Rant of a Retired Bartender: The State of the Lower East Side [Op-ed]
The cycle of consumerism is one that no industry or craft can escape. The takeover of social media has globalized and exposed every square inch of our precious globe. There is beauty in this, but there are also stark blemishes.
For example, the commodification of “The Hipster” has been one that has both directly affected our neighbors and our neighborhood. What was once a playground for the colorful has now become a condo complex for the “cool chaser.” The Robber Baron mentality is still insanely prevalent; those with the will and the way find a loophole, cash cow, or undiscovered _____ (insert designer, chef, filmmaker, musician, et. all) and exploit it until there is nothing left to siphon.
Manhattan has lost its edge. The reason for this is simply greed. We all want to get rich, that is why we are here. There is nothing wrong with making money. Not a thing wrong with making heaps of it. But maybe, just maybe, you did it on someone else’s back. Maybe you were raised to not feel the pointy bones of others as you walk upon them, or maybe your feet are too calloused from your own struggles, but they are there nonetheless.
The state of Manhattan nightlife is one of the surest signs of the downtrodden creative class. All of the true tastemakers have bailed in search 3-figure rent further east. They can’t afford the Lower East Side, and they can’t afford to live next to pompous gallery owners and petty, money hungry bar owners and their handlers. Galleries full of art that costs a month’s rent. Bars serving drinks that cost 1/100th the rent. Thanks to all of their business models and projected earnings, those of us who have been here for many years are being chipped away like old paint on the subway beams. We, with our median incomes and second (third, fourth) jobs and passionate affairs with our work, are being displaced to make room for those with down payments that have four zeroes after them.
With advances in technology, scouts and rip-off artists don’t need to look very hard to cash in on the “cool” folk of Downtown Manhattan. Since the days of the BMT and beyond, those seeking a collaborative community scratched their names into the sidewalks south of Houston street, emanating a call far and wide across the world. Come. Live here. Play here, create here, this is where you belong. Patti Smith said it, Bruce Springsteen said it, Interpol said it. But now it’s like an ant farm. Investors, developers, opportunists, and even tourists come here to see it.
It has now been quantified and commodified. This Casino Jack attitude to craftspeople’s livelihood is simply the final cycle in the deforestation of the Lower East Side. What will we allow to sprout out of all of this bullshit in the spring? No more wannabe Spitzer’s or dive bars worthy of a mini mall. No more tasteless galleries or oustings of longtime businesses. We deserve better, and so do the people that live here who AREN’T artists.
As the city government expands and makes it harder and harder for Mom and Pop businesses to stay open, the only people who CAN step to the plate are crooked millionaires looking to rape and pillage a property, or a franchise such as 7-Eleven or Dunkin Donuts. Neither is desirable, and neither is sustainable for the rest of us. Fines, fees, and other trappings of owning a business(especially a liquor serving one) can only be supplemented by those with deep pockets.
What kind of creative climate do we live in when talent has to seek the funds of Venture Capitalists or other big shot investors just to open a damned whiskey bar?! Not a very welcoming one.
The best bars in the Lower East Side are mostly gone, and the few that hang on do so with broken fingers. Once we stopped seeing 7th precinct cops in 7th precinct bars and started dealing with LITERAL horseshit, everyone important shuttered one by one. But that isn’t the reason most of us are here. Our offices/studios/gigs are centrally located, with most of the film, fashion, and hospitality buzz going on within a one mile radius, not 6+ stops away into another borough. Coming home to a nightlife buffet was just a lovely perk, with a different flavor everywhere you looked.
We are being boxed out because all of the industries that we have given life to are now treated as potential goldmines. When the gold doesn’t manifest, the suits are gone, and we find ourselves worse off. To do something noteworthy outside of that route takes time and discipline, something many of us know very well, but this doesn’t always pay the exorbitant rent in the interim. So off to Bushwick (Ridgewood) with ye, peon, because cheaper rent, cheaper drinks, and cheaper everything gives you more time to sit and wait for the train, which is what they want.
Don’t let them turn the LES into the creative industry’s Detroit. Negotiate with your landlord, patronize quality businesses, and speak out when you hear someone with a European accent flipping out about graffiti outside their condo building, IT’S NOT DEFACED, IT’S A HANKSY!
-Written by Danielle Guercio