Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Out and About in the East Village, part 2

In this weekly feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.

By James Maher
Name: Stephen Shanaghan (pictured left), Arnoldo Caballero
Occupation: Owners, Pangea Restaurant
Location: Pangea, 2nd Avenue between 11th and 12th Street
Time: Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 5:30 p.m.

Picking up at the end of Part 1 … where Shanaghan and Caballero were discussing the success they had with La Spaghetteria on East Seventh Street near Avenue A in the 1980s…

Stephen: That’s why we were able to open this second location [Pangea] soon after because we had money coming in. La Spaghetteria was open from around from ’84 through ’96, when the low-carb thing was in, which is when we basically changed to a more Mediterranean-based menu for Pangea. It was by fate in ’86 we just discovered this location on Second Avenue and Stephen said, "Lets just take a place and see what happens."

Arnoldo: It was just unbelievable. We had the drug dealers and the prostitutes and the fights and the police. It was constant. But we also had… it was just magic. There was hardly anything around here. We had Eileen’s Bar across the street, which was really amazing. John’s was, of course, around the corner. Iso had just opened, the Japanese restaurant on the corner. By 9 p.m. it was just absolutely desolate. It was just all the girls working.

S: This was a big circuit for prostitution. The cars would kind of do the block between Second and Third Avenue and they would just keep circling — a lot of Jersey plates. One of the things that was taking place was a house of prostitution. This was the late ‘80s, I think. The first one was run by this very powerful Korean woman.

A: They used to leave the windows open and walk topless so you could see them from the street. And they had a tremendous business.

S: But I guess they were involved in other things besides just prostitution, so they were getting raided. Just to give you an example of how bad it got: One night I was hosting and I just stepped outside to get some air and all of a sudden cop cars came from both directions on 2nd Avenue, pulling onto the sidewalk with rifles. They broke the front door of the building and they ran upstairs and they came out and they had people handcuffed. They confiscated guns. It was wild.

A: I turned on the TV and this woman was found dead in New Jersey and they were looking for the killer and on the TV was the front of Pangea. Instead of showing upstairs, they showed us.

S: It was really interfering with the business. During the raids they would come down here and hide. One night I came back in and there was a table of 14 skimpily clad girls having frozen drinks. I mean, they were dressed but they were in like bathrobes.

A: You had all these naked women here. They would drink their frozen piña coladas. The girls at one point — because we were so stupid, so naïve, so young ... would come and sit at the bar, order a cocktail and then their "boyfriends" would come and meet them. And then they’d disappear to the bathroom.

S: One of our customers at the time was a local city council member. And I said, "Look I need your help, I need a lawyer." So we got this politician involved and we hired a law firm, a retainer fee of $10k to start. We finally got them out and then the landlord had the space renovated and was rented to a "legitimate manufacturing company," a 9 to 5.

It turns out it was a 9 to 5. It was the Italian prostitution house that used to be on 12th Street that moved up there. That one it took a long time to get out. This all happened over a period of about seven years.

A: Pangea has always been a place where we’ve built long-lasting friendships. We’ve had the same friends and colleagues and customers for years and years. The one thing about them is the relentless support that they have for us regardless of what we do. Pangea means "all earth," based on a Greek word. It represents us because it’s where community collides. We’re a place where people come together.

S: We’ve always supported the artists. I always try to support local artists in any way possible because I think that’s an important aspect of any business in a neighborhood. We worked with so many and some of them became famous. Some of them passed away during the AIDS epidemic. It’s been more than just a restaurant. It’s not just serving food. We’ve always been a community-based restaurant. I remember, there was a painter, David Wojnarowicz, who back then hadn’t been completely discovered, and he came in and asked if he could eat in exchange for a painting and Arnoldo said, "Oh, no no no, you can come in and eat anytime you want." And in hindsight you should have taken the painting. We could have bought the building.

