Wednesday, May 22, 2013

farewell, cedar tavern

I follow Jeremiah's Vanishing New York's posts on Facebook. It's sort of a love/hate experience to read them. I appreciate that he is a cry in the wilderness to a disappearing city, but I can't deny that it makes for a pretty depressing read most of the time, like a recent post about the death of Dojo's, one of my past favorite haunts. Au revoir Chicken sukiyaki salad with carrot ginger dressing.

I guess everyone believes that their time in New York (or wherever they spent their heyday, usually in their 20s and 30s) was the best time. I grew up hearing about my dad's glory days in New York, so I had his vision of the city to compare with my own when I went there to go to art school in the '80s. My first year in the city I lived at Union Square West, which was just a few short blocks from school — Parsons School of Design.

I tentatively explored my new neighborhood, either alone or with roommates or classmates. We walked everywhere, ranging in the beginning only as far north as 23rd Street and as far south as Grand Street and Little Italy. As a young art student one of the first places I wanted to check out was the nearby Cedar Tavern, which was on University Place. The (I believed) former hang-out of the legendary Abstract Expressionists. A bunch of us would go there from time to time, trying to soak up some old Jackson Pollock or Franz Kline vibes from the worn, heavily lacquered, wooden tables.

The (second) Cedar Tavern
Franz Kline
Jeremiah's Vanishing New York recently pointed me to a New York Times article, "Bye-Bye Bohemia," by Lee Siegel, bemoaning the fate of the Tavern's location at 82 University Place — from fabled artist's dive to a "wax center." The Cedar Tavern apparently closed in 2006 (I left the city for good in 2000). As the article points out, the bar that Pollock and Co. used to frequent was actually originally on Eighth Street and University Place, and closed in the early '60s, so in the '80s we were actually chasing phantoms in a second location. But still, they were fun dreams to chase.

Nothing is sacred or lasts, one of the anti-perks and realizations of adulthood. Am I really upset that where I once tried to soak up some Ab-Ex art history will now be a waxing salon? Just a little bit. If there is anything that that endures about New York it is the fact of its constant state of change. What does seem to be a shame is that a little hole-in-the-wall bar, even if it wasn't even the "right" one, will never again be a destination for a young artist's pilgrimage. Where will people go if they want to try and recapture a sense of New York's painting past, of a '50s Bohemia? The grid endures. One might not be able to walk into the Cedar Tavern anymore, but you could stroll over to 46 East Eighth Street and imagine Pollock trying to stagger home after a long, alcohol-fueled night. At least until the area's leveled to make room for a Walmart or Ikea.
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