The Talking Heads at the Locale in 1977. Photo: GODLIS

For New York’s anniversary, we are celebrating the history of the city’s restaurants with a series of posts throughout the month. Read all of our “Who Ate Where” stories here.

Dan Flavin was one of the great artist-talkers. He would regale us with a continuous stream of anecdotes, art-historical insights, and disparaging comments about art that was not up to his standards. Back in the mid-1970s, when I was helping Dan with his installations, artists did not have to be as careful about what they said in public. After working into the night wiring his neon-tube sculptures into the walls of Leo Castelli and John Weber Galleries for his April 1975 exhibition, Dan suggested that we break for the day and join him for dinner at Mickey Ruskin’s latest artist hangout, the Locale on Waverly Place.

Dan had been part of the cadre of tough-guy artists who would challenge each other in conversation around a front table at Ruskin’s legendary Max’s Kansas City. He brought the remnants of his crowd to the Locale. It was a steep step down from Max’s. In fact, you had to descend down a set of stairs into the basement. The modest location did not make a difference to the core artist crowd. It was still Mickey’s place, and he knew how to welcome and take care of them.

Rather than taking the ten-minute walk from West Broadway to Waverly, Dan stuffed us into a cab to get to the restaurant. As we passed the Bobst Library at NYU with its rows of fluorescent lights, Dan railed on about how they had ripped him off. I am still not sure if he was serious or if it was one of his jokes.

We walked down the stairs into a lively scene. At the center of the restaurant was a big round table anchored by the legendary German artist Blinky Palermo. Dan was greeted as visiting royalty. Three chairs were immediately produced for Dan, me, and my fellow art installer. It then became Dan Flavin who was holding court. I could only listen — artists like Dan had elevated their verbal volleys into an art form.

The Locale had another special attraction, a charismatic young artist working as the chef, Julian Schnabel. On Thursdays, Julian would ditch the regular menu and prepare an elaborate artists’ dinner. His specialty was ris de veau. His famous broken plates probably have some connection to the cramped kitchen at the Locale.

Ruskin left the Locale to his partner and moved on to open the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club in Tribeca, which, during its short run, was possibly the hottest restaurant in the world, drawing Andy Warhol and former denizens of Max’s along with punk-rockers. Somehow, it was not sustainable. His final restaurant was Chinese Chance at One University Place. It maintained a reduced version of the Max’s scene, but the new downtown community had moved on to the Mudd Club, where the music was too loud for conversation.

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