A magnet for artists
Here are more items from my storage room. All kinds of creative people were attracted to Life Cafe and the East Village. In 1989, a painter stood across the street from Life Cafe along Tompkins Square Park and painted this street scene from the corner of 10th St. and Ave. B. Indeed, you often saw artists painting in the streets, and still do.
A painting by street artist of Life Cafe from 1989.
He came into the cafe carrying this painting and offered to sell it to us. We didn’t know him, but David Life and I were open and it didn’t cost very much, so we bought it. In fact, we regularly gave “loans” that were never paid back and free food to artists. At least we were getting a painting for our money. Do you recognize the signature or know something about this painter?
Detail of signature of street artist on painting of Life Cafe that hung in cafe 1989 to 2012
Another item from my stash is a letter with an unusual request accompanied by a painting from a local living on E. 7th St. I remembered being puzzled about how it arrived. I wondered who the author/artist J.T. Colfax was and why he felt it was so necessary that we received his message, except that plenty of people came in and if we hung it, it’d be seen, as he wished. I was always intrigued with the request and honoring it, left both the painting and his letter on display at the cafe for years. The artist never let himself known to me, however. I’d love to hear from anyone who may know who J.T. Colfax is.
A strange message left at Life Cafe by J.T Colfax in the 1980s.
More Life Cafe and RENT Artifacts Unearthed
Here are a few more treats dusted off from the storage room. All hung at the Life Cafe in the East Village. More to come.
RENT poster that hung in the E. 10th St. window of Life Cafe from 1997 to 2012
Piece of a wall from the Neiderlander Theatre during demolition after the closing of RENT on Broadway. Gift to Kathy Life by two RENT fans, 2009.
Another gifted piece of wall from the Neiderlander Theatre taken during demolition of the theater after the closing of RENT on Broadway, 2009
A collection of Life Cafe photos from the 1980s that hung in Life Cafe after 2000.
A photo of the bar at Life Cafe East Village circa 1984
“TRACKS” to the Avenue B Toilet
Avenue B Bathroom January 1985
Here are some photos of two more items found in storage. These came from the Avenue B restroom of Life Cafe in the East Village. One is a metal mirror that I hung and the other is a piece hung by David Life, TRACKS. Both became full of grafitti over time. This was the last mirror I hung in that bathroom, because all the others got stolen. I guess it was just too heavy. I wrote about that bathroom in my (as yet to be published) memoir “How Life Began”. An excerpt from the book about the goings on around that toilet is included here. Enjoy, if you can. Those were really rough times and that bathroom represented the worst of it.
Metal mirror covered in graffiti that hung for years in Life Cafe Avenue B bathroom
We learned the facts of Lower East Side life fast. We learned how to distinguish a real troublemaker from a pest, what they looked like and how they acted. We learned how to diffuse a potentially menacing situation and to deal with the perpetrators. With Billy’s backup and help from our regulars, we gained more confidence each time a situation flew in our faces – and there were many. But it was always scary. The trick, though, was to not act scared.
Detail of graffiti on mirror from Life Cafe Avenue B toilet
Homeless people came in to use our restroom and to bathe. We didn’t like them doing that. They left a wet mess and a bad smell over everything. To stop this we removed the locks from the restroom doors to eliminate the sense of a secure, private space. That didn’t work, and it made our customers uncomfortable. And some got mad.
Particularly Gerome Ragni, a co-author of HAIR, the American tribal love-rock musical of the 1960s. He and his partner, James Rado, who became lunch regulars around this time, were good-looking, animated, friendly and talkative. They told me they were currently working on a new musical called “Sun” and were hoping to collaborate with Paul McCartney and use some of his music for it. Gerry was quite particular to order very healthy food. One day when they were having their usual lunch, I needed to use the toilet. I opened the door to the Avenue B bathroom and found myself looking at Gerry’s very cute bum. He threw me a nasty glance over his shoulder along with a few choice words. You wouldn’t think a creator of HAIR would be so upset about someone seeing his naked bum.
So, we installed locks to get in, giving the staff control of the key and who got access to the toilet. That worked to an extent, but being bathroom sentry was the least favorite job in the café especially because it was often impossible to tell the junkies and the homeless from our real customers, some of who were junkies. Try as we might, we just couldn’t keep all the heroin addicts and homeless out.
