Back in April, Anthony Bourdain visited some of his old stomping grounds (and new ones) in the East Village and Lower East Side for an episode of Parts Unknown, chatting with numerous local characters along the way. It’s unclear what will happen with this and other episodes Bourdain was filming prior to his unexpected death last week, so we spoke with some of the featured artists and business owners about their experiences with a reporter and raconteur who was known for keeping it real.
Tom Birchard, owner of Veselka
I really didn’t expect Anthony Bourdain to ever come here. But I was hoping he would, because I’ve been a big fan for a long, long time. So when I heard he was coming, I kind of felt like I’ve reached the top of the mountain. Anthony Bourdain’s coming to Veselka. There’s nothing better than than that.[Bourdain] interviewed a fellow named Danny Fields, who was the Ramones’ manager. He was basically a CBGB guy, an old guy from the neighborhood [whom] Tony knew. So they got all set up, and Mr. Bourdain came in with Danny. I didn’t bother them. It was clear they wanted to come in and start the interview. And they were here for quite a while—at least an hour. I had spoken to the producer about possibly chatting with him and getting a picture. [Bourdain] seemed eager to leave and kind of tired. They had been shooting all day long. I did speak to him for a few minutes. He was very gracious. I had been in Provincetown [Massachusetts] when he was there working as a dishwasher and a young chef, so I asked him a little about the places he worked in Provincetown.
Clayton Patterson, photographer, designer, historian, and owner of the Outlaw Art Museum
His people reached out to me and asked me if I would get some people in the neighborhood to connect to him. I thought I’m going to get a real cross-section of the Lower East Side. ‘Cuz his show was kind of cultural. His interests lie outside of the mainstream. I introduced him to Pablo the Stanton Street tailor. Spencer Fujimoto—jeweler and skateboarder. Jim Power—the Mosaic Man. Joey Goodwin at Overthrow Boxing. [Bourdain] was very personable. He hung around after. He wanted to see my dope bag collection. I showed him that. I gave him copies of Jose “Cochise” Quiles’ The Street Gangs of the Lower East Side. He hung around after, put his name in my book, did a little drawing of a knife and whatever. It was great. Very easy to talk to. It was a great conversation.
He knew a lot about me. He called me the “godfather of the Lower East Side documentary” which I thought was nice. We talked about the hardcore drug scene down here. All the things he knew about as a kid. It was interesting, one thing he said to me: He was riding in a cab with a bunch of other kids when they were young—there were five of them. And one kid said, you know, four out of five junkies die. [Bourdain] looked around and thought, okay, if there’s five of us here, I’m going to be the one that survives.
Spencer Fujimoto, creative director of El Señor New York Jewelry
I was super honored that he would want to highlight a skateboarder and an Asian-American. And shedding light on the Lower East Side and the change that’s happening. I am one of the last of the Mohicans, like Clayton. We met up on the Lower East Side—on Delancey Street between Norfolk and Suffolk. We call it “Boca LES” because it’s kinda like Boca Raton (laughs). They have umbrellas that you can sit underneath and benches. Every Sunday, we have a skate session there. We call it Slappy Sundays. They filmed us skating [and] doing tricks. Just did a little take on the change in the neighborhood, skateboarding, things that attracted me to the neighborhood, and the things that are unattractive nowadays (laughs). I did not get to meet Anthony Bourdain. I saw him filming inside of Clayton’s, and I figured they looked super busy. I just left them alone. I’m bummed that I didn’t just go in there and barge my way in and shake some hands and stuff.
Joey Goodwin, owner of Overthrow boxing gym
Overthrow is a boxing club. It’s a cultural center. It’s a clubhouse. It’s a gym. It’s a training ground for the youth revolution. So it’s a bridge between old and new. When I say it’s a bridge between old and new, [I mean] the old Lower East Side, the old Soho, Noho kind of meeting the new age. [Bourdain’s visit] was great. It was obviously a pretty big deal. You know, it’s amazing how—what he means to so many people. You almost don’t realize it. I, in some ways, I’m an aspirational Bourdain in terms of—I’m trying to sell and bring culture, but instead of food, I’ve created [a] boxing club. And the metaphor of the fight and the struggle. So I’m an aspirational Bourdain. My impression [of Bourdain] was: He was serious, he listened, he took everything in. As Clayton said, he’s one of the good guys.
Power Malu, Director of Events and Programming at Overthrow
[Filming with Bourdain] was pretty awesome. We ended up going to the FDR Drive East River Park Amphitheater. It’s pretty famous because that’s where they filmed the first hip-hop movie called Wild Style. Actually, as a kid, I used to run around the amphitheater. The crazy thing about it is that I shared something that I hadn’t shared with anyone publicly [before]. My dad was a professional boxer. He was threatened by the mob on a few occasions before a fight. They would ask him to throw the fight. They would basically give him death threats. And his coach, Cus D’Amato, didn’t want him to partake in any of these fights. But when Cus D’Amato wasn’t around, these guys would come into the gym. My dad got caught a couple of times, and these people threatened his life. So when my mom found out about that, they fled and begged him to stop fighting. So he had a bad experience with boxing, so he turned to drinking. So we talked about that. We talked about how the Lower East Side has a lot of struggles and how it’s a big community. We spoke about gentrification. And then we touched on suicide. My dad committed suicide. They wanted me to share that. And I actually felt it was a form of therapy because I never expressed that to anyone publicly. [Meeting Bourdain] was pretty surreal because I’ve known about him and people told me that he used to roam the Lower East Side, but I never saw him. I might have been too young. They were like, yeah, this used to be his stomping grounds. So to know somebody that actually made it and know what he went through to make it. I’ve been through the struggle. When I was little running around in the neighborhood, I used to go to my cousin’s railroad apartment, and all you used to see was junkies shooting up and looking for veins between their toes. My neighborhood—it was a lot of pain, but it was beautiful at the same time. Everybody looked out for each other. There was a lot of love too. When I actually got to meet him and talk to him about all those things, it was pretty cool, because I didn’t know that he went through all that. To know about his struggle–and to make it out of that and to inspire so many people.
Interviews have been edited and condensed.
In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.