Max Fish and Adidas celebrated 30 years of art, music and skateboarding on Sunday night with the release of the Lower East Side bar’s commemorative sneaker. Already sold out by the time the party started, the shoe’s release brought out notable fans of the Fish, like skateboard legend Chad Muska, actor Leo Fitzpatrick of Kids fame, and a Black Sabbath cover band fronted by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol’s Brad Truax and former Dirty Projector vocalist Angel Deradoorian. The party was also a photo show curated by pro-skater Josh Zickert and featuring prints from Max Fish’s old location, which closed in 2013.
“Max Fish has always been a place where skaters have come to hang and check out art,”, said Adidas Action Sports communications director Cullen Poythress, as he showed off the Max Fish NYC sneaker that came in the bar’s trademark red and blue color scheme. “It’s a lighthouse for the scene and out-of-town skaters can always run into someone they know here.”
Ulli Rimkus, who founded the original bar on Ludlow Street in 1989 and then moved it to Orchard in 2014 with the help of new co-owner Marc Razo, was busy saying hi to an overwhelming parade of well-wishers. Taking a break to pose for a photo, she brought over longtime employee Su to be in front of the bar’s trademark “Bobby the Sweeper” statue, a gift from artist John Ahern, twin brother of Wild Style director Charlie Ahern. Rimkus was a fixture of the New York arts scene long before Max Fish and the respect paid to her was seen in the presence of New York magazine’s Pulitzer-winning art critic, Jerry Saltz.
As Max Fish filled to capacity with its invite-only guests, bartender and events host Emily Panic took the mic and told the crowd, “This is the first of four parties ahead our actual birthday in December, so there’s still more to come.” Panic then introduced former Highlife frontman Doug Shaw, the first of a star-studded musical line-up that also included session master Matt Sweeney, former Johnny Cash producer David Ferguson and post-hardcore pioneers Quicksand, who played three encores to a demanding crowd.
Between sets, Max Fish veterans talked endlessly about the old location and could literally find their memories amongst the array of classic photos. Former Lit Lounge owner and artist Erik Foss, whose bar was also legendary, told me how he curated his first art show at the Ludlow spot back in 1997. “When I first came here I was an artist like everyone else and after Lit Lounge closed I was happy to go back to making art and I love it.” Ross then pointed out an overlooked detail: the polka dot motif adorning every inch of Max Fish, inside and out, is “a design by Gregg Woolard, who was an old friend of Ulli’s and still lives here in LES.”
Resident DJ and photographer Joshua Wildman held down the prime bar seats with a crew of friends who feasted on veggie Frito pies made by East Village’s “mostly vegan” Superiority Burger. While offering us a shot, Josh related Max Fish’s creative warmth. “I’ve taken thousands of pictures in both locations. Ulli’s always been supportive of our art and she’s given all of us shows when no one else would have us.”
Taking a breather while the party raged till midnight, I talked outside with curator Zickert, who was getting a cab for his wife and daughter. Seeing how his personal cycle of life has orbited around Max Fish, I asked if I he had a great memory from all those years. “Definitely the last night of the old location,” he answered immediately. “I was one of the last to leave and I took the 8 ball from the pool table, it’s framed on my wall at home.”Photos by Nick McManus.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled the names of Cullen Poythress and, in two instances, Ulli Rimkus.