Railroad crossing tracks sign remind of track marks on the arms of heroin users
It was an education and an insight into a hellish world; the type of person who used heroin turned out to be surprising. Not all junkies live rough and look like Bowery bums. Some were well dressed and lived uptown. Still, our bottom line was, no matter who they were, we didn’t want junkies doing their nasty business on our premises, nor did we want the responsibility of dealing with an overdose or a death. Every now and then it happened. We could tell from the blood splattered on the walls. Unfortunately, we did have to call the police to haul a body or two out.
In his typical style, to verify and defy the reality of the situation, David hung a piece from his antique and junk collection from Michigan on one of the walls of the Avenue B toilet. It was one section of two making up an “X”, a typical railroad crossing sign, “TRACKS” that he originally installed in the dining room. Railroad tracks, the ones he used to like to trek on in Lansing, Michigan, the ones he dragged me along after we began dating because I hadn’t developed the stamina to endure long walks and hiking with him yet. Track marks, the pink lines and red dots left from needle injections on the arms of heroin users. After hanging on that toilet wall for years, its mocking message went mostly unnoticed. Its taunting presence didn’t seem to spark any bit of consciousness, awareness, or irony in those bathroom occupants. I thought it was an apt reminder of our sad everyday reality.
Detail of graffiti from Mirror from Life Cafe Avenue B Toilet
A weapon can help build confidence and show intent. Nervous and fed up at the same time over the toilet problem, Dave decided to keep a baseball bat behind the counter as a device to scare junkies out of our bathroom. When the staff realized the toilet was occupied for a particularly long period of time, they’d tell Dave. With great determination, he would march up to the door, pound on it and yell out, “Get out of there! We don’t allow junkies in here. Get out – NOW!” As disgusting as the task was, I think deep down, if just a little bit, Dave liked making a scene out of it. Of course, whenever this happened everyone in the café watched in anticipation of a big row, although the point was only to humiliate the person inside. But public humiliation only worked to a point. We usually got the occupant to leave, but it did little to discourage more junkies from returning. These were desperate people who needed their fix, no matter what.
“Think Pink” Graffiti on TRACKS sign in Life Cafe Avenue B Toilet
One quiet afternoon I noticed that a customer had been waiting a long while to use the restroom, and she was obviously getting desperate. Dave wasn’t around, so, with great consternation, I did what he always did, what had to be done. I grabbed the bat, went over and knocked loudly on the door and yelled to whoever was inside to open the door and get out. A female voice from within began shouting angrily at me, and she refused to come out. Knowing you couldn’t lock the door from inside, I tried opening it but couldn’t. I could feel the resistance of her body near the bottom of the door; she had braced herself with her back against the door and her legs against the wall.
Details from TRACKS sign that hung in Life Cafe Avenue B bathroom
That was it. I wasn’t about to have a Junkie’s Last Stand in my bathroom. Who the hell did she think she was? She’s mad at me? This was my place, my dream. I called 911 and thank God for once the cops quickly came. I’ll give them credit; they patiently talked to her until the message finally got through that she might be spending the rest of the day and the night in another small room. She finally calmed down and agreed to come out. When the door slowly opened I began to feel a sense of relief. She knew she was beaten in one respect. But as for me, in retaliation, on her way out and in the arms of the cops, in one last lash out she bashed the bathroom door with a fierce kick putting a huge hole in it. My relief faded and my heart sank. As the police got her under control and led her away, I dejectedly stared at the damage and wondered anxiously where I was going to find the money to replace that door. And although I did not turn to watch where the police escorted her, I felt the intense energy of her presence slip out of the café and considered how, that despondent desperate stranger, possessed with an obsessive craving for drugs, came to look for and didn’t find solace in a cramped, lonely Alphabet City bathroom.
Graffiti detail on TRACKS sign in Life Cafe Avenue B bathroom
Real East Village Life Cafe Artifacts Unsurfaced
RENTheads who used Airbnb last performances of RENT
Hey RENTheads! A radio producer is looking for any of you who used Airbnb August 2008. I told him I’d pass on his request, see below.
Benjamen Walker (host of the podcast Theory of everything, part of Radiotopia.fm, also makes radio for NPR, BBC, ABC) is looking for Rent fans who came to NYC in September of 2008 for the final performances who used the brand new Airbnb service (they launched in August 2008). He is hoping to interview these individuals for a series he is doing about the sharing economy, Rent, and New York City. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can find him on twitter here @benjamenwalker.
RENThead Registers and the Jonathan Larson Bench at Life Cafe, East Village, NYC
HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE
And a very joyful New Year.
