Story and photos by Amit Farhan
On quiet, late-autumn evenings in Hunters Point, Queens, young couples walked out of one of the newly built luxury high-rise apartments on the edge of the pier and looked out on the East River and a magnificent view of the midtown Manhattan skyline. Holding each other, they enjoyed the view and the serene moment as the sunlight slowly faded.
The peace and quiet at Hunters Point, a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Long Island City, just one subway stop from midtown, may not continue much longer. Once known for its working-class and industrial identity, Hunters Point has become a new enclave for upscale condos. And in December, the neighborhood welcomed its first stand-up comedy club, part of a wave of change coming to this sleepy corner of Queens.
Steve Hofstetter, a comedian, opened the Laughing Devil on Vernon Boulevard, figuring that the area, which houses some of the most luxurious condos in Queens, is ripe for developing a night life. The Laughing Devil is the first stand-up comedy club to open in the area.
“The speed of growth is something that would excite any business owner, but what I like most is that residents really care about this neighborhood,” says Hofstetter, 32, a part owner. “People live here because they choose to, not because it’s a stop on the way to another neighborhood.”
Hofstetter, an experienced comedy entrepreneur, is part owner of two other comedy clubs, one in Atlanta and the other in Indianapolis. He also manages 24 stand-up comedians and has released 26 comedy albums under his record label, Next Round Records. In addition, Hofstetter is a producer of Atlanta’s three-year-old Laughing Skull Comedy Festival.
“Every new business venture is risky, but we feel our combination of Steve’s previous management experience in other clubs, my business acumen and our knowledge of the local community will get our business the edge it needs to survive and prosper,” says Jacob Morvay, 28, a partnership accounting manager at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, a New York law firm, and one of The Laughing Devil’s 11 investors.
The rapid redevelopment currently in progress at Hunters Point makes it an ideal venue for a new entertainment spot, according to Morvay, who says the average household in the area spends $4,600 a year on entertainment, with most of that going outside the neighborhood. “For an area undergoing such rapid change, there are very few entertainment options available,” he says. “So we felt it was a great opportunity to capture some of that revenue.”
Adrian Smilovici, 58, a real estate broker at Greiner-Maltz, a local real estate agency with branches on Long Island and in New Jersey, agrees that Hunters Point is an attractive new destination.
“It is very close to the city and it has something which Manhattan does not have: The view of Manhattan,” says Smilovici. “The whole place is moving. Everybody wants to build something.” Property values have increased 10-fold, he says.
Business has been good since the club opened, says Hofstetter, with the club selling out on weekends. The club charges a cover of $5 to $30, depending on the show and the night. College students (with an ID) can get in for $3 on Thursday nights; members of the armed forces can get in free on Sunday nights (also with an ID).
The club has a full-service bar—drinks range in price from $3 for non-alcoholic beverages to $8 for wine and $10-and-up for signature drinks. The club also serves food, with appetizers and entrees priced between $8 and $15.
The club, which occupies a long narrow space, has an intimate feel. Framed record albums of past comic icons decorate one exposed-brick wall; a small stage faces the entrance.
Although sometimes crowded, “the place is comfortable,” says Afra Hossain, 20, who attended the grand opening on Jan. 18. “I would definitely head back to The Laughing Devil and would also recommend the place to my friends and family as the comedians are great at making you laugh.”
Hofstetter is already thinking ahead. “When things grow, we’ll probably open another club elsewhere, and continue to do so as long as the market supports it,” he says. “We’re already talking about shooting a TV show at the club, and a documentary is being filmed about the process of opening the club. As for me, I will continue to perform – I have a film and a few TV shows in development. And most importantly, I’ll enjoy my wife, my dog, and wherever life takes me.”