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Barbès Readies a Reopening Plan: The Dirty Dozen Series

richard schroeder

Anyone truly familiar with Barbès, the Brooklyn bar long hailed for its eclectic music booking, will no doubt recall the odd evening when there were fewer than a dozen people in the audience. Those conditions will soon be official, as the club rolls out its first in-person concert series since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The Dirty Dozen Series, set to kick off on April 10, is so named for the number of people that will be allowed in any given audience. New York State has determined that entertainment venues can reopen at one-third capacity beginning on April 2; because of the club's tight dimensions, that means no more than four parties at a time: two tables of four and two tables of two, for a total of 12 people. Tickets will be $25 per person, available only by reservation.

Olivier Conan, the owner of Barbès, has used various means to keep the club alive during its interminable shutdown; last fall he converted it into a retail shop for wine and liquor. "It's hard to believe it’s been a year — I think we've all typed the sentence in the past couple of weeks, because as strange and draining as the experience has been, we've all lived through it," Conan wrote in an email to the club's list. "Different experiences, different levels of trauma — but still, it’s been a full year for all. Unlike some weird cognitive accident that we would have a hard time describing, this collective nightmare belongs to all of us."

The Dirty Dozen Series will kick off on April 10 with Big Lazy, a Barbès staple led by guitarist Stephen Ulrich; earlier this month, the band played a livestream from the club.

Big Lazy - Live on Tele-Barbes

The series is currently set to continue through May 31, typically with sets at 7 and 9 p.m. Among the other artists appearing are guitarists Jeremiah Lockwood (April 13) and Ben Monder (April 15); vocalist Sandra Weigl with keyboardist Shoko Nagai (April 16); and the Guinean guitarists Mamady Kouyaté and Mamady Kouruma, of The Mandingo Ambassadors (April 21). In addition to the in-person audience, shows will be streamed on the Barbès YouTube channel.

Tickets for The Dirty Dozen Series are available through Eventbrite. For a full schedule, visit the Barbès website.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.