Last year a new bar/venue/bocce haven opened in Park Slope called Union Hall. As most good things in New York, everyone seemed to find out about this gem in no time, leading to crowded bocce courts and limited seating on weekends. On most nights, however, the sirens still draw us there. Jack McFadden (affectionately called Skippy by those who know him), books the downstairs venue, which has consistently had solid lineups. We recently asked him about how he makes the magic happen there...

Since opening last July, how have you seen Union Hall change?
I think, not unlike any new venue opening in NYC, there's a honeymoon period. Our crowds were amazingly diverse for the first six months, dare I say, B&T types, but I think we're getting more of the locals who may have been scared off initially by the big crowds. Part of that could be the fun programming downstairs and the friendly hospitality from everyone who works there, it's a welcoming place. Andy, one of our owners, is always coming up with something really cool to build in there, too. He's always surprising us and the customers and bands too.

As the booker at the venue, you've managed to get some pretty big names on the small stage there - tell us about one of your favorite shows involving one of the big names...
Yeah, it always floors me when a band big enough to sell out Bowery or Irving decides to play a special show at Union Hall. I think one of the most wonderful nights was a sleepy Sunday night back in January this year. It was a mild winter up until that night and it was supposed to snow finally. By chance, Peter Bjorn and John were going to play their first ever U.S. show here, at Union Hall, and it started to get to me during soundcheck, how special the night would be. The windows of the bar upstairs started getting foggy, and I went out to the patio to take a deep breath and saw 3 or 4 people sharing a big bottle of red wine at a table, OUTSIDE....as the snow started coming down. Everyone was just in a fantastic mood and the show was magic. I think Andrew Bird playing here recently was a dream come true, too, we're very lucky sometimes.

What would your ideal lineup be?
At Union Hall or somewhere else? Phoenix, The Cribs, Fujiya & Miyagi, and Rufus Wainwright are all welcome to come play at Union Hall anytime, ahem. Charlotte Gainsbourg, that would be something! I'm always a quality over quantity kinda guy, you might notice we rarely have more than 3 acts a night on the stage at Union Hall. I think it would be fun to program an outdoor festival and be as eclectic as possible to have cool crowds converge and mingle. I love seeing people discover something new.

What New York bands should we know about?
You're Gothamist, you know them all! I'm a big Luke Temple fan, he's doing a residency with us right now. White Rabbits and Vampire Weekend are starting to make waves, they both played UH fairly early on. I dig Mia Riddle, Ola Podrida, Beat Radio, Harlem Shakes, Die Romantik, and I definitely can't wait to hear the new Mugs album, which I think will get them to another level fairly quickly.

Aside from Union Hall, where do you prefer to see shows in the city?
I adore Bowery Ballroom. Capacity is perfect, the sound is always great, anything bigger would be boring and distracting to me. I need to see facial expressions and feel the energy from the stage otherwise it's kind of like watching on TV. I'm looking forward to the Seaport shows this year too as long as I can get close enough to get into it.

Please share your strangest "only in New York" story.
I was super young when I first moved to the city and I had this A&R gig at a big label. I was spending a very hot summer afternoon wandering from bar to bar on the Lower East Side with this semi-famous rock guitarist from San Francisco, entertaining him, so to speak. We were getting really drunk, really quickly. And it was hot, really hot. We're stumbling down the Bowery when we see a very proud homeless guy, covered in sweat, and no teeth, drinking out of a paper bag (remember when you could do that?). He was quiet as we passed him but we got a little further down the street when he shouted something like, "Frisco, frisco man!" very loudly. Well, the guy I was with was hammered and turned to the guy and said "You from Frisco, man?". The homeless guy yelped again "Frisco, man!" like his life depended on it. So, we decided to go sit on the stoop with this homeless guy and chat it up, and my friend asked "hey, where you from in Frisco?". The guy replied, "No! man, Cisco, Cisco!", and offered us some of the cloudy drink he'd been drinking (it was a popular malt beverage at the time). We spent the rest of the afternoon drinking from this guy's 40 and trying to decipher what he was saying. I get checkups regularly after that.

Tell us how the Secret Science Club came about, and (if you've attended them) have you learned anything from the "meetings" that you can share with us?
That's Andy's influence. He's got some real world class scientists coming in. It's fantastic because I never graduated from college, so it's free classes with beer! I've learned way more than I'll ever need to know about taxidermy.

Which New Yorker do you most admire?
No one person, I know, that's the boring answer. I admire people who can be high profile for acting, politics, etc. and still live next door to the average New Yorker. It's one of the rare cities that sometimes can provide that level of security, which is very weird. I admire the ones who fight every day to keep New York from becoming one big banal suburb. I admire the ones who have lived here their whole lives, who see how cyclical everything is and how things have changed. I guess you just want me to say Mos Def, right? OK, Mos Def.

Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
Oh man, that's a long list! Firstly, no more eminent domain. It's insane that people can work their whole lives to buy their homes, live in their neighborhoods for generations and someone can just take it from them. Meanwhile, we have a long list of old pretty brownstones and buildings that go unoccupied, unsold, and are literally falling down on New Yorkers. Do we still have a cabaret law? You can't dance in a bar without a license? Think of how ridiculous that is. The city can still be safe without enacting such vacuous laws.

Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York?
I always used to tell myself that if this wasn't the most exciting and best place to live in the world, I would leave. Thing is, you have to see more of the world to be able to make this judgment, because it's really easy and kind of a rite of passage for New Yorkers to bitch about the city when you can get a ticket for having snow on your sidewalks or Con Ed can't get the power on, etc. I hate to see the city becoming more "Footloose" and conservative because more people are raising families and becoming more "suburban" in their thinking. Not just in Park Slope, either, you see the condos and high rises going in EVERYWHERE. And once they are in, they complain about the noise, the traffic, etc. I think that could be a real problem for me personally, if I feel that all the culture is being squeezed out by "safe" businesses like Starbucks. I mean, it is, but when do I decide enough is enough? Is another city any better?

Can you please recommend a good weekend hang-out that isn't unbearably mobbed?
I'm digging Sheep Station in Park Slope a lot, it's really laid back and the beer selection and fish and chips are super. I'll go there after a crazy show at Union Hall just to relax. Believe it or not, I really dig the Gate, too, I know that makes me sound old. Where else can you hear the Boo Radleys on the jukebox? Their patio is often crowded, but I almost always sneak a spot with my friends or get there and start drunk dialing people to meet me.

What's your current soundtrack to the city?
I have a ton of albums I think of as NYC albums. Ivy's Apartment Life is one of them. Right now, spring in NYC sounds good with the new Rosebuds album and the Bird and the Bee album. Oops, and the new Rufus Wainwright record. They all have that soulful urban feel of taking a cab over the Manhattan Bridge at night or sitting on the fire escape or roof with a glass of Lambrusco or something.

What's the best subway line?
B, for sure. It gets me to Broadway/Lafayette in under 20 minutes from my place in the Slope.

Best cheap eat in the city.
It's so hard to share your favorite places for fear of getting overpopulated with hipsters. I just had the best $2 tamales (Mexican is a hard nut to crack in NYC) at Maria's on 4th and Union. They took over the little space next door to do less formal snackin' stuff. They have four kinds of tamales (I loved the Chicken Mole) and you can sit outside and sip on Pacifico, all on the cheap. I should leave Park Slope more often, right?

Photo by Amy Fritch.