To help you start out the New Year with a smile, here’s John Sunderland’s Life Cafe Menu Picture Riddle titled “Seasonal Pick” (it was a section heading from the Life Cafe Drinks menu that listed the beers on tap we offered for that season).
“Seasonal Pick”, Menu Picture Riddle by John Sunderland
One last shot I found in my archive, Christmas 2011.
Santas at East Village Life Cafe
LIFE CAFE TABLE TOPS FOR SALE
August 4, 2014
This is a very special event and a limited time offer — I’m selling all the original collaged table tops from the East Village Life Cafe. Wouldn’t you love to have one?
Horned Man – Table 4 at Bench next to 10th Street Window
Oh the memories . . . .
Cars around Coffee Cup
If you don’t get one, they might just go to Museum of the City of New York instead. This is your chance.
Raquel Welsh Table
I’ll be in the Bushwick area early September. The tables will be available for about a week while I’m there. Email me at email@example.com and let me know which one you want and to make arrangements.
Each is unique. They would make wonderful table tops; they would make better wall art.
Most if not all of the tables are shown here. There are about twenty of them; 17 measure about 30″ x 30″ and 3 measure about 24″ x 24″. The stands are not included.
Come to think of it, I believe there are only two 24″ tables — I donated one to Adelphi University. It’s on display in the lobby of the AU PAC (Adelphi University Performing Arts Center) along with the Jonathan Larson Bench and a collaged wall panel from Life Cafe as well as a stage panel from the original stage production of RENT at the Nederlander Theater that I also donated.
Baby Toot Table
I’m selling them for a little more than I paid the artists to make them. They used actual pages from vintage Life Magazines from the 40s, 50s and 60s. The large tops are $125 and the small $100 and include the dried up bubble gum on the bottoms, a real piece of New York City history.That’s a bargain and your luck as I must sell them quickly.
They were produced around 1996/1997 by two artists. One was David Chambard, a French painter, who I met in his studio/home in the Woodstock area. Last I heard he’s living and selling his art in Paris. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the second artist’s name. If you remember him, please let me know. He also had one or two art shows at Life Cafe.
Cover, How Life Began, a Memoir
Did you meet your significant other at Life Cafe? Maybe this was the table at which you sat when your life changed for the better.
These are the tables of legend, the ones upon which Jonathan Larson envisaged his cast of East Village characters dancing while singing La Vie Boheme.
These are the tables actually danced upon in real life by hordes of RENT fans from around the world at special RENT events at Life Cafe.
Soaring through Life
I met 4 lead members from the Japanese cast of RENT at these tables when they came to see a Broadway performance.
Funny Man Face
During a second visit by the entire Japanese cast, all 20+ of them sang La Vie Boheme in English, then again in Japanese to the astonishment and delight of all our customers during a busy brunch.
That was a tear jerking, stunning moment for me. Oh, the memories.
Hallway with Door
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Think about it.
But not for too long.
You can also leave me a comment below. But it’s better to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So many lives passed across these tables at Life Cafe.
Lovers, poets, the lonely, dreamers, thinkers, actors with and without parts to play.
The coffees, the beers, the losers and the leaders. All lives at Life passed across here.
If tables could talk, imagine what you could hear. Imagine what conversations you might have.
I’ll be in Bushwick the first week of September. Email me your interest at email@example.com and I’ll respond immediately. If you’re not in New York City and need a table top shipped, I’ll attempt to make those arrangements and there will be additional handling and shipping costs.
CRAVING TAHINI DRESSING ON MY TONGUE
1 July 2014
It was a typical lovely late morning in the hills of Tarbena of the Costa Blanca, Spain.
Tarbena Town Square
Lunchtime was around the corner and I had to prepare something. That’s when it just hit me — a sudden craving for steamed veggies, fresh greens, brown rice and the taste of Life Cafe’s Tahini Dressing on my tongue. Tahini Dressing was the final glorious touch on the Life Salad, the most popular salad ever at Life Cafe. Whenever I didn’t feel quite right physically, a Life Salad seemed to always put me straight. It was delicious.
Fortunately I had a small jar of white sesame tahini in my kitchen cabinet. It’s not easy to find sesame paste in Spanish supermercados. Fortunately, there are a few health food stores in the surrounding towns. Unbelievably, I recently discovered that I can purchase tahini and even miso down the street from the village square at my local Farmicia (all of 100 square feet large) in Tarbena, population 809 as of 2012!
