Otto’s Shrunken Head Co-Owner Steve Pang Does Not Live at Trader Vic’s


Shelter, a column about New Yorkers and the places they call home, ran in this paper from 1997 to 2006. To relaunch the feature, which will run here online weekly, we’ve assembled five portraits of New Yorkers at home.

Location: Chinatown
Size: One bedroom, 750 square feet
Occupants: Steve Pang (magazine production manager, Otto’s Shrunken Head co-owner, drummer), Lynne Von (musician, artist, Steve’s fiancée), Rufus (cat)

Steve Pang is a New Yorker. A real New Yorker. The kind who has resided in the same Manhattan neighborhood his entire life. A grown man who owns a Chinatown co-op four blocks away from his parents, four blocks from his grandparents, in a building where people stay until they die, which means “there’s always heat.” He even has the consummate New York luxury: his own parking space.

But you know where the fantasies of Steve rest? Utah.

“There are two things you can do in Utah that you can’t do in New York,” the 40-year-old says from the edge of his 16th-floor couch, puffing on a Dunhill. “One is when you go out your front door, you don’t see a person or a building.” The other thing? “Exist. Do nothing.”

At the moment, seclusion and silence sound very nice to Steve, who is a busy man. He co-owns a business, the 14th Street tiki lounge Otto’s Shrunken Head. He works as a magazine production manager full-time. And when he’s not at the bar, he drums in two bands, the power-pop Girl to Gorilla and the garage four-piece the Vondells, which his fiancée, Lynne “Leather Lungs” Von, fronts. “I’m sort of sick of doing things all the time,” Steve admits. “There is something to be said about not being around anything or anybody.”

Steve also has experience with the consummate New York weapon: a junkie stick. Back in the ’90s, he owned a rehearsal studio on the Lower East Side. “When we first moved in there in ’95, it was just junkies, crack whores—it was just really, really sketchy. If anybody who wasn’t black or Hispanic walked down the street, they would just assume that you were buying drugs,” he remembers. “We had this little front door area, and there was this deli in the corner that sold heroin. And so, of course, somebody would go cop and sit on our stoop, smoke or shoot up, and then they would just nod off on the steps. Literally, I’d open the door and there’d be a guy passed out there, or a girl passed out there and I’d be like, ‘Hey, get off the stoop!’ They’d be like, ‘OK, ugggggh.’ So I actually had a stick that I used to poke them with to get them out of my doorway.” His friend Kevin, who illustrated for Marvel comics, drew Steve as an urban comic-book hero, PANG, for his birthday, standing atop a heap of sound equipment, the famed junkie stick above his head. The image hangs in Steve’s living room.

Steve even has a consummate New York City closing story. “We actually closed September 5, 2001. Thank God, because we took all our equipment, put it in storage, vacated the space, [had a] nice farewell party, then we destroyed everything,” he says, laughing. “You can imagine a bunch of punk rockers being able to let loose in an old building: They knocked down the walls; the toilet came flying down the stairs. It was a lot of fun.”