Zoe in the New York Times


Shira Levine's interview with Zoe from the New York Times' “Local East Village” section:

“Since shutting down her two brothels in 2002, Zoe Hansen has refocused her hustle, using her entrepreneurial skills to bring some semblance of order to the punk rock bar Manitoba’s on Avenue B. Her husband, Richard ‘Handsome Dick’ Manitoba, may be the public face of the dive (he recently told The Local, ‘I’ve got to keep it going if just for one thing: I can’t let another Subway move in here’) but the husband and wife are very much a team. So much so that they’re shopping a reality show about their life in the East Village. We spoke with Ms. Hansen about sex, drugs, rock and roll, and… management?”

Q: You used to be a sex worker and ran a brothel. How did that prepare you for tending and running a bar?”

ZH: “I ran and owned a brothel on Park Avenue and 23rd Street and another on Second Avenue and 22nd Street. It’s all good material for me now that I am a writer. It’s just business, so it wasn’t any different. It was about being there all the time to make sure things are happening and flowing. It was really an office environment. We had to keep up, creatively, with advertising and marketing.”

Q: “What has been key to staying open when so many bars similar to yours have closed?”

ZH: “We’re not just a bar. We’re a visual archive of punk rock by legendary punk rock photographers. This is the last place Joey Ramone sang at before he died. Right here on our old stage.”

Q: “What happened to the stage?”

ZH: “A neighbor who rented the apartment above tortured us with complaints. We double-glazed our windows and did everything we could to be good neighbors, but he was one of these new East Village hipsters. That was six years ago, and why we had to stop doing music here. Ironically, the bars across the street, on the corner and next-door were all loud, but were left alone.”

Q: “Why did you recently start bartending?”

ZH: “I decided I really needed to get in the bar and keep my eye on things, so I’d really know what is going on from the inside. We needed to clean up around here as a business.”

Q: “What has been involved with the clean-up?”

ZH: “We’ve been changing the bar staff. We parted ways with a lot of people. We got rid of people who had gotten lazy and didn’t really want to work. Our longtime manager was mean and didn’t treat us well. You have to want to do more than sling drinks. You have to want to be here for movie nights and be willing to do trivia nights.”

Q: “How has Manitoba’s struggled over the years?”

ZH: “Last year the weather really threw us under the bus with the snow. People just don’t want to come out when there is bad weather. When it’s snowing or raining I don’t want to go out in my little skirt and neither does anyone else. We’re playing catch-up this year, and still praying it doesn’t snow like that again this year. If it had, we would have been done this year.”

Q: “What are you doing to reinvigorate things this year?”

ZH: “We’re in talks to do a reality show about our family. Think of it sort of as the ‘Real Housewives of the East Village.’ We have a producer and now we’re looking to sell it. My husband has a show on Sirius radio five nights a week — that does well for the bar too. So does being the lead singer of his band.”

Q: “How do you not sell out in this business?”

ZH: “Let me tell you something about that whole punk rock thing. When you’re 17 years old and you’re slamming drugs, you’re going out every night and not really working, or, you’re hustling to get by, that’s great. In your forties, it’s not so cute anymore. Especially when you have a kid. God bless those people who are still managing to live like that, but that’s not for me anymore.”


© 2017 Zoe L. Hansen. All rights reserved.