Exit, Brooklyn



Nightlife Lives Over The Bridge.

By Daphne Carr
Photos by Bethany Nauert

On an unassuming block in north Brooklyn’s Polish neighborhood stands one of the best new clubs in New York. Exit announces itself on Greenpoint Avenue with a sculpted brushed-steel entryway, but the stark façade doesn’t hint at what lies inside. The true reveal comes when you ascend the stairs into the second-floor club’s heart, and discover a wide-open spread of dance space and lounge sprawl. It’s literally breathtaking.

Exit wasn’t always so inviting. Co-owner Mariusz Kupiec spearheaded a four-month redesign during the summer of 2004, stretching the basic two-story box into a beautifully undulating, amorphous, and multifunctional space, with a sound system customized by local firm Smith Audio. It was not tricks of mind alone. “I never saw my kids,” says Kupiec. “I slept only one or two hours towards the end, and I didn’t even make it to the opening party.” Luckily for him, the compliments continue to roll in long after the first flush of excitement. In the club world, a prolonged state of awe is the sound of success, and Kupiec hears nothing but.

Lesson Learned
Kupiec and partner Louis Barricelli opened Exit in 1995 in response to the success of Europa, a club nearby, and the general upswing of the neighborhood. “They used to call us ‘the Polish Exit,’” said Kupiec, “but the crowd, like the neighborhood, is changing. Now it’s about 30 percent Americans, and we get lots of different types of Slavic people.”

After nine years of success, the owners compiled a list of big “to do’s,” and decided to undertake the from-the-ground-up redesign. It is impossible to quote a price for the project, as Kupiec built almost every element of the new Exit himself. From the mushroom ceiling hangings, organic lounge furniture and underlit bars; to the workhorse ceiling grid, hand-painted floor, and stellar tile bathrooms, Kupiec’s vernacular vision rivals that of the industry’s top designers without touching their pampered prices.

As Exit’s original designer, Kupiec kept an eye on his crowds before shutting down for the revamp, watching for ways to tweak the space. “My mistake [in the initial design] was that I designed the place so that you entered onto the dancefloor,” he said. “The lounge area was hidden behind and you didn’t see people. It looked empty. With the redesign, I doubled the width of the stairs, for fire safety, and made people enter through the lounge.”

A Designer’s Dream
“We dropped off all the speakers at the club four days before the re-opening, and it looked like an erector set,” joked John Smith, president of Smith Audio, the company that manufactured, designed, and supplied Exit’s new sound system. “We thought, there’s no way that we’re going to come in here and tune. The next day all the speakers were up and wires were ready.”

Smith started working with Kupiec during the blueprint stage of Exit’s redesign. Kupiec wanted a versatile system that would “function for a club – a big open space – and also for when we open on weekdays as a smaller lounge venue. That’s why I designed movable panels to section off the dancefloor. Plus, we also do live performances.”

Smith’s result was a small 10-speaker system that’s more than the sum of its parts. With four Smith 118 Pro Mobile subwoofers embedded beneath the raised mezzanine area, and a ceiling grid from which to fly the six Smith 1530 15-inch three-ways, no room was lost on the floor. “The space was a sound designer’s dream: Beautiful ceiling height with a grid so that you can change your mind at any time, and Mariusz letting us design audio for the room,” said Smith. “A lot of times you come in seven days before [opening] and you do good sound but think, it could be better if. There was no “if” here. We could stand on ladders and move things around; we could discuss things like ‘I want to do cross-firing and have more sound in the round on the dancefloor.’ We didn’t come in last and have to work with the finished product.”

“Monster Cigarettes”
Exit’s space is carved in subtle yet effective ways. The DJ perches above the oval, semi-enclosed dance space, and clubgoers relax on warmly upholstered couches that define the entrance lounge and the half-mezzanine bar. There, eyes might be drawn to the unique bar with a plex top whose insides are decorated seasonally, or to the huge cube-shaped fronds on the back wall that stand like monster cigarettes about to explode from their packs.

Of course, the no-smoking laws that keep amps and lighting in top shape, and club-owners in frantic attempts to find new places to let their patrons light up would induce this delusion. Kupiec is currently battling the city to open up Exit’s roof as a VIP and smoking area, but called it a “nightmare” to try to get the permits.

