[Image via the HiFi website]
Late yesterday afternoon, Mike Stuto, the co-owner of HiFi on Avenue A between 10th Street and 11th Street, announced that the bar will close at the end of October (Oct. 29 is the last day) after 15 years.
In a letter posted on his Facebook page, Stuto said that business has been off, noting that the weekend bar crowd was "mostly indifferent to the place." He also stressed that the closure had nothing to do with the landlord, a management company that he said has been "ideal ... in pretty much every sense of the word."
Stuto gave me his OK to share the letter that he posted:
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. HiFi seems to occupy a place square in the middle between "dive bar" and "mixologist paradise" — and 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.
Could we have pivoted again? Yeah I guess so, but it turns out that I only want to run a bar if its one that I would want to hang out in. Otherwise it'd just be a job I have no passion for. And I don't want to live like that.
I want it to be clear that the building's landlord is in no way to blame for this outcome. Yes, the commercial rents in this neighborhood are all over-the-top insane, but at every turn, throughout the roughly 20 years that Time Equities has managed the building they have been an ideal landlord in pretty much every sense of the word. I have been lucky and honored to work with them and to know that there are good honorable people everywhere, even in nyc commercial real estate. Who woulda thunk it?
For the past 18 months or so I have known this outcome was inevitable, and in that time I have passed through all of the "stages of grief" about this era of my life coming to an end. There is no shame in being a 50 year old who no longer knows how to appeal to 25 year olds. So while this is at best a bittersweet moment, I am happy with the end result and very excited about what the future may bring.
The space was previously Brownies, the celebrated live music venue that opened in 1989. Stuto, who worked in the record business in several capacities, started booking shows at Brownies in early 1994. After a stint at Columbia Records, Stuto returned to Brownies a few years later, this time as a partner.
In 2002, after Brownies had a successful run, Stuto and Co. turned the space into HiFi, home of EL-DJ, the homemade digital jukebox he created with 4,000-plus tracks ... which is arguably the best jukebox in town.
(You can read more about Stuto and the bars in this Out and About in the East Village feature from February 2014.)
In the past two years, HiFi returned to hosting music as well as comedy nights and book readings.