“For some reason, Williamsburg has moved to Manhattan one night a week,” observes Robert Christensen, a television-commercial director standing next to the jukebox at Mehanata. Indeed, the Bulgarian restaurant-bar-disco at the corner of Broadway and Canal has recently become the Thursday-night destination for two of northern Brooklyn’s most prevalent – and, one might have thought, most distinct – species: the media-fashion-dot-com hipster and the recent, painfully unhip Eastern European arrival.
A couple making their entrance look right at home in their white cropped-waist jackets. Hardly a pair of green-card-lottery winners from Sofia, they introduce themselves as photographer Jesse Frohman and designer Alice Roi. “My friend told me everybody was wearing fox fur last week,” says Roi, who has raced down from the opening party of the Ghost store in NoHo. Alongside tonight’s slew of slumming stylists is a healthy contingent of Ukrainians and Bulgarians whose Members Only jackets are worn without irony. And most of the week (including Fridays and Saturdays), Mehanata is still a nearly deserted cabbage-and-grilled-meat dive where a keyboard trio plays Elvis covers.
The second-floor club’s appeal for the swell set goes beyond pure knotty-pine camp value. Eugene Hütz, the lanky Ukrainian model whose mustache attracted a flurry of press last year when he appeared in Yohji Yamamoto and Marc Jacobs shows, has been a weekly fixture behind Mehanata’s turntables ever since his “Ukrainian-gypsy-punk” band, Gogol Bordello, played the club. Hütz – who insists, appearances to the contrary, that he’s “not a model” – says his day-job colleagues have been coming in serious numbers to Mehanata (“little tavern”) only recently. “Before that, it was crowded,” he says, leaning against the Bulgarian flag behind the D.J. booth. “But it was all Ukrainian kids.”
The transition to fashion-world hot spot hasn’t been seamless. Watching a photographer snap Hütz’s picture, a brunette with a bilevel haircut and an Eastern European accent comments caustically, “I can’t believe Eugene is, like, a celebrity.” The culture shock is mutual. “The first time I came here, I swore I’d never come back,” says Lisa, a stylist who lives in Greenpoint. “The low ceiling, the pushy crowd, the bad music, the reek of garlic – I just couldn’t handle it. It’s a lot better now.” The interval between her visits? “Two weeks.”