Lit Lounge’s Co-Owner Erik Foss on Tomorrow’s 10th Anniversary Bash and Maintaining Success

The 10th anniversary bash tomorrow (Wednesday) at Lit Lounge is a sold out, invitation-only affair that will gather the strange brew that have faithfully worshipped at the house Erik Foss and David Schwartz have built and maintained. When it was built, our scene was in Manhattan. There were a couple of joints in Williamsburg where creative types were developing an art scene that soon developed into a lifestyle. High Manhattan rent escapees constituted most of the crowd. Then, folks like me got on the bandwagon because it’s simply better out there for people like me. Suddenly, it became almost lame to live in Manhattan.

Ten years ago, Manhattan ruled the world and the downtown scene was expanding into the L.E.S. as the East Village was being quickly gentrified out of relevance. In a short time, the so-called bridge and tunnel crowd swept into these areas as developers pushed the hipsters out. The hipsters took to the "L" train and Williamsburg became hipster heaven. Now, it too is being occupied by the "cooler" crews of the working dead. Soon, more and more suits and baby carriages will push things further into Greenpoint and Bushwick and beyond. I live off the second stop, knowing too well that soon I too will migrate to the 3rd or 4th. High-rises and condos and such require steady jobs, loans, and such and the artistic, creative set often live hand-to-mouth and lack the credit rating or references to buy.
 
Through all the cross migrations, Lit has survived. It has been threatened with extinction, it has had its ups and downs, but it has remained a place of sanctuary, a place of dependable cool, throughout. I still list it among my favorite places to be. I never know what’s going on there when I’m going there; it doesn’t matter. I know I will get a smile from a busy David and I know I will find Foss in that nook where the bar melts into the DJ booth, or holding court in the back behind the glass door of the Fuse Gallery. Foss is always a reason to be cheerful. He is so many things, too many things to describe here. Foremost for me, he is a true and dear friend. I will DJ amid a hoard of great DJs at the anniversary. There will be a feeling not unlike going home for the holidays. I asked Foss a few questions… the spelling has been corrected to protect the cognizant.
 
A 10-year anniversary is unheard of in the club biz. That’s like 20 in dog years or like 150 in human. How did you manage? What will the next decade bring to Lit? Are you going for 20?
Yeah, for sure. We just signed the new lease so we kinda have no choice.
 
How did you fuse Lit and the Fuse Gallery into a working brand? How do you draw the line so that they maintain their own identities?
Well, it’s all about a slow, consistent build. We are painfully consistent. We have always kept the art out of the bar and the bar out of the gallery. We treat both as separate entities; the gallery is open to the public four days out of the week, wed-sat, 3pm-8pm. It’s been like this since day one. We have a new and different show every month in Fuse Gallery. We have shown over 100,000 artists in the gallery since we have opened. The bar is open seven days a week and has never been closed once since the day we opened. The bar is open from 5pm-4am, seven days a week,  365 days a year. This is how we have successfully stayed open and maintained our mojo. People from every walk of life can always come here and experience what New York is supposed to be: fun, gritty, and artistic. The bar was created to fund our vision as the one gallery in New York where artists young in their career could come and have a platform to start at. It’s truly an art project, all in all. This is unique and sincere.
 
Tell me about your partner David Schwartz’s role.
David is the dude who one day came to me and said, "let’s open a gallery together, we’ll be partners and you curate and I’ll help run the business," So that’s what happened with the addition of a bar attached. It’s been me and David working together since he owned his gallery Subculture in downtown NYC in the ’90s. I was an artist who showed there and he saw my hustle and promotional skills, so he approached me to help open Fuse/Lit. If David didn’t ask me to help him, I would have never opened a business, or at least I hadn’t planned to. David is the big boss at Lit and Fuse. We’re pretty much equal partners but with different roles. We’re both artists and had to create a legitimate alternative space in Manhattan that we could give the work we believe in serious attention. So, we did and now we do.
 
