In its Feb. 16 issue, New York marked perpetually hip Lit Lounge’s seventh anniversary with an obituary—running a photo of one guy at the bar with the caption “Saturday evening at Lit Lounge, an East Village bar.”
Luckily Erik Foss, Lit’s 6-foot-4 managing partner, is a pretty laid back dude. He shrugs off gentrification, beat-up bouncers and a string of purse robberies with a strident,“bad vibes, bro.”
But the article—about small business owners fighting to survive—pisses him off to no end. It’s midnight on Saturday and he’s working on some artwork in an under-renovation artist’s collective off Delancey. Taking a break from spray-painting an 8-by-12 cardboard collage, he fumes,“I thought it was a fucking misprint, we have a door policy to keep people out.”
His girlfriend Erika, a jet-black haired Williamsburger, is swilling hard cider with a burly middle-aged producer wrapped in a bandanna and torn denim jacket. Foss rolls up some Drum, cracks a can of Coke then offers me one. The producer, Iain Mackee (don’t call him Ian MacKaye) swoops in mercifully with some cider. His eyes popping out he jokes, “Coke, coke, did anyone say coke?”
Foss doesn’t touch cocaine or cider, he’s been sober for three years—a fact that reminds him of his anti-douche steel chain (Lit’s version of a velvet rope). Snapping his fingers he bursts, “I started the door policy—bam!—the minute I got sober.” He awoke from a stupor to notice “loud cackling B&T girls who buy boxy clothing at Macy’s and use East Coast slang,” and he wanted them out. I admit that the eight-block cab ride from Lit involved a Nassau County–style traffic jam, and just as many Long Island 9-to-5 types.
A long way from New York’s “eerily empty sidewalks”; but doesn’t he expect to get a few knocks now that he’s the establishment? Doesn’t a deserted Second Ave. hold romantic appeal? Foss says he’d “tattoo D.I.Y. on his forehead” so he might have sympathy for killing off idols. The longtime bartender just nods affably before listing the reasons why I’m way off. His tone rising he says, “Why don’t they pick on the dude that opened the fucking mechanical bull bar [Mason Dixon]? He invades a neighborhood and opens up a first then a second and then a third!” He pauses to drag on his roll-up then asks himself, “They don’t have a door policy, so who goes there? Anyone.”
Doesn’t a place like Lit—with its early aughties connotations—have an expiration date? “Not if the cops let us stay open and the DJ upstairs stops putting in noise complaints,” Foss shoots back. They’ve just opened up a bar and gallery in Philly, and Foss says he’d like to see more in L.A., Paris and London. A sort of hipster Hard Rock Café, I think, wincing slightly. Foss might not hate that idea, however: “Hopefully my mom can retire in a nice house instead of the trailer she lives in now,” he says softly.
I left Foss drinking Coke in his studio, and on the walk back uptown there was a crowd gathered around the steel chain in front of his club.