Just after midnight, two firefighters stood on Orchard Street and watched the appendages pop out of an obscenely packed Max Fish. Were they here to shut it down? "No way, we're here to say good luck to Ulli," the burlier one replied. His partner added, "We had a lot of good, long nights at her other space."
On one hand, Max Fish "was just a shitty bar you liked to get shitfaced in," as a photographer in the smoking section put it. Romanticizing those wonder years is what got us in this mess in the first place. The bland wood-paneled speakeasies that crop up like kudzu serve to feed a fetishization of easy living for that demographic who likes to think that their 20s were pretty cool but taste better with bacon-wrapped dates.
On the other hand, where else in the Lower East Side can you get a reasonably priced beer and a stiff drink in a well-lit place with people who don't uniformly suck? I can think of a few places, but I ain't telling. Thus, Max Fish is our messy, cultured ideal of Downtown New York crucified on a rainbow cross of $4 Tecate and bad decisions made amongst good people. The bar plays this role effortlessly, and better than anyone else.
Credit owner Ulli Rimkus for embracing this reality when she corrected her initial decision to move to Williamsburg and settled for the douchebag-haunted corpse of Gallery Bar.
The new space doesn't yawn out into a chasm of weird like its Ludlow forebear, and it felt hotter in the crush. The downstairs isn't open yet, and the pool table is in storage, waiting for the back walls to be demolished so a new generation can spill their beer on the felt and find love.
New Max Fish's real test will come on a Tuesday night, when you suspect you might be losing it and need to sit down to think. Or at 4 a.m. on a Saturday when you're still waiting for the psilocybin to wear off and you require smiles and art. Or when you need a reminder of the sense of community this city still has when people stop looking for all the angles and start enjoying this freak accident of Life.
Max Fish is still a very good bar.