Volume 74, Number 51 | April 27 - May 03 , 2005

Mo’s will be a Sardi’s with a Lower East Side twist

By Lincoln Anderson

In his latest venture, Phil Hartman, founder of the annual HOWL! festival and the Federation of East Village Artists, plans to open a restaurant and performance space that will be something new and different yet, at the same time, familiar.

Hartman, his brother Jesse and another family member bought a three-story building on Avenue A between Second and Third Sts. a year ago and plan to open their new place, Mo Pitkin’s, their in a few weeks.

What Hartman, who has lived in the neighborhood 25 years and his brother, a musician who also lives in the area, are conceiving is as far away from the idea of a generic club or restaurant as possible.

“The whole idea is to create a place that feels like it sprang from the earth of the Lower East Side, and didn’t land here like a spaceship — which is how most new joints in the neighborhood seem to feel,” Hartman said. “It’ll be a restaurant and bar downstairs, serving food that reflects the Lower East Side — emphasis on Jewish and Latino. Upstairs is a cozy, old-school performance space where many of the HOWL!/FEVA performers are expected to be regulars, from Penny Arcade to Jonathon Ames to Uncle Jimmy’s Dirty Basement.

“Mo’s has small four intimate rooms that we hope will feel like the neighborhood’s living room/den/kitchen and watering hole. It’s old school all the way, like a way-Off Broadway Sardi’s, in which we hope East Villagers of every stripe will feel at home.”

Inside there are a series of wall murals depicting people Hartman dubbed “local heroes,” including Lady Bunny, Reverend Billy, actor Luis Guzman, Councilmember Margarita Lopez, Reverend Jen and Reverend Jen, Jr. — her pet Chihuahua — and Manny, the book vendor who plies his trade on the sidewalk outside.

They had to give the building, long ago a furniture showroom, an extensive renovation.

“We had to replace everything in the building, while trying to keep its fundamental character,” said Hartman. “Among the things we had to do was add steel beams to reinforce the structure — which had at one time been two different buildings, one apparently a bordello — and dig 2 1/2 ft. of earth out of the basement to make it usable.”

The restaurant will not be kosher and there will be a trayf section on the menu.

Mo Pitkin’s is named after an eccentric family relative who claimed to have tried to assassinate Hitler, Hartman said. The relative was never very specific about the details of his plot, Hartman said, adding, “Maybe he didn’t remember.”

In addition to his work with HOWL! and FEVA, Hartman co-owns the Two Boots Pizza chain with Doris Kornish and owns the Pioneer Theater and Den of Cin on Avenue A. He’s also a filmmaker. His first film, a Sundance Award Winner to be released this summer, is “No Picnic,” which he described as “a Lower East Side story.”

“It’s about an East Villager coping with gentrification — way back in 1985!” Hartman said of the film. “It’s also a love story and a mystery, but mostly just an atmospheric love letter to the East Village.”

Jesse Hartman’s bands, Sammy and Laptop, have released four albums.

Manny, the book vendor, predicted Mo’s will be a surefire hit.

“Phil, he’s got his following,” he said knowingly.

East Village activist John Penley, who spins records under the name D.J. Loco, said the place sounds like it’ll be a nice change of pace from the regular fare.

“I’m hoping to D.J. there,” he said.

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