Thursday, October 19, 2017

HiFi Bar


Last night, word circulated on social media that HiFi Bar on Avenue A is closing.

HiFi was Brownie's from 1989 until 2002, when the concept changed a bit. The Voice called it "a quintessential neighborhood music staple in an era when any indie band with a guitar and a cheap band T-shirt to sell could get a record deal." Those bands included The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes, and Death Cab for Cutie.

photo of Stuto by Robert Stolarik, for New York Times

The bar's co-owner Mike Stuto posted yesterday on his Facebook page:

"I (sorta) regret to inform you that my bar HiFi will be closing at the end of this calendar month, ending my 23 year tenure at 169 Avenue A. All parties booked before the end of the month will happen as planned. The story? Quite simply, the renovations we undertook a few years ago to reinvigorate the business were not successful in putting us back on a good financial footing. The generation of people who inhabit this neighborhood on weekends remain mostly indifferent to the place.... while I hoped that would help us have a broad appeal to the newbies, it turns out that it translated as utilitarian (aka boring) to their tastes."

He adds, "I want it to be clear that the building’s landlord is in no way to blame for this outcome." In this case, it wasn't the rent. It was the changing East Village.

In his memorial post last night, Alex Smith at Flaming Pablum noted, "the sting of [Stuto's] observation that the current denizens of the neighborhood are 'indifferent' to the character and legacy of HiFi/Brownie’s remains. Much like the Joe Strummer mural a few blocks to the south and a few other other fleeting signifiers, HiFi is ultimately a fading vestige of the sensibility of a vanished East Village."

As the Times put it in 2014, "Now that the East Village is filled with artisanal restaurants and upscale boutiques, HiFi is no longer just another dive but a tether to this neighborhood’s faded bohemia."

That tether has broken.

photo by Robert Stolarik, for New York Times

Back to the 2015 Voice article:

"Meanwhile, rents kept going up and the East Village continued to gentrify, and so the neighborhood clientele changed.

According to Stuto, the area went from bohemia and blue collar to something he never imagined would occur at his doorstep.

'You never saw someone with a jacket and a briefcase and tie coming out of an apartment in the morning when you were going to work. There were none of those,' Stuto said. 'I still remember the first time I saw one of those people in the neighborhood. The people who use the East Village as a destination today versus the people who used this neighborhood as a destination 20 years ago or more, they’re just different people.'"


  1. "According to Stuto, the area went from bohemia and blue collar to something he never imagined would occur at his doorstep."

    Not accurate, yet typical of the short-sightedness of solipsistic New Yorkers, who are only interested in the world as it directly relates to them.

    The neighborhood went from forest to farmland to an early form of suburbia to lower working class neighborhood to slum to bohemia. Now it's a bourgeois simulacrum of a Midwestern middle class idea of "downtown," much as Epcot Center would portray it.

    Personally, I'd like to see it return to forest.

  2. This sucks, but it's understandable. I'm getting tired of this city. Time for the newbies to take it and run, and for me to find someplace that's still cool.

  3. Appreciate this comment, I think you nailed it. I feel lucky that I got to experience some NYC Bohemia in my early 20s. How could one not see this coming.

  4. The East Village *I* remember is from an even earlier time, the 1960s. So this place was after my day.

    I remember Les Deux Magots, the first paperback book store in the USA, etc.

  5. I miss Brownies. Fuck this town!

  6. "Not accurate, yet typical of the short-sightedness of solipsistic New Yorkers, who are only interested in the world as it directly relates to them."

    I was referring to changes in the time that I've lived here. Has there not been a disappearance of blue-collar and bohemia in the past 20-30 years? Was it primarily farmland or forset in 1989? Take your insults elsewhere. The only solipsistic attitude here is yours.

  7. Mike Stuto wrote "Take your insults elsewhere. The only solipsistic attitude here is yours."

    This sort of Trump-ian bitchy defensiveness is endemic today, and does nothing for the art of dialectic. A criticism is not an insult, except to those with the mentality of a typical guest of the Jerry Springer show. If you disagree with what I say, I'm happy to hear it. Your quote, to which I responded, didn't include the caveat that you were only referring to the time you lived in the East Village. It is, by definition, however, solipsistic to refer to the history of an area only by the parameters of your own time living there.

  8. I never went to Hifi. Brownies was a great venue though. I saw Cave In there, Botch/Isis. Lots of fun.


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