It’s been a tough week so far for Ludlow Street. Last night, we spoke with Francesca Romeo, co-owner of Motor City Bar, who confirmed reports that the beloved Lower East Side spot will be shutting down. Yesterday a reader tipped off EV Grieve about the closure. Romeo, who runs rock-in-roll accented “Motor City” with partner Teresa Farnell, said their lease was up and the landlord did not give the option of renewal.
“Motor City” opened in 1996 when few businesses (other than pioneering LES haunt “Max Fish”) dared to make a go of it in the pre-gentrified neighborhood. Romeo said the lease expires at the end of the month but it’s possible they’ll be able to stay in the space a little bit longer, and they’re keeping open the possibility of opening another New York bar. Romeo, by the way, is an alum of our My LES series. In addition to her title of “bar owner,” she’s a filmmaker and photographer and has been living in California, while making frequent trips back to NYC, in recent months.
The “Motor City” shocker came on the same day that the neighborhood was mourning the loss of another Ludlow Street mainstay, “Pink Pony.” “The bar captured a fast retreating moment in the evolution – some may say devolution – of the Lower East Side, a time when patrons read those books and flocked for documentary screenings and poetry nights,” the Times noted in its eulogy yesterday.
Owner Lucien Bahaj told reporter Cara Buckley that his landlord had decided to raise the rent at 176 Ludlow Street from $14,000 to $20,000 per month. He does not blame the property owner, Arwen Properties, but Bahaj came to believe that the cafe was “out of step,” as Buckley put it, with the new, upscale LES, and he also is not in the best of health. “The main reason for all of this is not the health, and not the business going down; it’s that the neighborhood has changed,” Bahaj said. “It’s the ability to carry on when the original clientele has moved elsewhere.”
Bahaj still operates French bistro, Lucien, on 1st Avenue.