One Final Visit to 118 East 1st Street (and Darinka) Before Demolition [PHOTOS]

Posted on: February 8th, 2017 at 5:11 am by


Grab your flashilights ’cause we are going back to the beginning of 118 East 1st Street, and also to face the sad reality that is demolition all over our neighborhood.

Hard hats must be worn at all times. Do not ascend stairwell, floors have been removed. Do not open this door, roof has been removed.

They beckon me. C’est la vie. For once, dirt only on my hands and I didn’t fall through the floor. I did, however, snap some compelling shots to exhibit before this 1880 row-house is razed for a nine-story residential building. ‘Cause that is just what we need. The sidewalk bridge arrived a couple months ago, pushing the project ever-closer to fruition.


By the by, here is a shot of the interior at night sans portable lighting:


And the exterior:


No word on who was responsible for the giant peace sign that was sprayed onto the facade a year ago. However, one thing is for sure – there is no peace in the destruction of what remains of the Lower East Side. No peace of mind at all.

Before we go inside, a little background for ya. 118 East First Street was, besides being home to residential tenants, home to Gary Ray’s performance space, Darinka, in the storefront beneath the stairs. It opened back in 1983, and joined Danceteria, The Peppermint Lounge, and 8 B.C. as the places to be for the alternative performance set in the ’80s. Trash and flash. All competing with the Palladium and club kids.

From the New York Times, 1985:

”We were a performance studio,” said Gary Ray, owner of Darinka, a club that held only 100 patrons. ”We found we couldn’t survive without selling liquor. We got busted.” Darinka, on First Street and Avenue A, closed in July after a year and a half in business, when the police charged it was operating as an unlicensed bottle club.

Hearsay says that in the 1970s, there was reportedly a gambling operation in the same space. Lots of top-notch visitors day and night ’round.

Back at Darinka, their house band, Brooklyn-based They Might Be Giants, were rocking out with regular performance artist (and local fireman), Steve Buscemi. Seriously.

From the Fales Library of NYU:

Darinka: A Performance Studio was opened on April 21, 1984 by Gary Ray Bugarcic (aka Gary Ray). The club served as a venue for artists of all disciplines, including performance, theatre, music, dance, film, video, fine art, and poetry and prose. In keeping with the Eastern European roots of the East Village/Lower East Side, the club was named after Gary’s mother, who was Croatian born. Darinka is a derivative of the Slavic word dar, meaning “gift.”

Up to the late 1970s, the space was used as a local Italian Social Club until a fire destroyed it. During the renovation of the space, all the old charred beams were laid in the backyard to provide an urban rustic wood patio enjoyed by patrons during the hot summer months. The interior of the club had a small proscenium stage that was described by many as looking like a live television. A variety of local painters such as James Romberger and Mark Kostabi showed their work on the walls of the club until the permanent murals and stencils were painted. Regular performers included They Might Be Giants (considered the house band), performance artist Steve Buscemi (still a fireman when he started performing), Karen Finley, Jack Smith, Charles Long, William Pope L., Kembra Pfahler, Nick Zedd, Anna Deavere Smith, and John S. Hall. In addition, there were many writers who read during the Sunday prose and poetry nights, including Darius James, Patrick McGrath, Hal Sirowitz, Lynne Tillman, Mark Dery, Nina Zivancevic, Peter Cherches, Bob Holman, Ira Cohen and Taylor Meade.

On June 29, 1985, the NYPD raided the club during a mushroom party and performance by artists David West and Andy Somma. Gary Ray and the bartender, Robin Clements, were arrested for operating an unlicensed bottle club. Several months later Darinka reopened as a private club with Randy Lee Hartwig and John Gernand as managers.

How about a first-person visit to Darinka in 1985, courtesy of Nelson Sullivan’s rich video catalog.

As for my little adventure? Have at it.

As always, Ah, New York. My stunning and gritty, sparkling and filthy, tremendous, transcendent metropolis – you were forged by the keepers of secrets and those secrets I plan to find and reveal, one brick at a time.

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