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Ulli Rimkus, Max Fish and Colab in The New Yorker

Notable article by Kelefa Sanneh in the March 7, 2011 issue of the New Yorker on Ulli Rimkus and the Max Fish bar, which was scheduled to vacate its infamous Ludlow Street premises by the end of January - the landlord was asking for a prohibitively high rent increase - but was given a twelfth hour reprieve with a one year extension of lease.

The full text is only available with the purchase of a subscription to the New Yorker online. It also occupies pages 38 - 43 of the dead tree edition, and in case you might be successful (as I was) in locating a trashed copy, here's the relevant cover:

What makes the article interesting, aside from its allusions to Max Fish's hipster credentials, to Ulli's penchant for fake fur, to the altered Julio Iglesias portrait over the bar (oops - Julio was actually mentioned in an earlier NY Times piece) and the heavy collage of band decals on the pool table, is the nostalgia quotient evoked by mentions of the legendary conceptual artist, absurdist agitator and bon vivant Christof Kohlhofer, of late lamented regulars like Rockets Redglare, of the rise (and fall) of old school LES landlords Mark & Elliott, of Kiki Smith's brief career as an electrician, and - most particularly - a discussion of Colab as a precursor to Max Fish. This is a desultory discussion, at best, yet manages to reference a snippet from Colab's manifesto for the Real Estate Show in January 1980 - "artists, living and working in depressed communities, are compradors in the revaluation of property and the whitening of neighborhoods" - while also covering such ancient, arcane topics as the Tin Pan Alley bar in the West 40s and the founding of ABC No Rio.

Readily available online is a summary of the article and a couple of thumbnailed teaser pages. The rest can only be viewed should you wish to become a willing "comprador" to the privatization of online content and pony up a subscription to the New Yorker. Or if you can find the magazine in the dumpster. Anyhow, here is the Abstract, which gives some idea of the gloss and veneer applied by mainstream culture to adorn their burnished yet suitably funky memories of the 1970s-80s Lower East Side:

ABSTRACT: OUR LOCAL CORRESPONDENTS about Ulli Rimkus and the bar Max Fish. Ulli Rimkus is the owner and proprietor of a bar called Max Fish, on Ludlow Street, on the Lower East Side. In hiring bartenders, Rimkus tends to follow a simple rule: no bartenders need apply; she prefers glassblowers and silk-screeners, rappers and skateboarders. When Max Fish opened, in 1989, it was an anomaly: a cheerful Technicolor sanctuary whose existence seemed like a rebuke to the half-abandoned neighborhood that surrounded it. During the months Rimkus had to wait for a liquor license, she turned the space into an informal art gallery, and, after the bar opened, the gallery remained. Over the years, the bar became surprisingly influential, home to a loose confederation of artists and layabouts and doers and be-ers, and the inspiration for similar establishments around the country. As a consequence, it was also a catalyst for what one patron calls “the rehipifying of the Lower East Side,” which means that, on Ludlow Street today, Max Fish is, once more, an anomaly: a respectable old-timer in a neighborhood full of boisterous newcomers. In December, a few days before Max Fish celebrated its twenty-first birthday, Rimkus made an announcement: she was going to roll down the gate for good on January 31st. The birthday party was also a funeral of sorts. Rimkus didn’t seem to be in mourning, though: she was already thinking about the next Max Fish. She must have visited every available retail space on the Lower East Side. Rimkus arrived in New York from Düsseldorf in 1977, when she was in her twenties. She was an eager young artist with an eager young artist boyfriend, Christof Kohlhofer. In 1978, she and Kohlhofer moved to Ludlow Street, and they became members of an artists’ collective called Collaborative Projects, Inc., or Colab, which set out to reclaim some of the neighborhood’s unused spaces. Mentions the bar Tin Pan Alley. Right from the start, Max Fish was a high-volume, low-margin business. It became known as a bar where fights, though rare, were by no means shocking. Mentions Brandon Holley and Mark Glass. In early January, with the move-out date only a few weeks away, Rimkus’s landlord, Arwen Equities Partners, made her a new offer: a one-year extension of her lease, no strings attached, but without guaranteeing that anybody from the company would be willing to countersign. Rimkus accepted the offer, the lease was countersigned, and the bar had an extra year. The good news did nothing to change Rimkus’s determination to find a new place in the neighborhood for Max Fish. “I feel like it’s not finished,” she said.