Clueless New Businesses ‘PYT’ and ‘Mr. Purple’ Pervert Lower East Side History

Posted on: November 20th, 2015 at 10:35 am by

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Mr. Purple Bar. Photo: Hotel Indigo’s Twitter.

There seems to be a new level of cluelessness in the neighborhood. It’s one thing to honor the past, or even nod to it in a cheeky or kitschy way. Such is life with “authentrification” as selling point. However, it’s another thing to reference the icons of the past, while completely missing the point.

We recently did a story on the Hotel Indigo’s new bar, Mr. Purple, which was named for the iconic Lower East Side environmentalist and activist, Adam Purple (born David Wilkie). After the news broke about an upscale bar in a luxury hotel being named for an off-the-grid personality, there was quite the outcry on blogs and social media.

Pretty much everyone agreed that Adam Purple, a person who lived hand-to-mouth and who spent his life trying to give something back to an impoverished community, would have been livid over his name being co-opted for a bar inside a luxury high rise hotel. Others said that it was the type of establishment that would never allow someone like Adam Purple inside in the first place. Not that he would have wanted to ever go. The real Mr. Purple was content building community gardens and hanging out at the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space.

The idea for the bar’s name was initially described thusly (as told to WWD by Scott Gerber, CEO of the Gerber Group, which owns the hotel):

“The bar name comes from the Lower East Side icon David Wilkie, who became known as “Mr. Purple” for his preferred shade of clothing. The street artist Lee Quiñones was working on a mural for the hotel, and one of the images he was doing was of Mr. Purple. “That’s really what inspired us,” Gerber says. Mr. Purple’s image is discreetly painted on the ceiling of the 14th floor lobby.”

After the negative reaction to the name, the powers that be at the hotel are now backpedaling. And fast. According to Gothamist, a recent press release now claims that Hotel Indigo’s Mr. Purple is a fictitious character. Their marketing people must have been working overtime since they are suddenly trying to create an air of mystery around the name. Their current story is that the faux Mr. Purple is an artist born and raised on the Lower East Side.

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The mural also includes an image of Patti Astor of the legendary FUN Gallery of the ’80s, another icon of the neighborhood. Astor is a long-time friend of muralist Lee Quiñones, who was a FUN Gallery artist. However, she told us that she is none-too-pleased about the concept of naming a bar for Adam Purple, let alone that her image was used without consulting her. The lobby ceiling mural is also based on an iconic Polaroid by the photographer Maripol, which was used for the cover of the 2005 book, Maripolarama. [UPDATE: We contacted Maripol, who told us that she had given muralist Lee Quiñones permission to use her photo.]

Another image which was appropriated for the mural is a well known portrait of Adam Purple, taken by LES photographer Harvey Wang, who has been documenting the neighborhood for decades, and was a close friend of Purple’s. Wang told us in an email that he was “horrified” by the concept of the fifteenth-floor bar.

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Despite the infringement of his copyright, Wang said:

I want to stay focused on the fact that the hotel owners seem to be profiting from Adam’s legacy without giving back. I would like to see them apologize for appropriating Adam Purple’s name and for the absurd things they’ve written about who he was and that we’re free to “interpret” from his legacy. If they understood anything at all about what Adam stood for, they would grow and distribute free food, open their doors to the homeless, give away all profits, and generate no waste. I don’t think that’s what they have in mind.

In a related example of utter cluelessness, there’s the $64 “Basquiat Burger” on the menu of the new Bowery restaurant, PYT Burger. Astor was on our radar again, due to her “Basquiat Burger Revenge” Yelp campaign. She was a friend and early supporter of Jean-Michel Basquiat, showing his work at the FUN Gallery. Like many others, she was outraged over this abuse of Basquiat’s name.

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