We recently had the entire place painted with a mural [“Pictographic” Modern Hieroglyphs] by Jody Morlock. Jody is a regular customer here and she knew that we had regular rotating artists. She asked, "What do you think about doing a mural?" She got the idea because another neighborhood artist painted the ceiling panel above the bar, which was a cool installation put in two years ago by William Engel. The mural has completely transformed the front room. It’s interactive and it start conversations. Adjacent tables start talking, and everybody sees things differently.

A: People create their own stories, their own myths. It creates a narrative within the room.

S: We also started Café Noctambulo, an intimate music supper club in the room at the back of Pangea late last June. We started with a performer Eric Comstock, once a week. We’ve been kind of selective with who we have come in. We haven’t yet assumed a full schedule back there. We want to make sure that the room gets full. We had Andy Bey and that’s when The New York Times saw it, so that kind of put us on the map for that. There’s that need in this area for a small, intimate room where you can go and perform in. It’s mostly just piano and vocals. We’re trying to keep it to that, almost like a supper club. A lot of artists prefer it as kind of a launching space. It’s an intimate space and I think the artists feel like they can take chances a little bit and test their audience.

A lot of that has changed in the neighborhood. It’s that aspect of being able to connect with people. NYU is my alma mater but what they’ve done to the neighborhood by putting up all these dorms is that it’s made it very transient, where students come in every semester, three or four to every apartment, or in one of the dorm spaces, and then they’re gone.

So little by little we’ve seen many people move out, whether they have to because of financial reasons or their lives change. So that aspect of being able to tap into that permanency of people living here is not so easy anymore because people are not permanent. It’s not as easy for us to build a regular base for us because of the transience.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


nygrump said...

"It’s not as easy for us to build a regular base for us because of the transience." I've harped on this for years now, the goal of Bloomberg was to create a transient society and his policies were geared to the needs of students, tourists, business people. Of course I like being right, at the same time it scares me, because I don't believe in the future anymore.

Anonymous said...

"We had the drug dealers and the prostitutes and the fights and the police. It was constant. But we also had… it was just magic. "

My generation (late 20s) missed all the excitement.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

I really enjoyed this two-parter. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these very interesting articles on Pangea and its owners. Pangea is one of the nicest places to eat in the E.Village - a place with great food AND that supports the arts!

The owners are TOTALLY right about the effect of transients on the neighborhood. We're stuck with a never-ending cycle of transients, sadly: a fresh supply of newbies with no connection to anything here arrives every September. If you set out to destabilize a neighborhood or city, you couldn't do it much better than NYU has.

That said, back to the original topic: Long live Pangea!!

Anonymous said...

I live on their block for the last five years but have never been to their restaurant.
Having read this, I will...
Thanks evgrieve!

Anonymous said...

I must be the most oblivious person ever. I've lived a couple of blocks from Pangea for 35+ years, and I never realized anything about the prostitutes. On the other hand, I've been a loyal customer of Pangea for a long time and love Arnoldo to death. Such a great restaurant - it's my "go to" place for so many different things: dates, celebrations, a quiet drink, whatever. I even have a saying - when we can't decide where to eat, I'll say "Well, there's always Pangea."

Anonymous said...

@10:03pm: You really do get a prize for obliviousness if you didn't notice the prostitutes in the area all those years! I remember them vividly, and yes: cars cruising around the block, many with NJ license plates. And prostitutes who would get into screaming fights (and knife fights) with each other at all hours of the night.

That's one aspect of this area's history that I *don't* miss.

Matthew has 2 T's, dumbass said...

Um….if you did not notice the hookers on 12th and 2nd then you must've gone to bed at 5pm!
Although, that said, I saw them out all day long - it was the most blatant prostitution I saw in my 25 years in NYC

Gojira said...

The juice place on the corner of 11th and 2nd - can't remember the name, they all sound alike - used to be a 24 hour coffee shop in which all the hookers and a contingent of drag queens used to hang out. That place was very interesting at 3 o'clock in the morning!

Anonymous said...

That juice place is Liquiteria and it's been there since 1996. You really seem to have something against health food.