Kerry Smith, Legendary Right Bank Cafe Owner, Dies at 67; Gala Memorial Planned for January
The Williamsburg Observer is seeking photos, reminiscences, poetry, etcetera, to celebrate and pay tribute to Kerry and his incomparable oasis (see below)
This post is a work-in-progress, waiting to be fleshed out by contributions from the friends and kinsfolk of these two unique warps in New York City’s space-time-consciousness continuum: the Right Bank Cafe and its irrepressible owner, Kerry Smith. From 1989 to 2003, Kerry’s energy, generosity, and free spirit made the Right Bank an incomparable oasis of camaraderie, art, music, poetry, and serious hedonism long before the yuppie hordes felt safe venturing into this neighborhood; we want to pay tribute to the man and his influence, and are looking for photos, written reminiscences, poetry, and any other suitable momentos for posting on this site. Send all digital materials to <arkay(at)panix.com> and stay tuned for more info on the January memorial to Kerry. Photos and texts begin inside…
KERRY SMITH by Tommy Tucker
KERRY SMITH by Tommy Tucker
For me the 80s were a very stupid time. The revolt, anarchy, and anger of the Vietnam Punk Rock 70s gave way to the Me Generation of greed, yuppies, meaninglessness, the Internet, the Reagan years, and the only good thing, to me, my saving grace. The good man, Kerry Smith. I was traveling to NYC quite a lot then for poetry readings to promote my small underground press, “Apathy Press Poets”, founded in Baltimore, circa 1976. Many ex-Baltimore friends, namely Gary Wimmer, Bonnie Bonnell, Dan Carney, Liza Jane Kohner, and Mike Gentile were all residing in NY. Mike was working for NY Press as art editor and living in Manhattan. All the rest were living and making art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
In 1988 I was reading at the Lizards Tail on Dunham Place and staying on South 8th St. with Gary. His building was directly across the street from Gabila’s world famous square knishes, and his block was used in the DeNiro film Once Upon A Time in America. One sunny summer afternoon we were walking his dog also named Williamsburg, Willie for short, down to the East River, down Broadway to Kent Avenue. Giandos Ristorante did not exist yet. Domsey’s Clothing Warehouse was the only open business nearby. It was a desolate sad forgotten place on the riverfront then. Graffiti was everywhere you looked; at the river’s edge floated sofas, TVs, tires, refrigerators , gutted cars, liquor bottles and crack vials. It was a surreal outdoor living room. Abandoned warehouses, abandoned storefronts, a giant abandoned brewery and at 409 Kent Avenue there stood a abandoned firehouse, so we thought. The security gate was up and I peered through the dusty windows .
“Gary, come here man, you ain’t gonna believe this but somebody is building a bar in here.”
“BULLSHIT,” he replied.
“No, really, look!”
“Who in the hell would build a bar in the middle of nowhere?”
A few months later we found out who.
Enter Kerry Smith. Behold, the Right Bank Cafe was open for business and Kerry was behind the bar pouring pints. I had found my oasis, my solitude, my freedom, my home. He had opened a proper pub. Kerry welcomed me like old friends who hadn’t seen each other in awhile or a long lost brother. We were already planning a schedule for poetry readings there. I think of all those whose lives he touched. All the lost, the confused, the drunks, the drug addled, the drinkers, the poets, the bands, the artists, the musicians, the writers, the uninitiated, the regulars, the old timers, the Latinos, the Russians, the Poles, The Hasidic Jews, the bridge workers, the bikers, the truckers, the hobo’s, the Halfwits, the outcasts, miscreants, and misfits, cretins, and freaks and pencil neck geeks, and me and possibly you if you ever crossed the threshold of The Right Bank Cafe and met Kerry. Now Kerry Smith has left the building, he has checked out and we suffer a loss. A man with the vision to make something out of nothing in a place that was abandoned and now so many years later is a deluge of a place out of proportion where real estate is a premium and rent is unaffordable.
One of Kerry’s favorite songs that I wrote was “Born to Party, Born to Lose.” To lose your money, lose your mind, lose your keys, lose your life…this loss is everything now, and nothing. We can never lose the memories. Kate and Tomcat Mahoney and Roberta. It’s always happy hour. We dwell among the immortals and it’s free beer for life, and I’ll tell you one God damn thing…the last time I spoke to Kerry on the phone he said, “Listen Tucker, you have not seen the last of Kerry Smith”. And I neverwill. He is with me now. He is with you. He is freedom. – December 2014