BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | The winning bidder for Theatre 80 St. Mark’s used to sell some mean muffulettas there.
Ori Kushnir and his life partner currently still live upstairs in the building on a month-to-month lease, and their artisanal sandwich shop, Foxface, was formerly a commercial tenant there.
There were reportedly only two bidders Tuesday morning for the iconic 14,400-square-foot East Village property, located just west of First Avenue at 78-80 St. Mark’s Place. Last Friday, Kushnir put in what is known as a “stalking horse bid” of $8.8 million, which sets the dollar amount at which the bidding commences. And, in fact, that wound up being the final winning bid, as well.
The other bidder was reportedly Mark O’Brien, a luxury real estate developer and broker, who apparently did not place a bid higher than Kushnir’s. O’Brien’s company, Build Me a Brownstone, has done more than $45 million in ground-up construction, mostly in New York City; Greenwich, Connecticut; and New Zealand.
The private auction was led by Maltz Auctions.
The sale will officially close in four weeks. The sale price will cover the $6.1 million lien on the building from 2019 held by Maverick Real Estate Partners.
Speaking last Friday, Kushnir told The Village Sun that his first priority is to renovate the property.
“There’s a lot of renovation [that needs to be done],” he said. “It’s a big building.”
He said the ground floor’s black-and-white floor tiles might possibly have asbestos, which would require careful removal. The place’s exterior brickwork also likely needs to be repointed, he said.
As for whether he plans to rent out the building or sell it, he was not ready to say. He did note that Village Preservation — which is pushing for the property to be landmarked — has also expressed interest in saving the theater as a nonprofit.
“Our first preference,” Kushnir said, “is to work with the preservation / theater groups to see if we can find a viable solution for keeping a community space alive in the building.”
As for why there were only two bidders, Kushnir speculated it was because of the effort to landmark the building. Landmarked structures carry more regulations and restrictions than the average building. The property also does not have much in the way of development rights — a.k.a. “air rights” that could be sold to developers for use on nearby projects — another thing that would have made it more attractive to potential buyers.
“The brokers were showing the building to a large number of investors over the past few months,” he said. “I can only guess that the current economic environment coupled with the campaign to landmark the building scared away potential bidders.”
Kushnir has rented an apartment in 78-80 St. Mark’s Place since 2005. The Foxface sandwich shop, sporting a takeout window to the sidewalk, opened in the building in 2019 and closed in September 2022. The shop was a joint venture of Kushnir and his life partner, Sivan Lahat. They also work in software.
For Lorcan Otway, 70, who has lived in the building nearly six decades, ever since he was a young boy and his father owned and ran the place, the sandwich shop owner gaining the property is hard to swallow. The latter is currently suing Otway, charging that Foxface had the exclusive right to serve food to customers of the William Barnacle Tavern — another Theatre 80 business, which was run by Lorcan Otway and his wife, Genie Gilmore — but that Lorcan and Genie [the Otways] blatantly violated this by serving shepherd’s pie in the evenings. Lorcan Otway continues to slam the lawsuit as “frivolous.”
Otway in the past would say that he feared Kushnir wanted the building.
Kushnir said that he gave Otway’s late mother a loan toward the building’s mortgage at one point — yet later refrained from making further loans, feeling the place’s financial footing was too tenuous. In 2018, Otway had to buy out his brother’s share in the building for $2.75 million.
As the May 9 auction loomed, the Otways and their supporters were urging Mayor Adams to step in and acquire the building for the city by eminent domain. Obviously, that did not happen. But the Otways still hope it can. The plan would then be for the building to be given to a nonprofit to operate.
“Now the thing to do is to pressure the mayor to take [the building] by eminent domain and give it to the nonprofit,” Lorcan Otway said, speaking shortly after the auction. “Politically, it’s the right thing to do — and it’s the right thing to do, in terms of justice.
“I have faith in this mayor,” he added. “He has shown, on a number of issues, to stand on his principles rather than the party politic.”
