Bye-Bye Bohemia.

By LEE SIEGEL  (VIA: NYT)

THE other evening I passed by 82 University Place in Greenwich Village, where a new European Wax Center was being constructed on the first floor, in a space once occupied by a fabled artists’ hangout, the Cedar Tavern.

A bar where artists, writers and filmmakers labored to find words for aesthetic perfection now has photos of bikini-clad women exhibiting perfected bodies plastered on its windows.

A few lines from a Frank O’Hara poem involuntarily came back to me: “to get to the Cedar to meet Grace / I must tighten my moccasins / and forget the minute bibliographies of disappointment / anguish and power / for unrelaxed honesty.”

Goodbye, unrelaxation, hello waxing. Yet rather than yield to the easy irony, I have a different response from the usual semi-rueful shrug at the urban spectacle of, for the millionth time, a landmark being transformed into an incongruous commercial space. My feeling is one of liberation. Bring on the new salon!

The “Grace” whom O’Hara was on his way to meet was Grace Hartigan, a member of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. That legendary crowd — Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell — debated, boozed and brawled in the dark booths at the Cedar Bar, located on Eighth and University until 1963, when the cherished watering hole was destroyed to make way for a new apartment building.

It reopened soon after as the Cedar Tavern at 82 University Place. By then Pollock and Kline had died, and de Kooning was living in East Hampton. But it retained a pull on the city’s artistic class for another few years, and kept its louche ambience for decades.

Bob Dylan and the director D. A. Pennebaker plotted out the documentary “Dont Look Back” at the Cedar in the mid-’60s. Later on, you could find Donald Barthelme hanging out there. I remember sitting at a table in 1994 with my then wife and some of her theater friends, our attention divided between the television spectacle of O. J. Simpson trying to elude the police in his white Bronco and the choreographer Mark Morris, who was watching the chase from the bar.

Even as its alternatives and successors disappeared — the San Remo, Dillon’s, the Five Spot, the Lion’s Head, Max’s Kansas City — the Cedar survived. Despite the passing years, and its new location, it maintained its emblematic power as the place where America’s superheroes of art once held court.

Artists still, of course, have their favorite haunts. But in this country, there has never been a locale so central to a particular style of art-making as the Cedar.

The Cedar closed for good in 2006, when the tenement apartments above it were turned into stratospherically priced condos. But the space stayed empty, and the persistent, hopeful rumors that it would reopen were like echoes of the Cedar’s capacity to inspire the very dreams of spiritual regeneration that animated its original patrons. Even abandoned and deserted, the Cedar Tavern never really stopped being the Cedar Bar.

Until now. It is gone, and I feel little nostalgia for what the place represented.

The Cedar stood for something grand, to a degree. It flourished at a time when people met without elaborately texted plans, when a young person could arrive without money or connections and slip into a subculture of like-minded souls.

The art critic Harold Rosenberg, writing in 1959, said that the “the art colony on Tenth Street” — the Cedar’s neighborhood — was a “Bohemia” whose purpose was to “transmute the ranks established by social class into a hierarchy based on talent or daring.”

But despite the Cedar’s mix of people, despite its risqué interracial mingling, not everyone in that golden-seeming age enjoyed the underworld atmosphere, or benefited from it.

Recounting how the painter Milton Resnick challenged Pollock to “step outside” after the latter accused Resnick of being a “de Kooning imitator,” Andy Warhol wrote: “I tried to imagine myself in a bar striding over to, say, Roy Lichtenstein and asking him to ‘step outside’ because I’d heard him insulting my soup cans. I mean, how corny.”

O’Hara, who was gay, was appalled by the hatred of gays he found there. In a play O’Hara wrote with the bisexual painter Larry Rivers, Pollock swaggers into the Cedar and in a booming voice calls O’Hara and Rivers “those fags.”

And despite the number of female painters accepted into the Cedar’s ranks — Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner, Hedda Sterne — being a woman amid all that tortured macho posturing could be unbearable. Krasner, Pollock’s wife, rarely went to the Cedar. “I loathed the place,” she said. “The women were treated like cattle.”

Even some of the Cedar’s male habitués would just as soon have lived without it. For Mark Rothko, it was a place where you ran into “the ambitious egotist out for grabs,” he said. “I do not go to the Cedar Bar.”

Enlightened social attitudes and revolutionary artistic creation rarely go hand in hand. Like me, you may miss the contemporary version of Pollock’s shocking gossamer canvases. But it is hard to long for the social context that enabled Pollock’s masterpieces.

As for that “talent or daring” of which Rosenberg spoke, the mostly immigrant women who no doubt will find work at the new European Wax Center, who made their way here from cruelly limited places across oceans and borders, will shave and polish the way the artists primed and painted.

Many of those women live here in hardship and exploitative conditions, to be sure. Yet thanks to their boldness and will, and to the permutations of history, their children will live in a better world than existed at 82 University Place. Rich cultural moments and the places where they flourish wax and wane, and wax again, but talent and daring never die.

Lee Siegel is the author, most recently, of “Are You Serious: How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly.”

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