Industry Insiders: Erik Foss, Lord of Lit
Lit co-owner Erik Foss talks about his art, his new bar in Philly with the best name ever, and why the city needs less yuppie cocksuckers.
Favorite Hangs: Max Fish! Max Fish! Max Fish! I also like Beatrice Inn because my bro’s Paul Sevigny and Andre [Saraiva] own it. It’s the first place I DJed. I dig Motor City because they are real there. Otherwise I don’t drink anymore, so my bar days are kinda over. Santos’ Party House is sick too. I love Spencer Sweeney, and he’s a dope-as- fuck artist!
Point of Origin: I graduated from Chandler High School in Arizona in 1991. I never went to college. I was accepted to Cooper Union, Stanford, and Art Center in Pasadena, but I was too concerned with skateboarding, making my own art, and running my T-shirt company (Dope Cloze). I made up my mind to sell the clothing line and leave. I moved to New York on Halloween of 1996. I came to New York because this is where all the artists came to be seen and make the best work of their lives. Once I got here, it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.
My first job here was at the French Roast in the West Village. I got fired from there immediately. Bartending jobs are impossible to get. One of the bartenders who worked at Odessa became my friend … or so I thought. I was dating this crazy woman from San Francisco at the time, and we would go there to drink. She was very sexy and had a flavor for the dark side of things. My bartender friend ended up sleeping with her and felt so bad about it he got me my first bartending job there. I worked the slowest shifts until one of the bartenders quit and I got Saturdays. Boy, shit changed then. I had that place fuckin’ raging! I’ve always been able to get people goin’ — it’s kinda my specialty.
Occupations: I co-own Lit and the attached Fuse Gallery. One day I stumbled across this hole in the wall called Sub Culture Gallery, which became my home. David Schwartz was the grump behind the desk and owner of this wonderful place. David made emerging artist’s dreams come true. He provided us with a space to work and show. He had the gallery till about 2001 before the lease ran out and they doubled his rent. At that point, he looked at me and said, “Do you want to open a gallery?” So we went out and found Lit and Fuse Gallery. We had to raise a retarded sum of cash to do this. So we got partners, and that was a whole other issue. What a nightmare. Oh yeah, we also signed the lease one month before 9/11. Imagine that one.
We worked construction building the bar for six months with the help of our friends. I bartended seven days a week while also building seven days a week. I thought I was going to die. We opened on 02/22/02 and have been killing it ever since. Do-it-yourself is the way we did this: No benefactors, no grants, no nothing. This bar was built by artist, for artists. Call it a throwback, but when we did this, I never heard of anyone else doing this in New York City. I also just opened a bar with David Schwartz and Chicken Head in Philadelphia called Kung Fu Necktie.
Side Hustle: I am an artist. When I came here I wasn’t of a pedigreed art background, nor did I come from money. So I showed my work in bars like a href=”http://blackbookmag.com/guides/details/max-fish/” title=”Max Fish”>Max Fish, Luna Lounge, and Life. I work 7 days a week and have since I was 15 years old. I paint and make art in my studio, which my bar pays for. I curate and show artists I like, and that’s it. I buy art I like. In fact, I spend all the extra money I make on other peoples’ art. I do have a solo show in San Francisco in November this year at Gallery 3. My website is erikfoss.org. I know it’s a nonprofit URL, but hell, I never sell my work anyways!
Industry Icons: Steve Lewis is one of my heroes. For a while I had a job at the Bowery Ballroom. They hired me with no résumé. I put the first dollar in that register and worked for the Bowery family for almost five years. They run the best-run venues in New York City. I learned most of my club knowledge through them. Michael Winsch [owner of the Bowery Ballroom] is kinda my surrogate dad in New York.
Known Associates: I am very protective of the celebs that frequent my place. I believe in protecting them because they want to hang with us and come up to our level. That’s rad! I say let ’em and leave ’em be. My whole staff rules! They are all artists and musicians; creative people.
What are you doing tonight? Hangin’ out with my boys Carlo McCormick and Daze then going to the studio to paint a cop arresting a clown. I think the city is going through a transition, and it’s going to get real fun now that the economy is shit. Bye-bye yuppie cocksuckers. I just want our neighborhood back. Oh yeah, my favorite band is Slayer!
Photo: Leo Fitzpatrick