushwick Book Club Seattle; I promise.

bar4homeIt all started in the winter of 2008, when I went to my first Tuesday night open mic. It was packed and I missed sign-up. I only knew one person there, Misty Boyce, a phenomenal songwriter who has just recently gotten back from tour with Sara Bareilles. Misty wasn’t feeling well so she graciously gave me her slot and I gave the first of what feels like hundreds of performances on that tiny stage with its quirky art in the background and a black, shiny, upright piano (that was in tune!). I had never felt so received and listened to in my life.  And I had never seen so much talent and inspiration in one room. I was hooked.

Week after week, I carted myself all the way from Queens to Brooklyn on the F train to be there. It is where I truly became a musician, learned how to perform and how to mess up (that one comes a little easier than the others). It’s where I met Greg Coladarci, who ended up producing both of my albums. If it weren’t for Bar 4, I don’t know where I would be as a songwriter. But aside from my own personal growth, I was always floored by the performances of everyone else. Some have even gone on to become pretty famous.  But to me, everyone I met there was famous.

photo Debbie Miller Bar 4

Debbie Miller, Leah Goldstein, and Greg Coladarci at Bar 4, July 2010

Bar 4 became my music home and family, all the way until I up and moved to Seattle. A movie reel of images that are forever singed in my mind flash by as I sit here and think about that bar. Niko Kaparos running sound, making lovable Chewbacca noises instead of clapping. Kevin Johnston and Greg Tuohey behind the bar, sometimes adding percussion to people’s songs. Sticker Dude passing out free stationary. Being in an audience that was so enthralled by a performer, you could hear a pin drop. Never being able to go home at a reasonable hour because there was no way you’d miss the friend that was up next.

One of my favorite things about the Bar 4 open mic was the chance to play a new song in front of an audience for the first time. There is nothing like it. New songs are raw and in their purest form. It is scary and thrilling like bungee jumping; You are never quite sure how it’s going to go down. It has the potential to get a little hairy, but the audience is always there to catch you. I am so grateful that I still have that opportunity with the Bushwick Book Club Seattle. I’ll never forget my first show with the book club when I sang “The Queen of Hearts” inspired by Alice in Wonderland.  I was SO NERVOUS. I had sung it once for my mom and she sort of chuckled at it. I wasn’t sure it’d go over so well and it ended up being one of my favorite performance experiences of all time.

There’s a Bar 4-shaped hole in my heart that may never be refilled, but, boy, am I happy for all the memories I get to keep. I feel lucky to have passed through. I am also endlessly thankful for having a space in the Bushwick community, so I can continue to share my little songs with you.

Debbie Miller is a Seattle based singer/songwriter originally  from New York. She is a featured Bushwick Book Club Seattle artist and a beloved performer in the Seattle music/arts community.