"We were panicking," admits Billy Grant. He's recalling how he and artist Jamian Juliano-Villani landed on the latest concept for their cult East Village gallery, O’Flaherty’s. After an exhibition concept fell through, the gallerist-BFF duo urgently needed a backup. Fast forward through weeks of simmering to last night, when they introduced their fever dream, The Café, to the world. The setting: "institutionalized-esque" lighting; a straightforward, cash-only menu of fast food and cheap cocktails; bright yellow picnic tables; and works by artists including Josh Smith, Catherine Murphy, and Merlin Carpenter. The cast: adventurous New Yorkers with an appetite, or curiosity, for debauchery. The outcome: the most fun the Big Apple's art world has had in a while. CULTURED made its way through the crowd and chatted with O'Flaherty's devotees, newcomers, and employees alike about an already legendary night.
Billy Grant, Co-owner of O'Flaherty's
CULTURED: Has the night exceeded your expectations?
Billy Grant: I’m glad I didn’t know what was going to happen, but it’s going great.
CULTURED: How would you describe your night in three words?
Grant: No eye contact.
CULTURED: How did you end up working for The Café tonight?
Spiral: I was recommended by my friend Dean Kissick.
Aven Paquette: I found about this through an Instagram post.
CULTURED: How would you describe your experience?
Paquette: The experience has been very much “all hands on deck.” I showed up, they asked if I was interested, I said yes, and now I’m here.
CULTURED: What's the secret to the margarita?
Devin Cronin: Food coloring… We're very simple, we're a big joke in the restaurant industry.
Avery and Renée, The Café guests
CULTURED: How did you snag a The Café shirt before the event started?
Avery: Earlier this week we saw Rory [Hayatgheybi] dancing in this space, and the music was nice. Rory works here with Billy and Jamian. I opened the door, and we all had a dance party. [Then] they gave us the shirts for free.
CULTURED: What's your take on The Café so far?
Avery: I love the vibe, there’s a lot of people. I love the art even though it’s minimal. It definitely exceeded my expectations, and I didn’t think this many people would come.
CULTURED: What did you expect from tonight?
Dean Kissick: I'm a huge believer in Jamian and O'Flaherty's. It's the coolest space in the city. I also love cafes, I go to cafes all the time. So if Jamian is opening up a cafe, I'm going. I got my friend a job as a waitress because I knew it would be cool.
CULTURED: What's your reaction?
Nate Freeman: This show is meant to bring the community into the gallery in a way that's very transgressive. Everyone loves Jamian and Billy. They are really rethinking the model of what a gallery is in a way that is very strange but inspiring. This is a very busy thoroughfare on Avenue A, and there aren't that many galleries [here] because galleries are usually on side streets. You don't see galleries like this in Chelsea or on Tenth Avenue. They want to be hidden in a way; it's not inviting. What Jamian is doing is bringing people that are not even from the art world into this space. Art is for everyone after all!
Kissick: Not only is Jamian rethinking the model of the gallery, but I noticed she has actual models here. Tall glamorous models strolling and smoking cigarettes. What more do you want in a cafe at a quarter to 10 on a Thursday night?
Raúl de Nieves, Artist
CULTURED: What brought you here tonight?
Raúl de Nieves: Nachos!
CULTURED: What did you order?
De Nieves: Bud Light in a can. No wine in a glass for me tonight.
CULTURED: What mood is the environment putting you in?
De Nieves: Slanted.
Corinne Bai, Egem Yorulmaz, and Carina Imbornone, The Café guests
CULTURED: Why did you all decide to come to this opening together?
Carina Imbornone: We decided to sit together because this was the only space available. I was supposed to come with my friend, but he got punched in the face on the subway so he couldn’t come.
CULTURED: What’s your take on The Café? How are you feeling about it?
Imbornone: It’s cool because you’re expecting something to happen, but maybe that’s the whole element of the show. Maybe it’s supposed to create a space for things like this to happen where you just sit with random people and talk.
Egem Yorulmaz: It is truly “the cafe.”
Corinne Bai: It feels less superficial than other New York events I’ve been to.
CULTURED: What have you ordered?
Bai: Chicken tenders. I still haven’t tried them yet. My friend told me to be careful because we don’t know if they have a health rating.
Eric N. Mack, Artist
CULTURED: What brought you here today?
Eric N. Mack: I really respect Jamian's work. It's an artist-run gallery, a really cool concept. Billy just handed me a beer for free.
CULTURED: What's the energy like tonight?
Mack: It's a nice and relaxed way of seeing art! It feels like a frantic celebration so that's cool.
CULTURED: A celebration of what?
Mack: The art world, summertime, and weird shit.
Sebastien Theroux, The Café guest
CULTURED: Why did you bring your dog to The Café?
Sebastien Theroux: She needed a walk.
CULTURED: What’s her name?
CULTURED: So how did you and Dusty hear about The Café?
Theroux: Jack Pierson told me about it. He said it’s not a gallery opening, it’s a movement.
CULTURED: And what are your opinions on it?
Theroux: There’s nothing like this happening; it’s all experiential.
Robbie Volante, Jamian Juliano-Villani's father
CULTURED: What did you expect from tonight? How are you feeling?
Robbie Volante: Jamian is out of the box. When she was very young, we would go to the Plaza Hotel to check out the Oak Bar and see the Christmas tree. I would tell her, "Someday Jame, we’re going to see J-A-M-I-A-N on a building." Lo and behold, we're pretty close!
CULTURED: How has it been to see her career progress?
Volante: Amazing. She started with nothing. She could've had help, and she never asked for it. She just grinded her way to the top. It takes a lot of chutzpah, and this comes from a true Italian man.
CULTURED: How would you describe the night in three words?
Volante: Same ol' Jamian.
CULTURED: What did you order?
Avishag Cohen: I'm drinking a piña colada, my hangover drink.
CULTURED: How do you feel about the space? What mood does it put you in?
Cohen: This is amazing, people are smoking inside. Hopefully the lights will turn darker in a little bit.
Cameron, Levi, Jackie, The Café guests
CULTURED: What brought you here?
Cameron: Kyle Brown, a wonderful waiter whom O'Flaherty's hooked up with a job. We’re here to pay respects and dine.
Jackie: I think [Kyle's] going to bring this place up to a five star Michelin rating. I don't know if they go to five, but they should for him.
Levi: I have no interest in art; Kyle Brown's professionalism is what brings me here.
CULTURED: What did you order?
Cameron: I got tendies and a classic Budweiser.
Jackie: I don't eat, but so far the piña colada resembles cum, which is fine.
CULTURED: What's the energy right now?
Jackie: It's sort of like if the Roman Empire rose and fell in the span of three hours.