They also have lots of other non-gluten and macrobiotic food items as well. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted a small bag of textured vegetable protein, an essential ingredient in Life Cafe’s Vegetarian Chili. And if there’s something that I want and it’s not on the shelf, they’ll order it for me. This is not Walgreens with their large aisle of junk food, not by a long-shot. Thank God.
Health Food Selection in Tarbena Farmacia
I searched through my Life Cafe recipes and costing sheets listing ingredients and found it. Eureka. I’ve been hoarding these recipes for years as I’m including many of them in my memoir, “How Life Began”. And I was very glad I did. I got down to work and put it all together. “Perfect,” I squealed out loud once I blended the chopped parsley fresh off my terrace container garden and dipped my finger in for a taste.
Parsley on Terrace Garden
As I poked my fork into the veggies and rice, staring at the smooth, lemony sauce dripping down the warm nutty brown rice I became suddenly overwhelmed by one thought — I must continue to share this wonderful dish. I must get Life Cafe’s recipes out there. It inspired me to plan the final edit of the book. (I finished the story but put it aside to help John edit and self publish his own memoir, On My Way to Jorvik. He had a publishing deadline with only four months left to go to have the book ready for Jorvik’s 30th anniversary.) In the meantime, I wrote this blog to share the recipe.
This recipe makes about one and a half cups. It stores well in the fridge — but I doubt you’ll have to worry about that. It’s so good you’ll probably put it on everything you eat for the next three days. Enjoy!
LIFE CAFE TAHINI DRESSING
- 1 cup sesame tahini (white)
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/8 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil (use toasted sesame oil for a special sesame kick)
- 1 tablespoon soy oil
Mix all the ingredients by hand in a large mixing bowl or in a food processor. Add water to thin as desired.
Bea, our lovely farmaceutico (pharmacist) in Tarbena. She told me she loves New York City.
Full Moon Life Café Tuesday Night Poetry Readings and Zombies in Tompkins Square Park in the 1980s – Part 3 of 3
A snippet from the memoir by Kathy Life, “How Life Began: A Story of Hope, Love and Huevos Rancheros at Life Café in the East Village of New York City”
Art Installation on the walls of Life Cafe, circa 1984 by Dragon Illiac
Readings were confrontational, fractious and contentious. Art in the East Village was polemical; everyone had an agenda. Dave’s reaction was to open up the doors of the Café to all and to everything. He wanted us to be a salon for creative attitudes and ideas and created an “anything goes” environment.
View of corner of 10th Street and Avenue B from inside Life Cafe, circa 1984
Tex and another regular at Life Cafe, circa 1983
It felt anarchic and lawless and it was during the poetry readings that the presenters expressed their agendas most powerfully and publicly. People came from diverse locations making the neighborhood a living fusion; a combination of Americans from Hawaii to New Jersey and immigrants from Puerto Rico and Europe blended with a mix of native New Yorkers. A powerful force had called us all to this place and this time, allowing us to set aside whatever identity we came with in order to dance in the cultural crucible. And Life Cafe was the place where it all got mixed together.
Miguel Algarin and Miguel Pinero with Billy Bang (with head band) at Life Cafe, NYC, circa 1983
Some of the sessions had featured readers like Miguel Piñero, Pedro Pietri and Miguel Algarin (founders of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and Bob Holman (who first brought the Poetry Slam from Chicago to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe) as well as Ed Sanders (of the Fugs), Emily Carter and Hugh Seidman all of whom, to my delight, drew their own audiences who were attentive, and respectful. Once the reading was done though, most of their audience left. Our regulars didn’t mix easily with the serious poetry crowd
Jazz performance at Life Cafe, NYC, circa 1983
The poetry readings attracted lots of attention. People began to approach David to perform, to put it out in front of their peers. Besides the Tuesday night poetry readings, Life Cafe became a performance venue for music, performance art, stand-up comedy, theater, art installations, and fashion shows.
Billy Bang accompanying Migual Pinero with his violin during a poetry reading as part of a performance by David Life, circa 1983
Avant-garde and free jazz notables that played were many. Names I recall include David Murray, Butch Morris, William Parker, Wilber Morris, Don Cherry, Roy Campbell, Denis Charles, Billy Bang, Clarence “C” Sharpe, and Frank Lowe and I’m pretty sure Rashied Ali, (who worked with John Coltrane). Charlie Parker used to live across the street on Avenue B (now also named Charlie Parker Place), well before we arrived on the scene so the Lower East Side/East Village had a strong avant-garde jazz history.
