Max Fish, Lower East Side Fixture, Shut Down Amid Police Crackdown; Art Show Held Hostage By City; Other Bars Claim NYPD Harassment (Updated)
The police shutdown of Lower East Side fixture Max Fish on allegations of illegal sale of alcohol has some collateral damage -- works by 50 artists from here and elsewhere are being held hostage inside the locked and shuttered establishment.
The bar, located on Ludlow Street, was formally closed by the NYPD and city inspectors a week ago Friday, and none of the participating artists can get their stuff back at least until the case is adjudicated. (The image at right comes courtesy of the Lower East Side blog, the Lo-Down.)
"It's kind of shocking," says Christian Gordy who contributed three of his whimsical illustrations to the show. "I went to pick up my stuff the next day, because I was supposed to deliver a piece to a buyer, and I couldn't get in, and now I'm completely fucked here."
Chuck Donaghue, the curator of the show and a local tattoo artist, says the closure has led to a petition drive which has collected several thousand signatures to free the artwork.
"When you can get 50 people together for a show that's definitely for the greater good, and that something that involved that much hard work and effort, it's pretty disenchanting," Donaghue says. "And there's really no information coming from the police or the city about getting the art work back."
Several club owners and managers tell the Voice that the shutdown of Max Fish is part of a recent police crackdown on local bars, which also led to the shuttering of Sweet Paradise on Orchard Street, Gallery on Orchard Street, Los Feliz on Ludlow Street, and Mason Dixon on Essex Street. The bar, 151, on Rivington Street was also temporarily shut down a couple of months ago.
Mike Ireland, the former manager of Mason Dixon, says the police crackdown was so intense and so expensive that its owners decided to close down permanently, rather than continue to shell out for legal costs. (The owners of Mason Dixon still operate two other bars in the neighborhood.)
"We had to close down for good because we were losing so much money on extra security, tickets, lost revenue, fines, court fees, lawyers," he says. "The thing is we met every single stipulation they asked for, we did everything right, but they kept ticketing us."
Ireland says in response to the police, the bar hired more security, started using scanners for IDs, additional velvet ropes, and made a serious attempt to go along with the city's demands. Despite all that effort, he says, the police kept ticketing the bar for administrative violations, like noise.
He said he believes that the crackdown stems from an effort by the city to continue the gentrification of the neighborhood into an upscale area. "The landlord didn't want us there," he says.
Ireland says he's opening a bar in Bushwick, rather than continue to deal with what he describes as police harassment in the village.
"I'm done with the Lower East Side," he says.
The NYPD press office did not respond to requests for comment. Last Month, the Lo-Down offered this item on the 7th Precinct's defense of the crackdown.