Meanwhile, after being evicted from their duplex residential apartment in the Theatre 80 building in early April, the Otways continue to live with Father Pat Moloney, in his building just east of Tompkins Square Park. Their room is free, but the living isn’t easy after Lorcan’s bank accounts were seized under Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.
“All I know is that I’m busking for food,” Otway said. “I did two sessions in Tompkins Square Park: I started out with readings from my book, then did a lecture on changing ethics in balladry. I have to get my Uilleann pipes fixed — Irish pipes, like in the theme music of ‘Titanic.'”
Otway says he’s currently living in “a single suit of clothes,” with one pair of shoes. He and Genie are “counting every penny,” as he put it.
“We are currently penniless,” he stated. “Last night, we had salad and popcorn [for dinner].
“I long for a cup of coffee,” he sighed. “You know what a cup of coffee in this neighborhood costs? Coffee has become a luxury item.”
Yet, they’re not asking Father Pat for any more help than a room.
“We don’t want to be an extra burden on him,” he said.
Lorcan has also been availing himself of the free vegetarian chili given out in the northeast corner of Tompkins Square Park — but, again, doesn’t want to take too much, fearing it could mean someone else might have to go without.
“We don’t want to be too much of a burden on any one source,” he explained.
Meanwhile, speaking of food, Otway claimed that Kushnir’s lawsuit over exclusive food rights hindered the Otways from refinancing their mortgage.
“It was certainly a contributing factor in our bankruptcy,” Otway declared.
But Kushnir strongly disagreed.
“Foxface filed suit against Lorcan and the bar [William Barnacle Tavern] in March 2021,” he said. “This was almost six months before anyone but him had any idea he was in default on his mortgage, that Maverick had purchased it, or that he was attempting to refinance the loan. Since we are not prophets, it’s downright silly to claim we were trying to prevent him from refinancing.”
Kushnir said his lawsuit only seeks damages of a “few hundred thousand [dollars]” — which he deemed relatively small, in the overall scheme of the Theatre 80 financial picture — and stressed that the litigation and the building’s bankruptcy situation were not connected.
“I understand Lorcan’s anger and frustration,” he said, “but the lawsuit is about what the complaint alleges and nothing more.”
As for the long term, Otway has been trying to get a new job, but it’s been a humbling experience. He started applying one year ago, preparing for the worst-case outcome with Theatre 80.
“At this point, I can’t see anything on the horizon other than homelessness and being out of work,” he lamented. “I’ve applied to 30 museums, mainly craft and maritime museums. I haven’t got a single call back because of my age. I’m five years beyond the retirement age — though I’m relatively healthy and above average health for my age.”
In addition to running Theatre 80, Lorcan has worked as a human-rights attorney, specializing in Native American land rights, which he said does not pay much. Genie is a lawyer, too, though, like Lorcan, works in an area that is not particularly lucrative.
Lorcan also used to be a boatbuilder, cobbling together curracks, a traditional Irish ocean fishing rowboat.
He also plays a wide assortment of instruments, including the aforementioned Uilleann pipes, plus the harp, guitar, bodhrán (an Irish tambourine sans the jingles) and the whistle flute.
He was a combat photographer, as he described it, in Northern Island “during the height of The Troubles.”
“I can count to 100 in Pictish,” he offered, promptly rattling off a bunch of numbers in a strange, elven-like tongue.
Asked what he’d ideally like to be doing, he said, “What I always do — to build and run a theater and build and run taverns.”
After being evicted on April 5, the Otways haven’t been allowed back in the Theatre 80 building. Lorcan noted that many of their possessions are still inside there, including his legal papers for his Native American cases — which contain sensitive information — and even his parents’ ashes. Yet, the trustee adamantly refuses to let them back inside.
“How could you not let someone retrieve their parents’ ashes?” he asked, incredulously.
At the end of the day, Lorcan blames the COVID lockdown — and government’s failure to do more to help out impacted theaters — for their losing Theater 80 St. Mark’s and for their lives and future security being thrown upside down.
“I’m a refugee from a failed state program,” he said. “I did what I was asked to do, and then I was destroyed by the government.”