Sadek, a manager at Life Cafe, circa 1983
Other musical performers included John Zorn, Bill Laswell. There were art performers like Ann Magnuson, Kembra Pfahler (of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black fame), and Gerard Little. Soft spoken and polite Gerard was the nephew of Frankie Lymon, the fallen 1950s R & B star. He was an entertainer and often billed himself as “Frankie Lymon’s Nephew” performing at the Pyramid Club during its drag-scene heyday as well as at the infamous Club 57 on St. Marks Place and P.S. 122. Gerard was also a costume designer for the theatrical genius Ethyl Eichelberger (a drag performer, playwright and actor) in the 80s. Gerard vogued before it became mainstream as part of his music performance act. On the nights he didn’t perform he mopped floors for us and helped us to close down the Cafe last thing at night.
A waitress at Life Cafe, NYC, whose stage name was “Sharon Tate”, circa 1984
Particularly memorable for me were the times I served Life food to a couple of cultural icons. To Allen Ginsberg, who was dining alone one very quiet weekday afternoon, I served a cup of my homemade Life Vegetarian Chili. (In fact, every time I did see him in the East Village he was alone and very quiet.) And I placed a Life Sandwich before Phillip Glass, who attended a special Sunday Brunch music series event that we’d hosted and which was organized by Bill Laswell (Mr. Glass lived in a lovely brick townhouse on East 3rd Street at 1st Avenue I was told). I didn’t say a word to either; I just put down their plates and held my breath.
JOHN SUNDERLAND LAUNCHES “ON MY WAY TO JORVIK”
KATHY LIFE AND JOHN SUNDERLAND EMERGE FROM THE MISTS OF TIME
Hi folks. Remember us? Kathy Life and her husband, John Sunderland?
You know, Kathy the owner of Life Cafe that used to be on E. 10th St. and Ave. B in NYC? And on Flushing Avenue in Bushwick? And John who from 2005 chalked his heart out on the walls of Life Cafe East Village and Bushwick? Who made over 200 humorous pastel riddle drawings of the Life Cafe menu items and made you guess what they were?
John chalking on the wall at Life Cafe 983
Well, we’re back with some exciting news. John has published his memoir, On My Way to Jorvik: How a boy with vision became the project designer of Britain’s ground-breaking museum, the Jorvik Viking Centre. We are most proud. And we’re currently in York, England, the home of the Jorvik Viking Museum launching his book during Jorvik’s 30th Anniversary celebrations. John’s been given a very big welcome. After all, Jorvik has been a fantastic catalyst for the regeneration of this unique historic city. We’ll tell you more about it in later posts.
But first, here’s what the book’s about:
‘Why can’t museums be more like films?’ thought eleven-year-old John Sunderland whilst truanting from double maths incognito in his school gabardine and cap in a Yorkshire city museum. That idea simmered for 23 years throughout his multi-media design career during which he created the legendary iconic cartoon character ‘Dusty Bin’ of 3*2*1, the Yorkshire Television quiz game show, and made films with Kenny Everett. Then, unexpectedly, his path led to the Vikings of York.
Early Dusty Bin sketch by John Sunderland
There, against all odds, he became Project Designer of the original Jorvik Viking Centre. His bold interpretation of York Archaeological Trust’s original concept based on their incredible finds from the Coppergate dig transported visitors 1,000 years back in time immersing them in a captured moment one afternoon in the busy streets of the great Viking city, Jorvik. This revolutionary approach to the interpretation of York’s Viking history in 1984 had an immediate and lasting impact on the way Britain’s cultural heritage would be presented from then on.
Journal sketch of old man in house interior
Wattle and daub house interior with family figures including old man from sketch
In his humorous heart-warming memoir, John takes us on the up and down journey of how, without any previous museum design experience, he and a uniquely talented hand-picked team came to design and build the first ever populist archaeological exhibition in Britain.
Early concept sketch of starting platform cellar
Colin Pyrah and family test drive a Time Car
John’s story is loaded with Yorkshire wit that reveals how he used intuitive creative thinking to put visitors inside the story instead of on the outside looking in. Finally, a museum more like a film, and a lot more fun.
The book is available at Amazon, Kindle and www.createspace.com/4610455.
We’d love it if you’d take a look, pick one up and give it a review on Amazon. We just know you’re gonna love it.
On My Way to Jorvik available on Kindle