It took a long time though. Without David Schwartz and Max Brennan, there’s no Lit/Fuse. Every artist, musician, DJ, and staff member that has ever come through Lit/Fuse has David and Max to thank just as much as me. Also, let’s not forget the other partners that have given their energy to make this project all possible. Mikel McGrane who ran the gallery when we first opened, along with Rich Rethorn. Rich Rethorn taught me how to oil paint and Michael Winch, who was my old boss at Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge.
 
I learned how to run a bar from working for Mike Winch. I have a lot of people to thank and by no means could have come this far without any of these people. We all may not see eye to eye but I have to give recognition were it’s due. I will be partners with David Schwartz the rest of my life I’m sure. He’s one of the most honest humans I’ve ever worked with.
 
Tell me about the entertainment line-up for the anniversary.
Haha, it’s obnoxious! It’s a very small example of the people that made us who we are. Twenty-five DJs is like 1 percent of the people that have DJed at Lit – creative people playing and spinning jams. Supertouch is the headlining band for the evening. The reason I asked Mark Ryan (singer of Supertouch) to play is because of a couple reasons: I wanted to keep the anniversary all family and very personal. When I was still living at my mom’s trailer in Chandler, Arizona I was a record collector and was heavily into NYC punk/hard core/ metal from the ’70s to the ’90s.  I bought the first Supertouch record "The Earth Is Flat" and fell in love with it when it came out in 1991. I moved to NYC in 1996 and soon befriended Mark Ryan.
 
In 2002, Lit opened and Mark hosted a Sunday night of jams that was as prolific as Supertouch was when they came around in the ’80s. He had been one of my closest friends since then and had always been one of my favorite bands/people. It’s again sincere and back to my roots. As far as the DJs go, well, there’s like 25 and they’ve all put their time in one way or another. The booking was very off the top of my head and is kinda how I have always done things…from my heart and honestly. Some of my favorite artists are DJs.
 
Lizzy Yoder (Artist/vocalist of Fisher Spooner), Josh Wildman (Photographer/skater), Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs founder), Leo Fitzpatrick (painter/photographer/skater), Brian Degraw (Gang Gang Dance Founder/ artist/skater ), Gordon Hull (Surface to Air founder/artist), Markus Boroughs (Rockers NYC founder/artist) Nate Turbow (Artist/Nick of Tim creator), Nate Lowman (probably the most accomplished artist I know/ and a bro).
 
Everyone involved is a homie and wonderfully creative and talented. Last but not least is my dear friend Justine Delaney .Justine is the first DJ to play a record on our system and DJed the first night we opened. Justine is also the same woman that got Peaches, LCD Sound System, Interpole, Felix the House Cat, and many many more talents to DJ on her five-year Friday night residency. Justine really was a driving force that put Lit on the map.
 
Thank you everyone who has been involved, we couldn’t have done this without you.
 
Lets talk about Foss, the artist, as opposed to the club operator… how are you doing?
Well, I got sober 4 1/2 years ago to take advantage of New York City and start my art career. I have had four solo shows: two in San fransisco, one in Europe, and one in New York City. I have been in two museum shows and about to be in my third in March (The American Academy of Arts and Letters) and possibly in a museum show in the beginning of next year at The Smithsonian in D.C. I co-curated my first museum show in 2010 at the National Museum of Mexico (Draw). Because of this show, I  published our first book through D.A.P. on the show. The book was distributed to around 75 museum bookstores world wide.
 
To tell you the truth, if I died tomorrow I’d have no regrets and have surpassed all my goals by lightyears. I feel blessed when I step back and really trip out on all the shit that’s happened. I always remind myself that we are all just specks in this great universe and without all the people involved in my life I’d be/have nothing. My family, partners, friends, co-workers, lovers, haters/enemy’s, etc. People like you, Steve; I’m being interviewed by someone who, if you hadn’t done what you did, my business may not exist. You are a true NYC icon. I’m honored to be in your presence always. All in all, I’m lucky to be alive. I’m thankful every day I open my eyes. It could all end at any time. I will continue on and I wouldn’t change a thing. I am honored to continue serving NYC. Bless, foSs.

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://bbook.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