By James Maher
Name: Karen Platt
Location: 4th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B
Time: 3:45 pm on Wednesday, Nov. 11
I was born and raised in New York — 333 E. 30th St. My mom and dad went to Cooper Union. They’re both artists. Growing up I was an arty kid. I went to the High School of Music & Art, when it was in Harlem, and P.S. 116 before that. I was doing music and all that kind of stuff. I did fine art and I worked for Billboard magazine doing graphic design for them.
I’ve been in my building on Fifth Street for 20 years now. It was very nice to be down here. There was respect — mutual respect between people. Just… you could be. It wasn’t overcrowded. There was actually breathing room. There were a lot more old people. There were just neighborhood people that you saw every day. We were friends with everybody and we all knew each other.
There were a lot of artists and there was always an art show to go see. There always plays and drag shows. I was like a club kid back in the day. We used to go to the Area Club. Pyramid used to do this this funny-as-hell soap opera on stage called "Sordid Lives." Black Lips was the other show they did. I’d faithfully go every week. The shows were amazing and the atmosphere was so intimate, like a small cabaret. You felt like you were part of something completely unique.
I used to work at the Yaffa Café for like 20 years. Antony of Antony of the Johnson’s waitered there. He used to perform as Fiona Blue at the Pyramid Club and he was amazing. I also worked for a jewelry designer who had a loft on Essex and Allen. She made a lot of Madonna-type rubber bracelets. I wound up buying her delta industrial drill press for $65. I make rave style jewelry from plastic and rubber tubing. I sold it at a store called Mod World on First Avenue between East Fifth and Sixth. I called myself Big Love Designs. I still have — and completely love — that drill press. It has done me good over the past 30 years.
When I was about 19 years old I worked at the Mars Bar. It was owned by Hank Penza, who recently passed away. Hank would gives loans to guys who lived on the Bowery, and every week they would line up outside the bar to pay him back. I had two day shifts that were filled with the interesting men from the Bowery. I’d sling $2 drinks. The drinks were simple to make and if you did not know how to make them, the customers would happily tell you how. There were so many colorful characters who came in that I could write a book about all of them. Mars Bar was probably the diviest bar around, but it had a realness and trueness, with people down on their luck, artists, sculptors and musicians. You were part of a community of creative people. I miss that feeling.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.