Raimundo Rubio has been buying his booze at Greenpoint Wine & Liquors for 13 years. The clean and well-lit, no-frills store is just a block away from his apartment where he paints nearly nonstop, save for going for a daily run in McCarren Park. “I drink wine every day,” he says. “Two glasses at lunchtime and the rest of the bottle at night.”
Born in Santiago, Chile, the 56-year-old artist has only recently become an American citizen. While the current economy and art market are tough on him, Raimundo is still very passionate and busy with balancing his painting, installation and photography, his new handmade miniatures venture, and an upcoming book of poems, to which he’s contributing illustrations. The book is particularly meaningful to him and perhaps yet another reason to numb or nourish his heart with wine: it features the poetry of his late and legendary father Alberto Rubio, his famous-in-Chile nephew, and his deceased brother Armando Rubio, who Raimundo believes was murdered decades ago by the fascist Pinochet regime. (Yeah, he gets into it below.)
A serious and starving artist, Raimundo is a holdover from the neighborhood’s glory days as an artists’ paradise. And the current store owner Ed Radziwon has likely seen a lot of artists in his time, as he’s run the store since April of 1987. (There were three owners before him, the elder Polish man said from behind a two-way mirror overlooking the store.) A sign of the times, Raimundo’s favorite local liquor store recently doubled in size and now even hosts promotional tastings.
“The store is huge now because the neighborhood have changed,” says Raimundo. “Greenpoint is the coolest place to live in New York these days.” The inexpensive, mini-bar-sized liquor bottles guarded by the Polish clerks at the counter have long sold very well to this community. But nowadays, you’re just as likely to find a freshly moved-in condo owner seeking advice on which merlot to choose for tonight’s dinner party. Makes for an interesting mix. Personally, Raimundo recommends the high quality yet cheap Chilean wine. It’s one of Greenpoint’s best-kept secrets, he says.
It’s the best wine for five dollars. This one is called Gato Negro. This is what I would drink in high school when we had no money in the pocket. And this is what the working class drink in Chile.
People feel embarrassed to buy five-dollar wine. They’re afraid people are looking at you: “Oh, you’re so cheap.” But nobody makes a comment. They make eye contact, like looking at you over the shoulder.
Before, Greenpoint used to be, I would say, 90% Polish working class. Now we have a different type of people moving in. I don’t want to be cruel and tough. But, you know, it’s New York: A lot of them are hipsters moving into the neighborhood. It’s something you can’t avoid. It’s a hipster land.
The good thing about wine is it’ll put you to sleep and put your worries out of your brain. I work for myself. When you work for yourself, you don’t know when you’ll sell the next paintings. So drinking wine is the best way to put you down.
Today, I’ve been working on these miniatures figurines. I’m trying to make a business on the side because the painting market is not stable.
I met my business partner at some barbecue. She’s 22 years old. She’s very intelligent. She’s gorgeous. She’s very, very tough, just what I need for the company. She’ll be in charge, so I can keep painting. She’s from Chile. We fight a lot about the concept of aesthetic. She’s younger. I’m the tutor and she’s learning, but she knows all the technology. So it’s fair. I met her mother and father when I went to Chile last summer. I trust her because her father and mother are good people.
My father became a very famous poet in Chile and Europe at the age of 22 years old. And then he worked as a lawyer [for the Socialist president Salvador Allende], but I saw him struggle. He hated to be a lawyer. Then my brother, he was a very good poet. He passed away. We don’t know if he kill himself, if it was an accident, or if the dictatorship killed him. I believe that [rival Fascist dictator] Pinochet killed him for political revenge. They threw him out the window from the third floor. They found him at 5 o’clock in the morning. He was the last person to be at a party. It looked like the undercover walked in, and they just threw him out. So when he died, he left a son – my nephew – and now he’s one of the biggest poets in Chile. He’s very well known. His name is Rafael Rubio. They know my father very well. They know my brother. And they don’t know me in Chile.
They work hard here at the liquor store, so I just like to be nice to them and give a smile when I buy the bottle of wine. We don’t talk much personal stuff. Small talk. Of course they recognize me. I’m a regular here.