Max Fish Owner Ulli Rimkus: ‘We’ll Take the Spirit and Everything Else With Us’

Photo: Patrick McMullan

When we heard that Max Fish was closing its sacred double doors, we had to hear it from owner Ulli Rimkus ourselves. When the German-born artist opened the boho clubhouse in 1989, the landlord Mark Glass (a.k.a. Alvin Marcus Weiss) gave her four months free rent to move in, but times have changed, and Weisss son, Mordechai, is ousting the bar for reasons Rimkus can only imagine. Heres what she told us about the situation as it now stands. Lets hope she manages to at least relocate wed hate to see the Fish become another Siberia.

So how certain is it that youll close? And how long has this been in the cards?
Its definite. I tried all year to strike a deal with the owner, and then in the end I just said, If we can't strike a deal, give me an extension, and he drafted this contract that basically said that after the year extension hed be the owner of everything and not leave us with anything, so were getting out. Its over; theres no more negotiation.

Is it true he wanted to triple your rent to $150 per square foot?
He wanted $24,000 and I was like, Wha? He said, can I pay $20,000 and Im like, No. Its not what the prices are in the neighborhood. Weve been talking a whole year for nothing and it was pretty grueling. Its not happening.

Do you have a new location in mind?
I have been looking. Weve been looking now that this is all finalized and over, but nothing. There are possibilities for sure, but I cant say. I havent signed anything.

Do you think itll be hard to faithfully re-create a place that so many people are so intimately familiar with?
Thats what were going to do. Were going to re-create a Max Fish like we did last year in Miami for Art Basel. We did a pop-up and it was so much fun, because we did it really fast and it totally had the essence. People walked in and said, Oh my God, this is so much like Max Fish. I have to look on the positive side. It will be fun.

Did you see this coming? Do you think its just part of the neighborhoods natural evolution?
Gentrification was always a big thing on this block. I moved here years before I opened the bar. It was all Hispanic families and whoever used to be here, and they moved because more and more white people moved in. And now were being kicked out. But I think its more than that the guy wants so much money and its not the going rate in this neighborhood. Theres three different [high-rise] buildings right next to me. Im under scaffolding for two years. Its not very appealing.

If you were to agree to the new rent, is there any chance you could eke by?
I would not even entertain it. Its not like, Oh, I can tighten my belt or anything. No. We have $3 beers here. I think the formula is youre supposed to make your rent in one weekend and everything else pays for everything else, but we dont have that kind of profit here.

Will the cost of relocation drive up your prices?
Maybe therell be some adjustments, but I dont know. Ill try to keep everything the same.

Do you think the loss of places like Mars Bar and Max Fish mean that the character of New York City is changing somehow, or is it just the usual story?
I do think that the alternative culture is being forced to get out, but I dont think we should go. I dont agree. We have a right to live here as much as anyone else.

What are your fondest memories of the place?
Theres so many. Theres so many. We all love this place, and were going to continue. Its the spirit well take the spirit and everything else with us.