Many of us are still mourning the loss of Max Fish, hopelessly wandering the gentrified streets of the Lower East Side for a watering hole to call home. However, we musn’t lose sight of what made Max Fish what it was. No, it wasn’t the revolting bathrooms, the overambitious lighting or even the refreshingly affordable beverages. It was the people, and many of those people are still kicking around downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, serving drinks, playing in bands and turning up at various dive bars to grab a beer.
We caught up with three of our favorite Max Fish bartenders to see what they’ve been up to since the Fish closed and to reminisce about the good, the bad and the ugly. As for the new Max Fish, set to open in Williamsburg: while there isn’t a definitive opening date as of yet, owner Ulli Rimkus is working tirelessly to get it ready. “My hair is getting greyer by the minute!” she jokes.
Worked at Max Fish: 1998 (“or maybe it was ’97”) – 2013
Nicknames: Shangoogle or Google because of his breadth of useless information. Beef Axelrod, the name he used for the Max Fish softball team. “It was really a name I developed for a fetish film I was in for Coco de Mer called Erotic Moments. I think I’ve said too much. Next question!”
Where is he now: Touring with Brooklyn-Based hip hop artist El-P and Run The Jewels – a hip hop collective fronted by El-P and Killer Mike also featuring Trackstar, Playboy Wilder Zoby (another Max Fish alum) and Little Shalimar. His band, Activator, recently released an album and plans to tour this year. Plus, if you miss his friendly face behind the bar, he also bartends at Von on Bleecker.
What he misses most about Max Fish: The sense of community. “No matter what, everyone knew the Fish would be open and there would be someone you knew there. There were people I used to see damn near every day that I feel like I haven’t seen since summer. That home base aspect of the Lower East Side appears to be gone in my eyes. The reasons to even consider walking on Ludlow Street seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate.”
What he doesn’t miss: The police, the rumor mill and the toll it took on owner Ulli Rimkus. “Between dealing with that asshole landlord, the police and that new swarm of people who moved to Ludlow Street, moving was inevitable. It’s rather ironic to have to leave the block you created – it’s like creating the monster that kills you. Trust me, I was here when that bar opened and no one was willing to pay even half of what those fucking shoe boxes are going for now.”
Also, the odd unintelligent customer. “People asking me what we have on tap despite not seeing anything that resembles a tap on the bar.”
Thoughts on new Max Fish: “I keep hearing things like ‘it won’t be the same,’ blah blah blah. As long as Ulli is involved, Max Fish will be Max Fish.”
Worked at Max Fish: 1997 – 2013
Nicknames: Undisclosed, though there were “a couple.”
Where is he now: Tending bar at St. Dymphna’s on St. Marks and Union Pool and Black Bear Bar in Williamsburg. He also plays bass in psych rock band Endless Boogie – this month they’re doing a residency at Union Pool.
What he misses most about Max Fish: The people (of course). “You kinda didn’t have to make any plans. You could just cruise through the bar at any time and be sure to see pals for miles and your occasional buddy from out of town that was visiting.”
What he doesn’t miss: The Man (of course). “The police gave us such a hard time for the last couple years we were open. It was so hard seeing my boss get bullied like that and not be able to do anything about it. Watching the bar scene in LES get swept away in the course of a summer was pretty impressive. Nice work to all you developers down there! Glad to see there will be no shortage of sports bars and hotels now.”
Thoughts on new Max Fish: “New Max Fish will be awesome and yes, I will live there, hang out there, work there and most likely die there.”
Worked at Max Fish: December 2, 1989 (opening day) – 2013
Nicknames: Hard Dive, Stingray, Hairball and The World’s Famous Larry
Where is he now: Playing drums with his pal Razo the aforementioned Endless Boogie, working on a sound installation (sounds ominous), learning to play the piano and “happily unemployed.”
What he misses most about Max Fish: The folks. “[I miss] running into my talented friends and peers who might be hanging out there any night of the week.
What he doesn’t miss: Bad attitudes. “Rude customers that never say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ because those words are not in their lexicon.”
Thoughts on new Max Fish: “I truly believe that Max Fish is a recognized brand name. No matter where Ulli opens a bar it will be very successful. I would definitely hang out at the new Fish, but I wouldn’t work there. My days of slinging booze are behind me.”
Bonus Fact: Before the the Fish opened, Druzd curated an exhibition in the space “protesting the federal government’s plan to make New York harbor the home base for nuclear armed naval vessels.” He also curated a delightful evening of erotic films and live performances.