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 Weiss’s son, Mordechai, is ousting the bar for reasons Rimkus can only imagine. Here’s what she told us about the situation as it now stands. Let’s hope she manages to at least relocate — we’d hate to see the Fish become another Siberia.

So how certain is it that you’ll close? And how long has this been in the cards?
It’s 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 he’d be the owner of everything and not leave us with anything, so we’re getting out. It’s over; there’s 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 I’m like, “No.” It’s not what the prices are in the neighborhood. We’ve been talking a whole year for nothing and it was pretty grueling. It’s not happening.

Do you have a new location in mind?
I have been looking. We’ve been looking now that this is all finalized and over, but nothing. There are possibilities for sure, but I can’t say. I haven’t signed anything.

Do you think it’ll be hard to faithfully re-create a place that so many people are so intimately familiar with?
That’s what we’re going to do. We’re 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 it’s just part of the neighborhood’s 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 we’re being kicked out. But I think it’s more than that — the guy wants so much money and it’s not the going rate in this neighborhood. There’s three different [high-rise] buildings right next to me. I’m under scaffolding for two years. It’s 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. It’s not like, “Oh, I can tighten my belt” or anything. No. We have $3 beers here. I think the formula is you’re supposed to make your rent in one weekend and everything else pays for everything else, but we don’t have that kind of profit here.

Will the cost of relocation drive up your prices?
Maybe there’ll be some adjustments, but I don’t know. I’ll 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 don’t think we should go. I don’t agree. We have a right to live here as much as anyone else.

What are your fondest memories of the place?
There’s so many. There’s so many. We all love this place, and we’re going to continue. It’s the spirit — we’ll take the spirit and everything else with us.

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