Free pizza party delivers slice of East Village culture
August 16, 2012
BY SCOTT STIFFLER | A precise number was unavailable as we went to press. But itâ€™s safe to say that over the past 25 years, the total amount of slices served up by Two Boots isâ€¦considerable. So too is the imprint theyâ€™ve left on the East Village â€” with a cornmeal crust take on New Yorkâ€™s most ubiquitous soul food and a commitment to building on the neighborhoodâ€™s counterculture legacy by nurturing current and future generations of artists.
Taking its name from the foot-friendly shapes of Italy and Louisiana, Phil Hartman and Doris Kornish opened the first Two Boots (originally at 37 Avenue A, now at #42) in 1987 â€” earning a cult following with their fusion of Cajun-Italian cooking before the term â€œfusionâ€ had burrowed itself into the mainstream lexicon.
Like their comfort food peers Ben & Jerry, the Two Boots menu distinguishes itself with pies whose toppings invoke the temperament of pop and counterculture icons. Old favorites like the Mr. Pink (named for East Village resident, â€œReservoir Dogsâ€ star and Two Boots friend Steve Buscemi) can currently be found alongside recent additions such as â€œV for Veganâ€ â€” which references the â€œV for Vendettaâ€ hero embraced by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Bette Midlerâ€™s cheerful mug headlines â€œEarth Mother,â€ while the clueless second banana of â€œBewitchedâ€ has been immortalized as the face of the â€œLarry Tate.â€
Hartman, who still owns and operates the Two Boots empire (which will soon have 16 locations nationwide), is about more than enshrining beloved celebs and underappreciated sitcom icons.
â€œWe live in the neighborhood and raised our kids in the neighborhood,â€ he says of the Boots clan. â€œSo weâ€™re really connected to East Village culture and the East Village historical legacy. Weâ€™re doing everything we can to promote it.â€
In the past, those preservation efforts have included, Hartman recalls, â€œworking with local arts groups for special events, from the HOWL! Fest to movies in Tompkins Square Park.â€ Two Boots also commissions local artists to create in-store works (the Avenue A store currently displays a recently created mosaic from Nuyorican Poets Cafe member Bimbo Rivas). â€œWe love music and poetry,â€ declares Hartman. â€œWe ran an indie movie theater [Two Boots Pioneer Theater] for years, and weâ€™ve done a lot of events at SummerStage. Weâ€™re always looking to collaborate with local arts organizations and artists.â€
Hartman and crew will get a chance to do just that, when they again join forces with the City Parks Foundationâ€™s SummerStage to present â€œThe Two Boots 25th Anniversary Concert.â€ Headlining the event, offstage at least, will be complimentary slices of their most iconic pies (which can be washed down with a beer, brand TBA, or the fruit juice/fizzy water concoction known as a Fizzy Lizzy).
As for the music, Hartman (who notes that the bill is filled with old friends) says, â€œWe curated the whole event. Iâ€™ve always been a big fan of African music, so weâ€™ve got Sierra Leoneâ€™s Refugee All Stars. Mamarazzi is a local Afro funk band who played at the 2011 version of our Mardi Gras benefit that we throw every year for the Lower East Side Girls Club. Whiskeyhickon Boys [acoustic folkies gone electric] played at the Hellâ€™s Kitchen and Bard College branch openingsâ€¦and my daughter, Odetta Hartman, just recorded her first album. Itâ€™s being mastered now, and will be out in a couple of weeks.â€
Poets from Nuyorican, right down the street from the Avenue A Two Boots, will also be on hand, and several community organizations will have tables (including the LES Girls Club â€” who will be raffling off the grand prize of free Two Boots pizza for the next year). The LES Ecology Center, radical bike group Timeâ€™s Up! and the North Brooklyn Bike Collective will also have a presence.
Like the pies that invoke beloved icons, Hartman hopes the family-friendly concertâ€™s blend of food, music and art will be a fitting tribute to â€œthe bastion of East Village counterculture that was very genuine. That includes everything from Allen Ginsberg to the Yippies to Flux Theatre Ensemble to the abstract expressionists. Thereâ€™s still a lot of amazing vestiges of thatâ€¦you see it at Anthology Film Archives, La MaMa and A Gathering of the Tribes.â€
Although he acknowledges that the neighborhood has changed considerably, Hartman vows an ongoing commitment on the part of Two Boots to continue â€œthe great tradition of counterculture. Individual artists and cultural organizations have been scattered around to Brooklyn, Baltimore, upstateâ€¦but thereâ€™s still the idea that the East Village represents something to people all over the world.â€
TWO BOOTS 25th ANNIVERSARY FREE CONCERT
5pm-9pm on Thurs., Aug. 23
At the East River Park Amphitheater
For info, call 212-777-2668 or visit: twoboots.com