The Three Lives of Lit Lounge

Lindsay Lohan at LitOlvier Zahm In 2009 Lindsay Lohan, looking somewhat stressed, showed up at Lit Lounge.

“The new Lit.” The expression has been used countless times to describe a club that might just be as cool as Lit when it opened a decade ago. Many of the venues that have vied for “new Lit” status have come and gone, but the original gallery/bar/club hybrid, improbably, is still going strong on Second Avenue. It’s still the best place to splash your beer all over the place while dancing to Britpop and punk at 3 a.m. It’s had its slumps, to be sure, but these days Lit is enjoying what can only be called a flare-up.

You might say Lit has had three lives. Its first golden age lasted for a few years after it opened in February of 2002. Then things slowed down around 2006 when the cool crowd moved on to the newly opened Beatrice Inn. But when that club was shut down in 2009, some of its DJs moved over to Lit, bringing a new generation with them.

The First Golden Age 2002-2004
Dave Murphy used to run around downtown and now, at the age of 36, owns Towne Deli in Summit, New Jersey. “Mondays were the big night in town,” he recalled. Lit was always the last stop after you made the scene at Max Fish, the Lower East Side’s perennial art bar, and Pianos, another cool newcomer.

Big Ups at Lit Lounge, New York, NYAdrian Fussell Big Ups performing at Lit Lounge last year.

“Bjork was at the Monday Pianos party one night, in some furry outfit, just sitting at the bar looking like a giant mouse,” said Mr. Murphy. “This was right after we’d seen somebody get shot in the foot outside Lotus. D.J. Clue laughed at the guy, who was bleeding from one foot and hopping on the other. That night ended in the cave at Lit.” Mr. Murphy recalled watching a member of a well known band from San Francisco snorting cocaine off of one of the couches in the cavern-like basement.

At the time, two local music scenes were converging and about to go national: dance pop and retro rock.

Electro-clash, a punk-techno hybrid that drew inspiration from Germany, was at its peak. Fischerspooner’s single “Emerge” was played at clubs as often as Rihanna’s “We Found Love” is today. James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem was DJing at Meatpacking District lounge APT, honing the DFA sound that sprung to life in 2003 with The Rapture’s ubiquitous single “House of Jealous Lovers.”

Lit was essential in helping this music find an audience. It was also one of the first clubs to embrace Euro DJs like Soulwax a.k.a. 2 Many DJs, and Erol Alken, who were inventing the mash-up, where the vocals of one song are played over the music of another song.

Meanwhile, retro rock bands like The Strokes and Interpol were playing small venues like the Mercury Lounge. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ EP release party was at Brownies (now Hi-Fi) on Avenue A. All three bands’ members and friends could be found hanging at Lit while their songs played.

Justine D and Carlos Denglercourtesy of Justine D Justine D and Carlos Dengler of Interpol at Lit.

Interpol’s old bassist, Carlos Dengler, was one of Lit’s original DJs. He had an angular haircut, wore beautifully odd suits, and was a forefather of the neo-Goth scene that blossomed in the latter half of the past decade. He DJed as Carlos D, ruling the basement in those early years, along with DJs Justine D (no relation) and Gibby Miller, who lived upstairs with owner Erik Foss.

A lot of holdovers from the 80s and 90s New York hardcore scene made Lit home. Sergio Vega, bassist for post-hardcore legends Quicksand, and Chaka Malik, former singer of hardcore band Burn, spun rap upstairs. Members of the hardcore gang Doc Marten Skins (DMS) were always around. Mark Ryan, singer of Supertouch and a DJ, might be the all-time king of this set. To wit: Supertouch headlined the 10th anniversary party.

Leo Fitzpatrick, a DJ, artist, and actor who had the lead role in “Kids,” has had the longest run at Lit. He’s still doing Fridays. Back in the opening years he did a party with Kid America. A typical night saw the As Four design crew, with their signature circular arm bags, long coats and weirdness, drinking at the bar, while a sober Hells Angel hung out with the tattooed female bartenders. In the apartment above the bar, where the owners lived with some DJs and artists, someone might be doing oil paintings of hell while beautiful girls in leather jackets sat around watching the sunrise while indulging in a form of recreation that is relegated to the bathroom downstairs.

The Dark Ages, 2005-2009

During the bronze era, Lit was a good place to bring friends from out of town who probably wouldn’t be allowed into the era’s uber-clubs, like Bungalow 8, Marquee and, later, The Box and Beatrice. There was no door policy. Years of hype had made Lit a destination for weekend warriors. Jocks, Long Island girls, N.Y.U. kids and other civilians replaced the downtown crowd.

During this time, another ex-hardcore guy, Damian Genuardi, former bassist of Boston bands The Explosion and In My Eyes, was the weekend DJ. None of this was very memorable, according to people who were there. “I think I had three jackets stolen from the basement in one month in 2006,” a former party boy turned TV news producer told The Local.

The Renaissance, 2009-Present
When the Beatrice Inn closed in 2009, two of its resident DJs, Harley Viera-Newtown and Cassie Coane, began drawing some of its crowd — including celebrities like Josh Hartnett — to their Wednesday party. To some, Lit’s revival was shocking. “I can’t believe they pulled off a second life,” said one club promoter who wished to remain anonymous because he was a friend of owner Erik Foss. “I didn’t even want to go back. Ever. But the parties on Mondays and Wednesdays were the best in town.”

One night, Olivier Zahm, a former art critic who these days publishes Purple Fashion Magazine and dresses in character as a sexy French editor, was taking pictures of Lindsay Lohan. He left the bar with a literary agent and a Korean model.

Nostalgia for the early aughts has yet to hit, thankfully, and no revivalist scene has sprouted. Lit remains current and relevant, precisely because it doesn’t traffic in remember-whens. Earlier this week on a weeknight around midnight, Lit was its usual self. Two Goth dancers were slithering on top of the bar in ripped tights. A local skate crew had a table — kids who have been coming since 2002; kids who aren’t kids at all, who are in their mid-30s, and still get around by skateboard.