The Barclays Center is open, and like Brooklyn’s favorite son who has been performing there all week, the arena lives up to the hype. It may not be universally loved, for its tortured past or rusticated design, but there is no question the Barclays Center is one of the most unique and interesting sports venues in the world. It is certainly the most exacting, with every inch of the place being burnished and detailed. It is like a Swiss watch—everything in its right place—albeit a Swiss watch with a discrete EmblemHealth logo on its face, the kind of thing handed out for a Christmas bonus. You eagerly wear it and just hope no one wants to see the thing up close.
One thing was out of place, though, when The Observer took in Wednesday night’s packed Jay-Z concert: drinks, drinks everywhere, but not a drop from Brooklyn.
That is not exactly true. If we wanted a root beer float from precious Cobble Hill soda shop the Farmacy, there they were, 8 bucks a pop. (Get it? Pop? Forget it. You must not be from the Midwest like the rest of us in Brooklyn.) There were Budweiser taps as far as the eye could see, even a few Budweiser-branded Eighteen|76 bars, named for the year of the bubbly brew’s inception. There were also rolling Stoli carts sprinkled throughout, reminiscent of the cocktail setups at a wedding reception or the basement of a frat house, with the lines to match.
And there was the expertly curated local food offerings—Calexico, L&B Spumoni, Fatty ‘Cue, Cafe Habana, Nathan’s—but that only threw into starker contrast the absence of any Brooklyn libations. It is not only the fact that Brooklyn has become home to numerous notable craft brewers and distillers but also the fact that one of them, Steve Hindy of the Brooklyn Brewery, very publicly defended this project for some time, even garnering boycotts from some of the haughtier establishments in the borough. His wares, despite much publicity to the contrary, were nowhere to be found.
There was another problem, as this reporter and his wife swilled a $10 Stella Artois (cheaper than many Manhattan bars, come to think of it). The tickets said the show started at 8 p.m., we had gotten here at 7:35 to be sure we had time for some delectable dinner, which cost a pretty penny, but then again it always does at arenas anymore, and at least the food was generally very good. Around 8, when we asked a very polite usher (everyone was trained by Disney) when the show might start, she said in about 40 minutes. In the end, Jay-Z would not take the stage for another hour and a half.
It is not that this is terribly rude, or that we are terribly un-punk enough not to deal with it. Promise. It is not that, as The Observer was later informed, Jay-Z, no matter where he plays, always likes to take his time, let the excitement built, let the stragglers arrive, let the DJ work his magic, calling out for Brooklyn in the HOUSE? This did not bother us.
What did is that Jay-Z is a part owner in the massive, beautiful, unusual venue we were now inside—and my wife could not shake the feeling that we and the 18,000 or so other fans and affiliates all here to see one man were somehow being made to wait by him so that people might buy more $10 beers, more $13.75 mass artisanal sandwiches. As he relaxed and we waited, the crowd was lining HOVA’s pockets.
Don’t forget, as Bloomberg food critic Ryan Sutton recently noticed, water is more expensive than soda.
The next day, The Observer inquired with a Barclays Center spokesman about the whole thing. He said the organization had no interest in disclosing whether or not Jay-Z was indeed taking a cut of the concession sales, either as a performer or as a miniscule partner in the operation.
As for the lack of Brooklyn Brewery beer, of Six Point, of Kings County bourbon and Breuckelen Gin? “They have Brooklyn Larger in bottles and cans (they are poured into cups),” the spokesman wrote in an email. But we protested. We looked, there was none. Maybe at one of the bars that we missed, but what about the rest? “I suggest you go back, drink less, and look more closely for the beverages you desire,” he responded.
To be sure, The Observer checked with Steve Hindy, proprietor of Brooklyn Brewery, just to be sure of what was going on. Basically, the arena purchased the beer and was working out where to put it still—not every kink had been worked out by opening day, and those who paid the right sponsorships (Mr. Hindy said he could not afford them) seemed to be getting the most attention. We also noticed the Kosher Kiosks had yet to be set up yet. Still, many of the luxury boxes had been outfitted with the craft brews in their mini fridges, one of Mr. Hindy’s associates told us. Figures.
Even if he was elbowed aside for the time being, given second-tier status despite being the hometown favorite, Mr. Hindy’s love for the project remains.
“Ratner’s Metrotech, Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Yards are the biggest developments in the history of Brooklyn,” Mr. Hindy said. “I believe they make Brooklyn a better place for all of us. I know this was all a very small footnote to the development of the project, but it was a big deal for us at the Brooklyn Brewery. We definitely suffered some collateral damage. But the brewery grew rapidly in the past decade in spite of that, and we will grow 30% this year.”
Did we mention the show was—like the arena—unlike anything we had ever seen? Not life-changing, a little too slick, perhaps, but still certainly not the kind of thing one gets to experience on a regular basis. Unless you’re a season ticket holder. Guzzling glitches aside, totally worth it.