Ulli Rimkus and company were bleary-eyed but no less ecstatic late last night as Community Board 3’s liquor licensing panel voted in support of Max Fish’s resurrection plan at 120 Orchard St. The legendary bar, which closed on Ludlow Street after nearly a quarter century last summer, now appears poised for a second act on the Lower East Side.
During the discussion, which began close to 1 a.m., supporters and CB3 members alike agreed that a new version of Max Fish could help restore some much needed local authenticity to the neighborhood’s nightlife scene. The two-level space, which has been home to Gallery Bar, is much larger than the original Ludlow Street location. This time around, Rimkus is taking on several partners, former Max Fish staff members Gabriel Rosner, Mar Razo, Harry Druzd and Jaleel Bunton. She intended to reopen in Williamsburg, but things did not work out with the space she originally planned to lease.
Attorney Donald Bernstein emphasized Rimkus’s strong ties to the community (she still lives on Ludlow), noted that the team had collected more than 240 signatures. The bar, he said is “sorely missed,” adding, “this is a chance to have Ulli stay in the community.”
Several residents spoke in favor of the proposal. One former regular, photographer Brian Boulos, talked about the community spirit that always prevailed. He said the bar was like his living room, a place to meet friends and hang out no matter his mood. “Ulli deserves to be on the Lower East Side,” Boulos said. “That’s where Max Fish belongs.” David Hershovits, founder of Paper Magazine, argued that Max Fish’s return would be a statement against gentrification and against people who want to “exploit”the neighborhood. “It would be a great signal to everyone,” he said, “to enable Ulli to come back. It’s the best thing that could be done in the community.” Another speaker was Meghan Joye, a community board member and co-owner of Lucky Jack’s, a bar located across the street from Gallery Bar. Joye said she’s been concerned about who takes over the space. “I want someone on the block who won’t bring douchbags,” she said. “I don’t like the crowd a lot of places are bringing to the neighborhood,” Joye explained. She called Rimkus “an invested member in the community” who would have a positive influence on the stretch of Orchard above Delancey Street.
At one point, Rimkus was asked whether she was concerned about making the new business work in a large, expensive space. In the past, she has said that escalating rent on Ludlow Street was one reason she closed the original location. But last night, she explained that the biggest factor had been hostility from her landlord. “He wanted me out,” Rimkus said.
The only opposition last night came from members of the LES Dwellers, a local neighborhood group. While acknowledging Max Fish’s many contributions to the neighborhood’s arts community, they argued that the size of the space as well as the new location posed problems. They also criticized Rimkus’s decision to leave a liquor license in place on Ludlow Street, where Sweet Chick, a fried chicken restaurant, is poised to open.
In the end, Max Fish won support for a full bar, with operating hours until 4 a.m. each day. The liquor permit now must be approved by the State Liquor Authority.