The outrage was more or less instantaneous when Gerber Group announced that the restaurant inside of the new Hotel Indigo would be named after Lower East Side eco activist David Wilkie, aka Adam Purple. Local blog Bowery Boogie called the tribute “a tad sacrilegious” and then outright “clueless,” and EV Grieve commenters called the operators of Mr. Purple “parasitic carpetbaggers” and worse.
After the backlash, Gothamist noted that the restaurant appeared to be “backtracking” on its story. A WWD item had described its naming thusly: “The street artist Lee Quiñones was working on a mural for the hotel, and one of the images he was doing was of Mr. Purple. ‘That’s really what inspired us,’ [Scott] Gerber says.” But a press release described the restaurant’s namesake as “a mysterious man, born and raised in the Lower East Side, the city was his muse” (the real Purple was born in Missouri). For now, it said, “Mr. Purple, and all that he represents, is up to your imagination to interpret.”
Now the restaurant’s operators are being a little less coy. A rep tells us, “I know many of the other community blogs aren’t happy with [Gerber Group] right now, regarding the Mr. Purple opening,” and sends a statement clarifying that the concept was dreamed up before Purple’s death.
[Update: A spokesperson for Russ & Daughters, one of the local restaurants that a press release says Mr. Purple’s menu “will connect with,” writes in to say the appetizing store “doesn’t have a partnership with Mr. Purple or Hotel Indigo. That restaurant simply purchased smoked salmon at our shop one time. We never authorized them to use our name on their menus or in their promotional materials.”]
The name of the bar and restaurant was established when the project was first conceptualized in 2014. It was indeed inspired by Lower East Side resident David Wilkie, who became known as “Mr. Purple.” A gardener and activist, he was an iconic figure who dedicated his life to beautifying and improving the neighborhood. A mural was painted in his honor and can be seen on display in the lobby area of the hotel. Also, in honoring Wilkie’s dedication to the neighborhood, the restaurant is committed to supporting the Lower East Side community through several initiatives including partnerships with the Bowery Mission and local businesses such as Russ & Daughters, il laboratorio del gelato and Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery who are all featured on the restaurant’s menu. Additionally, through the Lower East Side Employment Network (LESEN), 30 percent of jobs at the hotel have been allocated to local residents.
After Adam Purple died in September at the age of 84, we spoke to Bill Di Paola of MoRUS and Time’s Up, who was putting on an exhibit showcasing the community gardener’s work and raising funds for a green burial. He told us, “He died poor, but he did this beautiful thing… We’re honoring someone who’s considered a hero.”
Given that reputation, the Hotel Indigo’s tribute does seem a little incongruous. Sure, the local hiring is great and all, but are cocktails priced at $15 to $20 really the most fitting way to honor an ascetic who for years lived off the grid, survived on tofu stew, collected cans for income, and abhorred waste so much that he recycled his own feces?
In a press release, Gerber is quoted as saying, “We have worked hard to ensure the fabric of the neighborhood flows through every detail of the menu and property, to give Mr. Purple a truly authentic LES, New York vibe.”
To that end, the hotel released the above video of Quiñones describing the motivations behind his mural featuring images of Patty Astor, CBGB, Basquiat, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Miguel Piñero, and other local fixtures. He says the nod to Purple is “more about the plot of land being utilized for something very creative and beautiful than the man himself.”
Quiñones, a Lower East Side legend, goes on to give props to InterContinental Hotels Group:
I think that it was very heroic of the firm to take that leap of faith along with me and give me the green light creatively to create something that is so beautiful. And it’s a very sensitive issue with all of us, because of course it’s a hotel environment, you know, it’s a service, a venue where you want to go there to feel comfort and you want to feel a sense of enlightening and… an information exchange. And I think that it was a very unique gauntlet that we all navigated to get to this point where we’re at where it’s a beautiful mural that’s going to be represented throughout the hotel and pretty much gives people the shoutouts that they deserve.
It makes sense the operators of the hotel and its bar/restaurant would want to appeal to the “vibrant Lower East Side community,” as Gerber puts it in the press release. As we’ve noted before, years of construction and delays led Curbed to dub the 24-story “Orchard Street Hell Building” the neighborhood’s “longest-running eyesore,” “greasiest shame,” and “longest-running shitshow.”
When Gerber first looked at the plagued property a couple of years ago, he “wasn’t really familiar with the Lower East Side,” he admitted to WWD. Now he’s probably all too familiar with it. “Pretty much everyone agreed,” local resident Lori Greenberg writes in Bowery Boogie, “that Adam Purple, a person who lived hand-to-mouth and who spent his life trying to give something back to an impoverished community, would have been livid over his name being co-opted for a bar inside a luxury high rise hotel.”
Should you want to see the place for yourself and decide whether it exudes an “artist-loft ambiance,” as stated in a press release about the hotel’s opening, there are plenty of amenities to lure you in. The restaurant, open till 4 a.m. nightly, boasts two terraces, including a 5,000-square-foot one with a swimming pool, bar, and chaise lounges. In the meantime, have a look at the menus.
Mr. Purple, 15th floor of Hotel Indigo, 180 Orchard St., bet. Stanton and East Houston Sts.; 212-237-1790.