In around a year and a half, restaurant and event space The Lovin’ Cup Café and Cameo Gallery has transformed into a unique hub for arts activity in Williamsburg. Recent performers include popular rap duo Das Racist, indie rockers like Surfer Blood and Marnie Stern, notable comedians Todd Barry and Zach Galifianakis, as well as other notables from Comedy Central, the Daily Show, and Chappelle’s Show—the list goes on. It’s a pretty far cry from a place that had originally been conceived by its owners as a “mac ‘n’ cheese place.”
“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Nicolette Krickl, who, along with her husband Josh Sampson, own, operate and curate both spaces, which are connected to each other by a narrow hallway. “We just feel really lucky. It’s kind of shocking when somebody that you admire comes into your place—you’re just amazed. We haven’t even really sought it out. It’s magic that it’s coming here. There’s an inertia to it.”
Located on bustling North 6th Street beside Tops On The Waterfront and across the street from American Apparel and Academy Records, Cameo/Lovin’ Cup is located several blocks away from the Bedford L, in the heart of Williamsburg. Inside the café, there’s a relaxed, yet energetic vibe. On the Tuesday night I visited, Otis Redding played on the stereo as a cool breeze blew in from the street. By 6:30pm, a healthy amount of people was already seated in booths and at the bar. Above the bar, DVDs were being projected silently onto the wall. (The two that played while I was there were Coffy, an early 70’s Blaxploitation movie starring Pam Grier, and Major League, a late 80’s baseball movie starring Charlie Sheen.) It’s the kind of place where a lot of local artists drop in to have a drink and a tasty burger and enchilada and where bands and performers can often be found hanging out before shows, going over a set and restringing guitars.
The couple signed the lease on the space in Spring 2008, and the Lovin’ Cup Café first opened its doors in September, just before the economic crash. They couldn’t have picked a worse time to open. “We’re still being affected by it,” said Sampson.“We were empty for a long time,” said Krickl. “We paid our dues. It was Josh bartending and me waitressing most nights with not a lot of people in here. We had to really build a community with the space, allowing people to be creative here. If someone wanted to perform a set, we let them. And that kind of grew exponentially.”
The nameof the café, of course, comes from the popular Rolling Stones’ song, “Loving Cup,” and the name Cameo comes from a pizza joint in Sandufsky, Ohio, where Sampson grew up (both he and Krickl are transplants from somewhere else—Krickl is originally from Orange County, California).“It was where everybody had fun,” he said. “Hopefully that’ll translate. We wanted to get away from being stuck-up. We wanted to have open arms and support everybody. We just wanted to have a place for people to have fun.”
The idea for their business came out of necessity and luck.
“We needed to figure out how to join our lives together,” said Sampson, who in addition to running The Lovin’ Cup, is a music producer and co-founder of Revtone, a digital music boutique. “I had just finished an album and she had just gotten laid off [from her job as a fashion designer at American Rag.] The most natural thing was to follow the arts and to continue what we were doing.”
Looking ahead, The Lovin’ Cup Café has ambitious goals. The couple, who are both vegetarian, are looking to do even healthier, more ethically-conscientious fare.
“We’re actually trying to be even more local,” said Sampson. “We have to do the right thing now.” He talked about how reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals facilitated their desire to make a change. “Right now, we have ‘cage-free,’ ‘natural-free,’ ‘grass-fed.’ After reading the book, we discovered those terms aren’t so meaningful. You actually have to go to the farms to get the truth. Our goal is to get this place 100% local, in terms of the food we serve, by June 1st.”
As far as the Cameo Gallery side of things, expect more multimedia installation residencies, like the current Asa Ransom residency, which features paintings, enormous projections, and elaborate things hanging from the ceiling and much more.
“We’re going beyond any other place that has ever done residencies,” said Sampson. “There’s an art show, there’s projectors. The whole night is completely decorated. Cameo is transformed into a launching pad.”
Notable upcoming events include the previously mentioned Asa Ransom residency every Tuesday night in April; Big Terrific, a comedy show featuring Max Silvestri, Gabe Liedman and Jenny Slate every Wednesday night; and on Tuesdays in June, Damon Dash (co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records with Jay-Z) will be here, as part of The London Souls residency.
“We want people to have an experience here,” said Krickl. “Specialized, very carefully-curated events with a lot of love put into each night.”
“It’s a place to have fun,” said Sampson. “A totally good environment to be yourself.”
Bands interested in booking events at Cameo should email firstname.lastname@example.org