Op-Ed: It’s Time to Leave Max Fish in the Past

Posted on: April 4th, 2014 at 11:04 am by

This image has been archived or removed.

Final night of Max Fish, July 2013

Max Fish is dead. The blogs, the press, the Lower East Side death watchers stamped the time of death at 4:00 a.m. Sunday, July 30th, 2013. The night of its final demise, Max Fish was filled to the rafters with revelers who came to pay their last respects. And across the city­­, and even in parts of Connecticut and Long Island (sigh, but true), ­­a collective, nostalgic goodbye was bid to Max Fish from the now­-grown­up skateboarders, A-­listers, one­time starving artists, and musicians, who had for a very brief moment made Max Fish their haunt.

But, the truth is Max Fish died well before the last drink was poured. As the Lower East Side became a shadow of its former self, so had Max. The A­-listers and musicians stopped coming by and the starving artist found success, packing their brushes, paint, clay, and canvases for greener pastures beyond the Lower East Side. The OG skateboarders grew up, and some sadly passed away from drug overdoses. A new crop of skateboarders rolled in year-­to-­year, clinging feverishly to the folklore, but, in the end, Max Fish was just another bar in a community drowning in bars.

This image has been archived or removed.

Max Fish, August 2011

Once inspired, it became ordinary with the passage of time in a changing city. And then, when Max Fish disappeared altogether, nostalgia had a funny way of turning reality into a soft­-focus illusion of sentimentality.

For many, Max Fish was a point in time where youth collided with the gritty raw, kinetic energy of a wilder New York ­­ where freedom was truly just another word for nothing left to lose. We loved New York despite our inability to posses her. We didn’t care we just wanted to belong to her.

As the city landscape changed from gritty streets to a sanitized Disneyland, the tourists and suburbanites flocked here bringing their pedestrian values and big-­box chain stores. The new transplants and visitors remade New York into the bland suburban wasteland, but with skyscrapers. They didn’t want to belong to New York. They wanted New York to belong to them.

This image has been archived or removed.

Max Fish is trying to reboot at 120 Orchard St.

Max Fish had tapped into the zeitgeist of a space and time long gone. The current plans to resurrect it at 120 Orchard Street reek of desperation. It cannot be recreated, and raising it from the dead in a community suffering the blight of alcohol saturation is unconscionable.

With cultural and social capital so diminished, Max Fish’s Brooklyn incarnation was stymied by the realization that its once lauded cache eluded the current Williamsburg intelligentsia. The under-­forty denizens of hipsterville in a snap poll were probably more likely to guess Max Fish was a newly discovered species in the Hudson River than the 80s/90s “birth of cool” where skaters, starving artists, A-­listers, and musicians once commingled for a brief time. The
Brooklyn plans were scratched altogether only to resurface it seems, to familiar, now plagued, territory.

This image has been archived or removed.

Ulli Rimkus collecting signatures for Max Fish 2.0, Photo: InfamousNY

Max Fish redux at the Gallery Bar space might have been more palatable for residents to consider had owner Ulli Rimkus simply moved her existing liquor license from Ludlow to Orchard Street. Her decision to keep the Ludlow license in safekeeping guaranteed the location would remain “grandfathered,” allowing Sweet Chick easy passage to a 4:00 a.m. liquor license without any stipulations. Did Ms. Rimkus benefit from the licensing of Sweet Chick on the backs of her neighbors of twenty plus years at 176-­178 Ludlow Street? The relaunching of Max Fish will be hard to support knowing that longtime residents in hundred­-year-­old tenements on Ludlow Street will be assaulted with the perpetual smell of fried chicken wafting into their apartments each day, and forced to endure the noise emanating from industrialized equipment and newly affixed operable windows, effectively bringing yet another bar into the street and directly into neighboring apartments.

And what of her possible future neighbors at 120 Orchard? After years of living with the problematic Gallery Bar, formerly Little Devils, they get more of the same—Max Fish on steroids. Two floors, two bars, and nearly 300 people. Even in the fog of nostalgia, Max Fish was not without problems, racking up community noise complaints and a slew of New York State Liquor Authority violations from selling to minors to disorderly premises over the years. Ironically, the neighborhood that is fueling the Max Fish resurrection is the same neighborhood that stands to lose. Again.

No matter if the Max Fish marquee cigarette comes to 120 Orchard, Ms. Rimkus and her team can’t recreate the magic of the past. They can only exacerbate the continuing problems that reproduce unabated, sanctioned by the very people who are meant to serve the neighborhood, not facilitate its decline into what we all sadly have come to call Hell Square. There is now only the eternally beleaguered Lower East Side, and the new Max Fish, legendary history aside, can’t be separated out from today’s growing problems.

When the rent increased and the authenticity of the neighborhood strayed, Max Fish abandoned the Lower East Side for Brooklyn. When Brooklyn neither cared, wanted or knew who Max Fish was, Ms. Rimkus has come back home, but in the end what good is Max Fish to us when it has already lost its soul?

-Written by Erin Harvey

Recent Stories

Century-Old LaGuardia Bathhouse is Almost Gone [PHOTOS]

It sat vacant for four decades. Now, the long-abandoned LaGuardia Bathhouse is finished. A nub of its former self. Since our last checkup one month ago, the 1909 structure has lost most of its body. Removed brick by brick by men in cherry pickers. The mural on its western exposure – a depiction of Puerto […]

Dormant Red Mango on Allen Street Finally Gets a New Tenant

Red Mango closed its Lower East Side location on Allen Street four years ago. The space remained a dusty dormancy for the duration. Until this month; and henceforth, something completely unexpected. An interior decorator called APex New York that specializes in kitchen and bathroom fixtures. To be honest, this type of commercial occupant is not […]

Burned Out Black Seed Bagels Returns to Elizabeth Street on Thursday

Black Seed Bagels is finally ready to reopen its five-year-old flagship Elizabeth Street shop. The return comes five months after an early-morning fire tore through the establishment. The bagel outpost will resume hours at 170 Elizabeth on Thursday morning at 7am. On March 7, a fire sparked on-premise and knocked out the whole bagel operation. […]

After Years of Vacancy, Ernesto’s Spanish Restaurant Opening on East Broadway

Way down East Broadway, at the corner of Montgomery Street, an upscale corner tenant is entering the fray. This after five years of apparent on-and-off storefront warehousing by a controversial landlord. Eater had the scoop last week, revealing that Quality Eats executive chef, Ryan Bartlow, is opening a new restaurant here at 259 East Broadway. […]

Post-It Solidarity in Chinatown for Hong Kong Protesters

The splintered plywood on the perimeter of 282-286 Grand Street is now a makeshift statement of solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong. Within the last few days, a display of colorful Post-It notes appeared atop the weather-worn flybills, each with a message in Chinese or English. The stunt includes two small baskets stocked with stickies […]