“The Pink Pony was a place where you didn’t have to leave your soul outside,” Lucien Bahaj said on Tuesday morning at Lucien, the French bistro he’s run on the Lower East Side since 1998. Bahaj took over The Pink Pony, a French cafe on Ludlow Street that was home to artists and bohemians, in 2001. It quietly closed earlier this month, but Bowery Boogie reported the news on Monday, and the Times profiled the Lower East Side relic soon after.
The Pink Pony’s closing is just one in a long line of goodbyes in this part of town. Its neighbor, Motor City Bar, which the Voice once dubbed ‘Best Rock Bar,’ will be closing in the next few months–its landlord decided not to renew the lease and gave the owners no warning. The Living Room announced it would leave Ludlow Street at the end of February, according to Bowery Boogie. Other spots in the neighborhood, like Mars Bar, Lakeside Lounge, and Banjo Jim’s, all shuttered after rents were upped.
“What I did is no longer sustainable there,” Bahaj said. “Our customers were artists, sculptors, writers. The rents here are too high, and they’ve moved to Williamsburg–Berlin.” The Pink Pony’s landlord raised the monthly rent from $14,000 to $20,000, according to the Times and Bahaj said this new top line was just too high to hit.
But even Brooklyn might not be hospitable to venues priced out of Lower Manhattan. “The vibes of Williamsburg and Bushwick feel too safe,” said Francesca Romeo, one of the owners of Motor City Bar. She recently moved to Oakland and now commutes to New York to take care of the bar. “The people in their thirties are all canning and preserving jam and knitting clothes,” she said. “There’s a part of New York that’s supposed to be rock and roll. It doesn’t strike me that it exists in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is kind of a brand.”
Romeo said she’s received hundreds of emails in the past few days expressing condolences and memories from one of the last real Lower East Side rock and roll bars. Romeo was surprised at the outpouring of affection.”I forgot it was an institution down there.” The neighborhood has drastically changed since she bought the place eight years ago, she added. “A lot of the business isn’t coming from Ludlow. That’s what kept the neighborhood authentic. Now it’s people passing through.”
Bahaj recalled that an afternoon at the Russian Baths on 10th Street cost just $4 when he moved to the neighborhood 40 years ago. The neighborhood has changed, but Bahaj insists that that the folks who frequented the Pink Pony were always the same. “They stuck with us for life.”
At Lucien, Bahaj pointed to photographs of Tilda Swinton, Ryan Gosling, and Lenny Kravitz, who all have dined at the unassuming restaurant near Houston Street. The bistro has no plans of closing anytime soon–“Here, we’re fine”– and Bahaj said he expects his son Zac to take over soon. “We tried to make a place that has to lift your spirits,” he said. “That’s what the East Village was.”
Correction: A previous version of this post listed Lit Lounge as closed, but it’s open.