The 3 Dollar Bill quietly opened its doors last spring, branding itself as Brooklyn’s only queer-owned and operated nightclub.
A stubbly legged, heel-kicking logo and pride flag are the only branding visible, before entering the dimly lit club that’s quickly become known for its growing, unique events calendar.
Touring the space on a Tuesday afternoon, the 625-capacity venue that previously housed The Wick is quiet as its inhabitants prep for another week of cabaret shows, DJ nights and drag performances.
“We’re doing a lot of one-woman shows from the ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ girls,” says the venue’s program director, who requested their name be withheld due to safety concerns. Upcoming appearances are set for the Bronx’s Monet X Change, currently on "All-Stars 4," and "RuPaul’s" season 8 winner Bob the Drag Queen. “Outside of that, during the week you can find us doing crazy stuff like drag bingo and karaoke nights.”
The spot breaks into the Williamsburg scene, right off the L train, as one of the city’s few LGBTQ nightclubs. “Of course there are bars,” the booker explains, “but we’re the only queer-owned, fully functioning club in Brooklyn.” The closest queer-friendly venues to 3 Dollar Bill are Metropolitan on Lorimer Street and The Rosemont on Montrose Avenue — both bars.
“One of the most amazing things about this particular space and what drew me to it was we’re so normally used to working with straight-owned venues and they aren’t always eye-to-eye with our approach, aesthetic or vibe,” the booker says. “Being able to have a gay-owned, operated space, it feels a little more like a celebratory home than anything else.”
Inside the celebratory space, the latest production to hit 3 Dollar Bill is running through the script during one of its first on-scene rehearsals. Titled “Oscar at the Crown,” the musical is uses the venue and its inhabitants as one of its main props.
“It’s a dance party and a theatrical experience really playing out in the space,” says director Shira Milikowsky.
It’s an LGBTQ love story of sorts mixed with elements of a dystopian future where followers worship Oscar Wilde. But at the root of “Oscar at the Crown” is the nightclub vibe 3 Dollar Bill provides.
Rehearsing the first half of the production, creator Mark Mauriello, who plays Wilde, and 11 other performers move about the venue’s back dance room jumping from movable wooden planks to the stage.
There are no seats; the story instead unfolds and evolves right down on the dance floor with the audience.
“You gotta dance,” says choreographer Andrew Barret Cox.
“Dance, have a drink and come back. That’s our point. You can be as involved as you want to be,” Mauriello adds.
The immersive experience, unique to the venue, adds unpredictability to each performance.
“It’s been a learning process of kind of trying to predict what masses of people are going to do,” Barret Cox says, explaining that his choreography involves dancers speaking with and engaging the audience as they see fit.
“It’s like an old Club Kids trick, going around the club being like, ‘I lost my friend to everybody,’ then meeting everybody. We move the audience around and we’ll hopefully be able to have interactions with each audience member."
The general gist of the production pokes fun at society’s social media and reality TV obsessions and encourages free-spirited movement as the cast flows through ball-appropriate dance moves like duck-walking, Voguing and waacking.
“We want the audience to know we’re throwing a party for them. We are doing our show, but this performance is for them. They’re the heart and soul of it,” Milikowsky says.
The musical completed a sold-out run in February and returns May 10 for an open-ended stay at 3 Dollar Bill. The show will take place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. A full list of the venue’s productions and events schedule can be found at 3dollarbillbk.com.