Swipe to see connections
As co-owner of the troubled venues Avant Gardner and Brooklyn Mirage, Bildstein has found reliable allies in the Mayor’s Office in his war against fines levied by the State Liquor Authority.
- Record executive, Cityfox.
- Promoter, Cityfox
- Co-Owner, Avant Gardner and Brooklyn Mirage
If you’re going to run a giant city-block-sized multi-club mega-venue where multiple patrons overdosed and hundreds more are treated for intoxication or an “altered mental state,” it helps to have someone powerful in your corner.
For Jürgen “Billy” Bildstein, the Austrian-born club owner who runs Brooklyn performance venues Avant Gardner and Brooklyn Mirage, that powerful friend has been Eric Adams, who, first as borough president and then as mayor, went to bat to protect Bildstein’s operation from state licensing officials who considered it too dangerous to be allowed to continue.
Before setting up shop in New York City, Bildstein ran a Swiss nightclub called Alte Börse and a music label called Cityfox. With financier Philipp Wiederkehr, he ran Cityfox, a promoting company putting on parties and concerts, and eventually moved to New York and launched the music venue complex Avant Gardner, whose most prominent venue is Brooklyn Mirage, in 2017. Before then, the club’s aborted first formal launch attempt in May 2016 was shut down by the City for conditions “imminently perilous to human life” according to a vacate order that was posted at the site of the club, and the State Liquor Authority denied a 2016 application for a temporary liquor license. (It went on to open the next year after eventually getting a license).
In a 2020 court filing, the SLA described Bildstein’s club as “a place for teenagers and young adults to get high on Ecstasy, Ketamine and other drugs while loud music plays.”
Fortunately for Bildstein, he was able to score a personal meeting with Kathryn Garcia, the top aide to Governor Kathy Hochul, who oversees the SLA, along with the mayor’s top adviser Ingrid Lewis-Martin. The next month, Lewis-Martin wrote to Bildstein and state officials: “We are hopeful that under this Governor businesses will be treated fairly by SLA,” she wrote.
Adams spokesperson Fabien Levy had only good things to say about Brooklyn Mirage to Gothamist last spring when it reported on City Hall going to bat for the troubled club. Levy praised its safety protocols and its “very positive relationship” with the NYPD, and asserted that the meeting the mayor’s office brokered with state officials included a group of outer-borough small businesses, not just Avant Gardner. That last claim is seemingly contradicted by state records reviewed by Gothamist which show the only business owner in the room for the meeting with Lewis-Martin and Garcia was Bildstein.
The meeting was not the first time that Bildstein’s connections to people affiliated with Eric Adams had been good for business.
In 2017, the local Brooklyn community board voted against granting Avant Gardner a liquor license. But the State Liquor Authority overrode the community board, granting a liquor license, in part due to the fact that Bildstein’s club was represented by the law firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, an influential law firm that gave at least $40,000 to Eric Adams’s mayoral campaign. “I’m willing to [vote to approve Avant Gardner’s license] because of the background that you guys have representing them,” the SLA chair told Bildstein’s lawyers. “That’s the only reason we’re here.”
Adams, then Brooklyn borough president, wrote in support of the liquor license, and did so again in 2018 when it wanted permission to stay open past 4:30 a.m. “My support of their business has grown in light of Avant Gardner’s demonstrated ability to safely and successfully operate their venue,” he wrote. The same year, Frank Carone, who would go on to become Mayor Adams’s chief of staff, sued the SLA twice on behalf of Bildstein’s club, winning greater latitude in its operations. (Five years later, as Adams’s chief of staff, Carone would deny knowing that the mayor’s office was intervening on behalf of his former client.)
But despite Adams’s past assurances, the safety of Avant Gardner’s operations are open to debate. By 2020, the State Liquor Authority was trying to revoke the club’s license after two patrons had died of drug overdoses and hundreds had been treated for intoxication or an “altered mental state”. (A third overdose death of a venue patron went unreported at the time.) Avant Gardner resolved the issue by agreeing to hire a monitor to oversee the safety of its operations, but soon the monitor was reporting possible overcrowding and drug use in the club. Bildstein’s club responded by firing the monitor, in apparent violation of its settlement with the SLA, leading the SLA chairman to excoriate the club when their lawyers next appeared before the board: “Your clients could care less what people do in their establishment as long as they make money,” he said.
When news broke about his chief advisor’s intervention on the club’s behalf, Adams responded by telling the Daily News that the SLA shouldn’t be regulating city businesses anyway.
In separate incidents in June and July, two people were found dead in the nearby Newtown Creek after leaving the venue. Also in July, a Connecticut ophthalmologist claimed to have been kidnapped outside the venue and forced into a $6,000 spending spree that included pizza, Foot Locker, and a strip club.
Adams’s support for Bildstein’s operations seemed to waver this September, after Avant Gardner took over production of the long-running EDM music festival Electric Zoo on Randall’s Island, and turned it into a fiasco, overselling the event by 7,000 tickets and leading to a situation in which hundreds of frustrated ticket-holders crashed the gate of the already at-capacity event. “It’s unfortunate that the organizers wanted to turn our city into a zoo,” the mayor punned in a subsequent briefing. “We were not going to allow that to happen.” The tough talk doesn’t appear to have resulted in meaningful action—as of the end of November, despite multiple promises, the festival organizers had yet to refund any tickets.
- The Story of NYC’s Biggest Music Venue That Almost Never Happened | VICE
- Mayor Adams’ office set meeting with troubled Brooklyn venue and governor’s aide over its liquor license | Gothamist
- Is There a Serial Killer Stalking the Brooklyn Mirage? | Curbed
- Avant Gardner owners were behind Electric Zoo fiasco, Mayor Adams promises response | Gothamist
- A 23-year-old OD’d at the Brooklyn Mirage in 2021. It wasn’t reported to regulators. | Gothamist
Last updated: 12/18/2023
If you like what you're reading, become a subscriber.
Sign up for Inbox Hell, our biweekly free newsletter:
Avant Gardner was represented by
Avant Gardner publicly praised by