Volume 75, Number 17 | September 14 - 20, 2005

Mo Pitkin’s
34 Avenue A, between 2nd and 3rd Streets
(212-777-5660; mopitkins.com)

Mo’ Pitkins, a new restaurant and performance space, is now open for business on Avenue A.

Where everybody still knows their names

East Village performers regroup at new cabaret

By Shana Liebman

Filmmaker Phil Hartman is on a crusade to lure back old school, East Village artists who either “threw in the towel” or fled for lower rent. His latest venture—after founding Two Boots and the Howl Festival—is Mo Pitkin’s, the bi-level bar, restaurant, and cabaret behind that unusual new blue neon sign on Avenue A.

“People walking by are startled,” says Hartman, who is opening the place with his brother Jesse on September 14, “because it looks like it should have been there forever.”

In fact, nothing like Mo’s has gone up in some time. After recent closings of Fez and Surf Reality, “we only have Angelina’s on Avenue A and Pink Pony on Ludlow that consciously cater to artists and to people who live artistic lives,” explains performance artist Penny Arcade, who has lived and performed in the hood since 1981—back “when I used to say there’s a Soho and a Noho and I live in Uh-oh.”

Adds 40-something drag king Murray Hill, “Us entertainer folks who started out in the East Village need a place to come home to, a joint to get loose, try out new stuff, you know? Play to the home court.” There aren’t many places left where “the audience is going to sit in the bar with you all night and then grab a slice at 3 am.”

The performer-friendly space features great sound and a bathroom that doubles as a green room. As Hartman says, it looks like a place “where Lenny Bruce is about to jump on the stage and insult somebody.”

Comedian/writer Jonathan Ames, who recently moved to Cobble Hill after many years in an East Village apartment, says Mo’s— named for the Hartmans’s crazy cousin who claims he assassinated Hitler—is “a homage to the Jewish history and heritage of the Lower East Side.”

Mo’s, in turn, is dedicated to local heroes like Ames. He appears as a caricature on the bar’s mural along with Hill, Arcade, Lady Bunny, Reverend Billy, Council member Margarita Lopez, Reverend Jen, her pet Chihuahua, the local numbers runner and Manny, the book vendor on the sidewalk outside.

“People have visited and been upset that they’re not on the wall,” laughs Hartman. “Then the next day they come back with a photo.”

This Wednesday, comedians Molly Shannon and Amy Poehler will read from “Six Feet Under” producer Jill Soloway’s “womansfesto.” Rob Pritchard, who owned Surf Reality, will host a weekly open mic, and Murray Hill “will bless the stage with my out of tune singing.” Audiences can hang out long after the show with the “starving artist special”—a beer and burger for $10—but the joint is not exactly a throw-back to the East Village that Hartman documented in his 1985 Sundance-winning film No Picnic. There’s little old school grit in the polished wood and red leather banquettes, and the menu features “Judeo-Latino” novelties like the “Cuban Reuben” and crispy artichokes with Romesco sauce. But the new haunt will still cater to old school luminaries like Debbie Harry, who christened Mo’s stage during Howl week.

“She’s the best of both worlds, old school and new school,” says Hartman. “She remembers her roots.”

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