Friday, August 2, 2013

Max Fish is Dead, Long Live Max Fish

These are some pictures from the last few nights of Max Fish.

I first went to Max Fish in 2001, just after moving to the city from Iowa. I remember looking for the bathroom and seeing a skate video playing on the TV near the back, and I immediately knew the place was good. 12 years later, as I stood in the same spot watching another in a years-long succession of skate videos, I found out the bar would soon be packing up and moving to Brooklyn.

A bar is a weird thing. Essentially it’s just a room with booze and music and strangers. There are roughly 18,000 bars in New York.  Most serve the same booze and many play similar music. In the end, you pick a bar based on the type of strangers you hope to meet. If you keep going back, the strangers slowly reveal themselves as a community (no matter how dysfunctional) and eventually you may start to feel a part of that community. Somewhere along the line that bar becomes “your” bar.

I think anyone that went to Max Fish twice felt like it was “their” bar, at least a little. Known as a place for artists and skaters and ‘creative types’ (read: drug users) in reality it was a hodgepodge of just about everyone who found themselves downtown and looking for an interesting place to kill some time. Funny expression, that.  

In the final weeks and days of Max Fish on Ludlow Street there were literally thousands of people that passed through to have one last drink. People flew in from all over the country to close the place out. Each ‘generation’ had their own trove of cherished stories, and each group seemed to feel their era or crew had the most ‘authentic’ Max Fish experience.  You could see everyone felt as if they belonged to something special within that room; a community both sprawling and somehow singular to them.

Max Fish was many things to many people. For me it was a place to go with the hope of encountering an interesting stranger.  In times when long and isolated hours at work left me desperate for human contact and socially crippled, I could go to the bar and stand alone watching skate videos and soak in the humanity, even if at a distance. Though occasionally lonely, I never felt awkward lurking there. 

In time I found friendships that gave me great comfort. Just to sit and talk to someone at the end of the day, to feel a kinship not only with your fellow barfly but with the vast community of Max Fish (both past and present) was a powerful and meaningful thing. It’s the type of community I moved to New York hoping to find, a sort of Island of Misfit Toys, and I think that’s why losing it is so painful for so many.

I always avoided taking pictures at the bar. I didn't want to make people uncomfortable and frankly I don’t think most pictures of people hanging out in a bar are that interesting. Only in the last few nights before closing did I try to capture a few snapshots of the room and the strangers with whom I've spent so much time. I’m glad to have them.

Thank you to Ulli and everyone at Max Fish!  See you on the other side (of the East River.)