My LES: H. Spencer Young
How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?
For the better part of 17 years, with some brief interludes in a few other neighborhoods.
Why did you move here?
Petula Clark tells it best: “So go downtown, where the lights are bright, downtown. Waiting for you tonight, downtown. You’re gonna be all right now, downtown.”
What do you do?
Artist, photographer, filmmaker, writer.
Tell us about your apartment – the good, the bad and the ugly.
I live in a small loft on Ludlow Street. Much of my life since I moved here in the ’90s has centered around Ludlow Street. I am beyond grateful to be able to live here. My neighbors, landlord, local friends and new friends who work around here are all creative, artistic, hopeful, entertaining, smart people who constantly inspire me, and hopefully vice versa. A few years ago I was directing a commercial and my neighbors and I converted our entire floor into a production office. Stuff like that is pure NYC. The Velvet Underground was founded on my block. Tony Conrad, Jack Smith, Mike Mills: Ludlow Street. Don’t get me started. The bad? I could use 5,000 extra square feet.
What’s your favorite spot on the LES and why (could be a block, garden, bar, building, etc)?
Café Grumpy. Hours are spent there talking about art with the remarkable, talented artists who make that magic espresso. I want to name them but they’ll be embarrassed so I won’t. I’m also a big fan of Lost Weekend NYC, owned by friends who go out of their way to bring together the Lower East Side community.
Favorite cheap eats?
My version of cheap eats is subsisting on dark-chocolate-covered almonds from The Sweet Life.
Favorite place for a special night when you are splurging?
I had this fantastic date recently. After we finished drinks at Freemans we both confessed that we were craving Katz’s pastrami at 11 p.m. Check was instantly paid, and we made a beeline for Katz’s, where, between us, we ate four hot dogs and split a pastrami sandwich. (Insert joke here regarding “the table.”)
How have you seen the neighborhood change?
This is too big of a question. To the same degree that the LES is one of the last bastions of art and music in Manhattan, it is also hell on earth due to the direction that the nightlife is going in. I’ll spare you the gentrification clichés and lamenting the loss of the legacy cultural spots because I’m more focused on those of us who are trying to keep our noses to the grindstone and be part of the solution going forward. The area is going through what Soho went through over the last 25 years, and we are in the transition state presently, from artistic/cultural center to urban theme park. But, the struggle is part of the magic. The story is not over.
What do you miss from the old LES?
The old after-hours clubs with the best deep house on earth spinning until noon. And peanut butter, banana and honey sandwiches at the Pink Pony in the middle of the night.
Is there a new arrival you love? Why?
Dimes. Because everything about Dimes is sunshine. I also love Dudley’s. Because ribs.
What drives you crazy about the neighborhood?
The lack of a piazza. The LES seriously lacks a place where people can meet and spend time together outside, talking, just being.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the LES?
Walked out of my building one day three summers ago, and Kramer [actor Michael Richards, from Seinfeld] was standing next to my building, alone, taking close-up photos of bricks on the building facades. The block was empty. Summertime empty. Just he and I on the block. We acknowledged each other and I went on my way. It was pure strange.
Tell us your best LES memory.
When the lights came back on after Hurricane Sandy.