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MY LES: James Habacker

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James Habacker
Photo by John Goddard

My LES For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with The Sipper Room owner, performer and producer James Habacker.


How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?

I’ve lived in downtown Manhattan since 1985. The Slipper Room has been on the Lower East Side since 1999.

Why did you move here? Or, if you were born here, why did you stay?

I’m a native New Yorker. This city is home. I can’t imagine myself ever living anywhere other than New York.

What do you do?

I am an artist. I am currently working on making my second feature film. I perform every week at my theater, The Slipper Room. I am also an impresario. I curate all of the Slipper Room variety shows.

Tell us about your apartment—the good, the bad and the ugly.

My wife and I lived on Jane Street for almost 20 years in a little railroad apartment. I would have stayed there forever, but we have two kids and they were getting too big, so we moved to Peter Cooper Village. It has no charm at all and corporate management, but the apartment is big enough to raise our kids in. When they move out, we’ll move into something smaller in the village again.

What’s your favorite spot on the LES?

Well, the Slipper Room is my favorite spot on the LES. It’s my other home. I am always sure to see some friends, and there is always an interesting band or show to see.

Favorite cheap eats?

I like Wolfnights on Rivington Street.

Favorite place for a special night?

Sauce is a great place to have a really fine meal in a sweet atmosphere.

How have you seen the neighborhood change?

The whole city has changed so much, but I think it’s more apparent downtown. The neighborhood used to attract artists who needed to be in a place where they could live the way they wanted and express themselves in a creative environment. Now the city is so expensive, the culture is consumed with money, and conformity reigns.

What do you miss from the old LES?

When I first opened The Slipper Room it was a neighborhood joint. There were so many local characters. I chose the area because of how many theaters there were. Now I feel like we’re the last theater left.

Is there a new arrival you love?

My wife Camille and I have recently rediscovered The Hat [El Sombrero], which has been revamped under new owners. The staff is very friendly and the food is amazing

What drives you crazy about the neighborhood?

I try not to let anything drive me crazy, but I am not too fond of the discount bars, which attract crowds who are just in our neighborhood to get blotto.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the LES?

Too many strange things, good and bad. One Wednesday night very late, we had just finished up our show when we heard a ruckus out on the street. I looked outside and there was a full marching band coming up Stanton Street. They had no permit, it was an art project, and the cops were closing in, ready to arrest them all, so I opened the door and waved them in. Without stopping their song, they marched right in and onto the stage. The sergeant was not happy, but he let them continue to perform at our place.

Who’s the best neighborhood character you’ve met, and why?

James Kenny, our doorman at The Slipper Room. He’s been on the street for the last 15 years, knows everyone and has a great attitude. He is a hold-out from the old days, and people who come to the Slip from around the world really appreciate him and his cheery demeanor.

Tell us your best LES memory.

My wedding reception. Camille and I got married on the roof of the Chelsea Hotel and held our reception at the newly built Slip. When we pulled up in the vintage car we hired, everyone was outside. Camille was excited that they all came out to see us.

I pointed out that they weren’t sure when we would arrive, and I doubted that they were waiting for us. Turns out the new ovens had a coating on them, and when they first heated them the whole place filled up with smoke. We got it aired out and it was a great night after all, but we still get a good laugh about that.

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