Ukiah… Montreal… Buenos Aires… Buffalo… San Francisco… Berlin…Chicago… Talin… Tel Aviv… Tokyo… from the four corners to the crossroads of the world and the LES, the very crotch of Manhattan. To one-way Rivington Street on the Lower East Side, half a block from the projects. A kind of orphan street, in the shadow and rumble of the Williamsburg Bridge, where a stolid, unassuming tenement kept a secret tucked away behind it. Up the stoop, past Tomas with his cigarettes and coffee, through the graffiti-tagged doors, around the inside staircase and down past the rats into the 202 Rivington backyard – using “yard” loosely to describe the brick Victorian tunnel-alley that led to the elevated open-air backlot cement platform of art.les.nyc studios and its world famous Tiki Bar.
World famous? Certainly for the artists, writers, poets, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, wrestlers (yes), and spectators who straggled in from the storm to gather around the thatch-roofed bar in the corner under the fire escape, all of whom contributed in some way to the recognition and redemption of an LES artistic heritage ploughed under by the forces of artificial gentrification. On any given night, sitting at the bamboo bar by the illuminated globe, under the hanging skulls and tarp roof and fairy lights on that concrete beach, you could chat with a photographer from Helsinki, a painter from Melbourne, a cartoonist from Schaghticoke, a guitarist from Estonia, all of them refugee or resident New Yorkers, whether for a night or a decade.