For now, VIP’s have a plush little space to themselves, a room with a large picture window made translucent to backlight a fully stocked bar. Kupiec and Smith are slow to put the club’s older, refurbished sound system into this space, because “sometimes it’s just nice to get away and sit in the quiet,” said Smith.

One bonus to the VIP lounge is its location – directly adjacent to the ladies’ room, which is one of the nicest this writer has ever seen. Dark tile, hand-stressed Plexiglas sinks and stalls, and huge mirrors show that Kupiec thought even of the places he dare not go when designing the club. The men’s room is similarly fabulous, with normally gauche urinals winning the “clever plumbing solutions” prize. A recessed ceiling-to-floor backlit Plexiglas panel stands as “the spot”, and the flush mechanism triggers water to flow behind and down.

Of course bathrooms are nothing without constant care, which is one of the many things Kupiec trusts his employees to oversee. Kupiec believes that his hard work makes him something of a role model to his crew, if not a father figure. “It’s a cliché to call us a family, and say that nothing [bad] ever happens,” he says. “But I think that they’d be ashamed to not do their jobs well, watching me working the way I do.”

It’s this honesty and labor-ethic that has made Exit the best kept secret of the city’s ever-changing club scene. Perhaps it is for this that Kupiec plans most: To be timelessly stylish with a singular vision, and to let the big money boys duke it out with party tricks and gimmicks. Exit exceeds expectations and serves a built-in audience in ways Kupiec hadn’t anticipated. Imagine, a club that asked “what more could you want,” and answered it. •

Simple Sound
Smith Audio’s John Smith does more with less.

John Smith was over it. Years of work as a touring FOH engineer had proven to him that club audio, with its showy big boxes, was on the wrong path. “In the touring business, every square foot of space counts,” he says.

So Smith set out to make the lightest, tightest, and best speakers he could, spending a restless year designing and testing materials. He started Smith Audio in 1991 with the Pro 30 series, less to make money and more to solve sonic problems at large.

The result of his research was a compact, long throw box with little sound leakage, cased in a humble but high-performance birchwood and metal box. “It doesn’t look like a lot,” Smith admitted. But once he flipped the switch at Exit, the crisp, well-defined sound was proof of his vision. “Other designers get the performance clubs want only by taxing the drivers, which requires enormous amounts of electricity to maintain,” Smith said. By using high quality components and birch – a light wood with proper density for speakers, commonly used in higher end audio products – for the casing, he reduced the wattage needed per dB, giving the speaker more sound in less space and cutting the club owner’s costs.

Smith’s business philosophy follows directly behind that of his designing: An old-fashioned mojo to make the best sound for the least amount of money. Smith Audio does not sell two-way systems, for instance, because Smith thinks they deliver inferior sound. “In fact, if I know of something [we don’t make] that would work better for someone I’m doing business with, I’ll point them in that direction,” he says. “I visit all of our installs; I’m building relationships. I want Smith Audio to be in the business of sound success, of making a difference, whatever our part.”

Right now, Smith Audio is a four-man Massapequa Park, NY-based company, but as DJs and techs get the word out, demand is growing. “We just did a project in Hawaii, and are moving into the huge new market of the Pacific Rim,” said Smith.

The company plans to expand operations, but wants to keep tight control on the manufacture and installation of it products. John can’t go everywhere to see it happen, but he’ll surely try. “I love what I do for a living and that’s rare,” he says. “When you do something that you love, going the extra mile isn’t really going the extra mile – it’s just enjoying yourself more.”

60 - pin spots
48 - par cans
8 - Martin MAC 250 Krypton moving heads
8 - Martin Robocolor II color changers
4 - Martin Atomic 3000 DMX strobes
4 - Martin RoboScan Pro 918 scanners
3 - Martin RoboScan Pro 518 scanners

6 - Smith Pro Audio 1530 15" three-way loudspeakers
4 - Smith Pro Audio 118 Pro Mobile Sub subwoofers
3 - Crown Macrotech 2400 amplifiers
2 - Technics SL-1200MK5 turntables
1 - Crown Macrotech 3600 amplifier
1 - dbx DriveRack processor
1 - Denon DN-2600F CD player
1 - Rane MP 24z mixe

149 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, New York

Back To Top

Copyright 2004 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2004 TESTA Communications