A Max Fish timeline: 1989--2013

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  • 1989: A bar is born

    Wedged in between a paper store and "the pillow man" (a Hasidic Jew who sold down comforters), Max Fish began life as a squatter hangout and makeshift gallery. The name was an abbreviation of Max Fisch, the previous tenant who sold Judaica out of the storefront (the original lettering is still visible above the door). "I think the rent was like $2,500 when we first opened. The landlord gave us a few months to get set up," recalls owner Ulli Rimkus. In the first year, the bar hosted its first big salon---the Atomic Art Show---with work by artists such as Linus Coraggio, Tony Feher and Olivia Beens.

  • 1990: The New York Times weighs in

    "Max Fish is not only the life of the Lower East Side; at the moment, it is one of the most 'happening' bar scenes in all of downtown," wrote the Gray Lady in a nightlife roundup that also included the Knitting Factory and a rock club called Downtown Beirut II. "The crowd is young and attractive, if a bit scruffy; it is not unusual to see a few motorcycles parked out front and helmets piled on top of the jukebox."

    1991: The Pink Pony opens (pictured)

    Rimkus expanded into an adjacent space, opening a bohemian caf that hosted film screenings and musical performances. "It had a total life of its own---there was a lot of new avant-garde music," says Rimkus. "Iggy Pop used to live in the neighborhood. He was always a star. He would come sit at the Pink Pony."

  • 1992: Saturday Night Live pays a visit

    "They were putting together an opening trailer [for the TV show] and they wanted to use a shot from the bar," says Rimkus. "It was still a pretty hard-core neighborhood when they did it. Somebody called in a bomb threat during the shoot, and the police came and we all had to go in the street. It was crowded in the street, but nobody really cared...it was really fun."

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Max Fish

    2002: Shepard Fairey takes over the bathroom

    Bathroom art installations became a creative way to cover the stalls' notorious grime. Fairey plastered it with his now--world-famous OBEY image as part of a two-man show with illustrator Travis Millard. "I remember that the graffiti legend SEEN came to that opening, which blew me away. I think I sold some stuff, but mainly I was just psyched to have work in there."

  • 2004: Dash Snow gets eighty-sixed

    For a drinking hole in an unsavory part of town, Max Fish always managed to maintain a comfortable vibe---regulars say that patrons respected Rimkus too much to bring trouble into the bar. And so when art-world bad boy Dash Snow started a fight, he earned himself a temporary ban from drinking there. "He was a great kid, and hanging out there since he was pretty damn young, and really, for all the troubles, I think the whole scene he found around Ludlow was really good for him at the time," remembers Paper art editor (and longtime Max Fish host) Carlo McCormick. "There were a bunch of stupid fights, mostly on the street rather than inside the bar, and I'm pretty sure Dash got in the middle of a few of them. Lots of it was graffiti-related shit, like beefs between the Tats Cru and IRAK."

  • 2005: The death of Nicole duFresne

    Max Fish became an unlikely character in the high-profile murder of the young actress, who was shot by an armed mugger after leaving the bar. "We all made shirts that said FRY RUDING FLEMING," remembers Vice cofounder Gavin McInnes, referring to the gunman. Richard Price's 2008 novel Lush Life revolves around a homicide that echoes the duFresne case.

  • Photograph: Elie Z. Perler

    Mid-2000s: Gentrification takes its toll on Ludlow Street

    The first high-rise in the neighborhood---now the Hotel on Rivington---went up in 2004, and the Ludlow Hotel began construction immediately adjacent to Max Fish in 2008. "I feel like our neighborhood's been destroyed by Bloomberg since he changed the zoning and let in skyscrapers," says Michelle Myles, who owns Dare Devil Tattoo, next door. "It was super damaging to Ulli to have scaffolding [covering the iconic neon cigarette above the entrance]."

  • 2008: Florent shutters

    The demise of Florent Morellet's landmark diner in the Meatpacking District felt auspicious to Rimkus. "I had gone to Florent for forever. It was very sad to see it close, because I sort of knew that eventually it was going to happen here."

  • Photograph: Courtesy of OHWOW Gallery

    2009: The Fish heads to Miami Beach

    To mark the bar's 20th anniversary, art collective OHWOW created a full-scale replica of Max Fish at Art Basel. It poured cheap drinks, hosted live musical performances and served as a hub for visitors to the contemporary-art fair.

  • Photograph: Courtesy of etnies

    2009: Etnies releases a Max Fish collaboration

    The California footwear company honored the bar's deep roots in skateboarding and streetwear with a limited-edition skate shoe designed for the staff. The etnies x Max Fish RSS sneaker immediately became a coveted piece of LES memorabilia.

  • 2010: Dark days

    News that Max Fish would shutter on January 30, 2011, sparked widespread mourning at the end of 2010. "Someone said to me, 'It's like a dark cloud went over New York,'" Rimkus told us at the time. "I came here when there was nothing and helped the neighborhood, and now I get kicked out....It's what New York [has come] to---'I've got more money than you, get the fuck out.' It's weird, right? People forgive everything if it's about money." Fun City Tattoo artist Chuck Donogue remembers bartender Tino Razo (who's largely credited with attracting the bar's heavy skateboarding clientele) bringing him the idea for a Max Fish memorial tattoo. Other devotees followed suit, including skate pro Kevin "Spanky" Long (pictured).

  • 2011: One more year!

    On January 11, Paper reported that Arwen Properties, the building's landlord, had renogiated with Rimkus to allow her to keep the bar open until January 30, 2012. "It's better news," says Rimkus. "At least everyone can keep their jobs." She's been actively seeking an alternative location downtown ("Brooklyn could be plan B"), but for now, a Ludlow Street legend lives on. Our advice: Bring cash, and don't forget to tip your bartender.

  • 2013: Max Fish moves on

    The final pint has been poured, the last cigarette butts have been swept—the Ludlow Street staple closed after service on July 29, due to rent spikes and lease disagreements. Over the past few weeks, the dive has hosted a farewell tour of sorts, including a live set by Mobb Deep of Prodigy, a final art exhibition fittingly titled “End of Days” and, lastly, a raucous goodbye bash that drew in nostalgic locals and artsy famous folk like Moby and Scissor Sisters drummer Patrick Seacor. Owner Uli Rimkus plans to debut Max Fish 2.0 this fall in—where else?—Williamsburg.

1989: A bar is born

Wedged in between a paper store and "the pillow man" (a Hasidic Jew who sold down comforters), Max Fish began life as a squatter hangout and makeshift gallery. The name was an abbreviation of Max Fisch, the previous tenant who sold Judaica out of the storefront (the original lettering is still visible above the door). "I think the rent was like $2,500 when we first opened. The landlord gave us a few months to get set up," recalls owner Ulli Rimkus. In the first year, the bar hosted its first big salon---the Atomic Art Show---with work by artists such as Linus Coraggio, Tony Feher and Olivia Beens.

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