On top of everything, the Otways’ separation from their cat, Pyewackett, is impacting their relationship — at least from the cat’s point of view. Lorcan has visited her at least once at the home of the East Village friend who is temporarily hosting her.
“She’s furious at me,” Lorcan said of the feline. “She feels I’ve abandoned her.”
A GoFundMe that was hoped to raise $8.8 million to help save the building from being auctioned is still active. Around $9,400 has been raised.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said the second bidder in the auction for the Theatre 80 property was the Canadian actor Mark O’Brien, whom Lorcan Otway noted had previously participated in the Naked Angel original play-reading series at the East Village theater. However, Ori Kushnir, the winning bidder, said he subsequently checked the auction papers, and the e-mail address corresponded to a luxury developer who is also named Mark O’Brien of Build Me a Brownstone.
I think there are a few issues that should be addressed. Countless times we have been inspected for asbestos. Kushner knows that anytime one gets a mortgage the property undergoes a certification by an inspector who takes samples around the building for asbestos or other toxic substances. The tiles are common asphalt tiles put in each year as they wear out. One cannot buy asbestos tile.
The fact that Kushner sees a few hundred thousand dollars as trivial shows a great deal about him. Any small business in this city knows the weight of that amount, as well as the cost of several years of litigation is a tremendous drain to a small business. That he would commence a suit against us, on the claim of an “oral lease for ten years which gave him the exclusive right to serve food” shows the danger of having a city where the protections against frivolous suits have become eroded by the adoption of trickle-down economy in Chicago School Jurisprudence where courts favor the wealthy over the working.
There exists a doctrine of “Statute of Frauds” because any 5-year-old would realize that an “oral lease” can have any element added to it that the angry party seeks to add. We began to sell food, because, as your readers know, the Governor ordered food on every bill that served alcohol. As Kushner’s customers will remember, by late afternoon, most days, they “ran out of food.” Taverns make the bulk of their money in the evening.
The claim that Kushner did not know we were refinancing was as ridiculous as his other statements. We took a bridge loan to repay the mortgage my mother took out with him, and, as such, he not only knew it was for one year, but he submitted a letter of estoppel claiming a “ten-year oral lease” (with no mention of exclusive right to serve food.) When we put the same letter before the court, to assert the statute of frauds, Lahat and Kushner put an affidavit before the court alleging it was “forged.” When the court asked how it could be forged when it was produced by their lawyers, they claimed they had “forgotten” it was in their files.
This community is being picked apart by vultures. We need to band together and protect those things which make this city the cultural capital it has been.
Dear Lorcan, I responded to The Village Sun’s queries factually — at the time we were not aware of your default. We believed that your loan is a three-year loan, not the least of which because you told us so explicitly and asked us to shorten our residential lease to match those three years.
Why it ended up being a one-year loan, I do not know. We only learned about the default many months later when the building was being marketed.
Hayek’s school of economics (Austrian) and Chicago Jurisprudence, AND trickle-down praised by R Reagan, are collapsing competition. There’s one thing I agree about capitalist systems, that you need competition, but I don’t see it in this economy; also I’m very competitive I cannot speak evil of competing (just be friendly please and thank you)
Interesting, but did The Village Sun bother to do any fact checking regarding Otway’s claimed credentials? In the age of Santos, I would guess not.
If you are asking about his legal qualifications, Lorcan said he attended N.Y.U. School of Law but is not a member of the bar.
I have a juris doctor degree from NYU law.
Combat photographer, attorney, museum curator… many many claims.
Have you seen his photography on his FB? You can’t simply make up the fascinating, detailed accounts he’s told of the people and nations he’s represented. The Museum of the American Gangster (MoAG) is on temporary sabbatical
“You can’t simply make up the fascinating, detailed accounts…”?! WTF are you talking about, man?! Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, Hardy, Kipling Ludlum, etc., etc.
No matter what disputes there are between us, I can tell you I’ve known Lorcan for many years and those credentials are all true to the best of my knowledge.
