‘Vanderpump’ fans rule the night at this Brooklyn bar where reality TV is treated like sports

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By Dan Sears

About 85 hardcore fans, mostly women, gathered at a Fort Greene sports pub, FancyFree, on Tuesday night to root for some of the characters in Bravo’s hit reality TV show “Vanderpump Rules.”

Most fans arrived an hour early for the fully booked event, sipping on wine or beer while waiting for the drama to kick off.

Some wore sweatshirts emblazoned with a famous line from star Lala Kent: “Send it to Darrell.”

Caitlyn Richtman, 26, who usually watches reality TV alone, said she was excited to join others at the watch party.

“It’s like our sport,” she said.

“Vanderpump Rules,” now in its 11th season, follows current and former employees of Lisa Vanderpump — an alum of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” — who runs restaurants and bars in West Hollywood and Las Vegas. The cast members navigate dating, career choices and, of course, drama.

Back in Brooklyn, as several TV screens throughout the bar counted down to the premiere, friends and strangers alike gathered on high-top tables and barstools.

A hot topic of conversation before, during and after the episode was “#Scandoval,” a reference to a twist in last season’s finale, which revealed a shocking affair between Tom Sandoval and Rachel Leviss.

Alli Toberth, 27, kept her eyes trained on the screen throughout the night.

“I’m along for the ride,” she said. “I was hooked on the whole scandal.”

When the opening credits flashed across the screen, the crowd erupted in cheers. They collectively booed when Sandoval appeared. As the episode aired, Kent earned the biggest applause of the night.

The viewing party was hosted by That Reality Bar, a company started last May by two best friends since high school, Dara Potts and Syd Robinson.

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That Reality Bar arranges watch parties for must-see reality TV events at bars in Brooklyn and is expanding into Manhattan’s West Village for pop culture trivia at Talea on Feb. 25.

“It’s basically like if you take the watch party from your couch and you put it into a room and then you multiply it,” said Potts.

Just as sports fans love the nail-biting anxiety of a great game, reality TV fans love the jaw-dropping moves from the show’s stars.

“When Ariana chewed out Tom Sandoval, I will never forget the amount of gasps,” Robinson said, referring to the infamous incident from last season.

“You would think that you were at a World Cup bar and England just had, like, a red card foul,” she added.

Soccer fans in New York City have ample opportunities to react to goals and penalties at bars across the city, but reality TV bars are a newer concept.

Potts and Robinson, both 27 and self-described reality TV lovers, recognized an opportunity.

“This is bigger than just watching a show,” Robinson said. “This is about creating these spaces for people who like these things that are typically kind of deemed trash TV or guilty pleasures. It’s like no, we’re actually all looking for community around it.”

One of their first screenings — at Endswell Bar last May for Vanderpump’s Season 10 reunion — was “pandemonium,” according to Robinson. She recalled people waiting in line in the pouring rain and some fans ordering pizza while in line.

Determined to accommodate everyone, bar owner Jason Burelle led a spillover crowd around the block to FancyFree, which he also owns.

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Burelle said the thrill of watching reality TV among fans is so appealing that staff at his bars have started asking for reserved seats. He said he’s become a fan himself, having watched and rewatched all of “Vanderpump.”

Like other fans, Burelle said the desire for community is driving the trend.

“It’s the communal watching, the communal reaction, the communal connection,” he said. “I think it’s a beautiful thing.”

Other bars have similar events, including Threes Brewing in Greenpoint, which also held a “Vanderpump Rules” watch party Tuesday. 3 Dollar Bill in Williamsburg and C’mon Everybody in Bedford-Stuyvesant host regular watch parties for “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Angie Hansen, the events director at Threes Brewing, welcomed fans like herself for the premiere.

“Post-COVID era, people are looking for something that they have in common,” she said. “Even if you’re sitting next to somebody that you don’t know, and you’re rooting for a particular character, it just gives you that common bond.”

Nicholas Boston, an associate professor of media sociology at CUNY’s Lehman College, said Andy Cohen helped “revolutionize” reality TV through Bravo. That Reality Bar, he said, is another example of bringing the audience closer as the drama “jumps off the screen.”

Cohen served as both a TV host and executive producer for Bravo and is best-known for the famous franchise “The Real Housewives.”

“The main point is this idea of the content coming closer to the audience, in a social environment that is formally carved out for that purpose,” Boston said.

Whether at national conventions like “BravoCon” that connect reality TV stars with their fans, or at events organized by That Reality Bar, many fans crave public spaces that can bring them closer to a ‘Bravolebrity’ — or at least connected with others who share their passion.

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And for some young people, screenings are an antidote for the fatigue they feel from interacting on screens instead of in person.

“To have a space where everyone can come together and talk about it all at the same time and react in real time, I think it’s so much more fun,” said Sarah Wainschel, 29.

When the show ended, fans trickled out of FancyFree.

Sylvia Stoyanova, 24, who had traveled nearly an hour from the Upper East Side, said she was excited to share her fandom with others.

“Guys always go to sports bars to watch sports,” she said. “Why can’t I do the same thing? It shouldn’t even be a guilty pleasure, it’s just something that I enjoy.”

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