And what is the source of your knowledge? I’m just wondering. Like I first said, fact checking.
I like the photo montage, but is that what passes for fact checking in journalism today? If so, I guess the picture with the ape proves evolution.
Don’t think you are familiar with the East Village to say such a thing.
We’ve been speaking a wee bit of Gaelic, he’s fluent I’m learning
I really have to bite my tongue here, but at least the building didn’t sell to some venture capital douche trying to sell air rights for over-development. Lorcan referring to Kushnir as Kushner frightened me.
I hope I don’t eat my words, but I’m looking forward to hearing more about the plans in store. There are so many excellent opportunities. I was so sad to see the gangster museum go. I assume that is Lorcan’s Intellectual property right. A marvelous designer, a good friend, has always dreamed of designing that museum’s branding and interior exhibitions.
As for Genie and Lorcan, it is heartbreaking and devastating to see wipe-out bankruptcies in the later stages of life. I don’t wish that on anyone.
Really sad to see that is so much dirty laundry.
Think the actor might have been someone that would make it a viable theater, making money would be a nice change. Alan Cumming or Mark Ruffalo come to mind.
I agree, but these places need leadership with business minds to remain thriving. In other countries, they have better culture funding but not here.
Dear Dal: Funny, in all the time I’ve known him, I didn’t realize how he spelled his name. My profound apologies, Kushnir. I thought it was “er” rather than “ir.” As to anyone else designing my museum for me, our branding was good enough for Mysteries in the Museum, the History Channel, Testimoniant Magazine and a host of other outlets worldwide, at a very small budget. Sports Properties Inc. assessed our branding at an average of half a million dollars a year, just before COVID hit and the two-year shutdown caused our bankruptcy.
As to dirty laundry, in Ireland nothing was a greater stain on one’s linen as taking advantage of a disaster to take what your neighbor created.
Wherever we are, there we go.
Also, there could have been much more in gross revenue with that brand potential.
It would be culturally beneficial to see something more developed and consistent without crossing into venture capital-style death.
Sorry all this happened to you.
People don’t know the history of the E.V. Do you know the history?
The Otways should set up a GoFundMe and hopefully get some donations to help them out. Ask Kenny Toglia to promote it for them and could he buy Lorcan some coffee, too? Make sure to let Lorcan’s brother know about any fundraising since he is a millionaire now.
Good of you to say, Ori, regarding my credentials.
Alvin. Unfortunately, shortly after settling for the exact amount his late mother felt he should get, my brother climbed a flight of stairs and died of a heart attack. His estate got his share of the business.
I provided for both parents, so that they could live out their lives in their homes rather than being put in “old age prison” as this country tends to do, and provided for my brother’s family. The State has stolen my security by use of a disaster. I always looked forward to the day my brother and I could put this behind us, and death came between me and that plan. His widow was surprised to see I included him in the family photographs and paintings in the lobby of the theater. But, even though he sued Mom and me, he was my brother..
Dal, the reason there was not enough gross revenue, was the STATE CLOSED US FOR TWO YEARS! They did so a few days after a company we hired to lease our branding rights for the business assessed our branding rights at being worth half a million dollars per year.
And “Korn Shuini,” interesting you challenge the credentials of a fairly well-known individual, under a pen name. A little ironic, isn’t it?
As a teenage film buff, traveling from Jersey to Theatre 80, I cultivated my love of movie musicals in the dark with that wierd glow from that unique rear-screen projector. I don’t recall ever seeing a color film there. The candy counter, the brownies; when I see brownies at Film Forum, I’m taken back.
More recently I would pop into the Tavern, just to bask in one of the last remaining vestiges of the East Village of yore. If 80 goes, there goes the…..
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtJMXqCRMD0 Mark of Build me a Brownstone. If you contact him you will find he is also an actor who attended Naked Angels, most Tuesday night. “Naked Angels” is a play-writing workshop. I think The Village Sun may have mixed him up with the Canadian actor by the same name, there are a few. You will find that his interest stemmed from his interest in the theater.