NiteTalk: Passerby's Joe Latimore Unleashes “Panda”

When Chelsea art bar Passerby shuttered its doors in the Spring of 2008, many of New York's most discerning yet down-to-earth night owls lamented the loss of an institution.

Tucked away on a desolate section of 15th St., the bar with the sparkling, Saturday Night Fever-style dance floor appeared like an oasis of reality to those feeling uncomfortably stuck between the Chelsea club scene and the increasingly intolerable Meatpacking crowd.

So when Joe Latimore, the boite's bar manager until 2003, said he'd be opening his own Lower East Side haunt -- Panda, a rectangular, two-room space that's equal parts daytime art gallery and nighttime dance bar -- people listened.

Do you have a firm opening date now?
Man, that's been my jinx! I'd say by the end of this month we'll be fully dialed. Once we get this elusive plumbing permit, which I think I'm going to get tomorrow, knock on wood, then, you know, I'm gonna have the refrigeration and all that, the draft beer, the food.

How did you decide on this space? Well, I had been looking at a lot of spaces. I actually almost took a space around the corner from where Passerby was. It was a beautiful, brand new retail space with 20-foot ceilings and all that, but in the end I liked the way this space was laid out -- it has two rooms, and it's a little off the beaten path. I also like that there is a park across the street. I want to do a lot of summer events, summer concerts, stuff like that over there. And it's also my neighborhood, I live on the Lower East Side.

Well, it's on the Lower East Side without being in the limo-jammed, fresh-out-of-college congested nexus of it. Yeah, yeah, that's what I like about it.That's one of the things I liked about Passerby, it was a little off the beaten path. That was something that I was definitely looking for, so when I found this place I was really happy about that. But the space itself required a lot of work. It was a wood shop before, so it was a heavy construction effort for two months to get it here. It was a lot of work to develop the various elements -- the gallery, being careful about choosing the right parties, having it quietly open.

What's your most memorable night on the town? In New York? That's tough. I've spent 13 years in the city. There were many nights at Passerby that would be up there. But I would say my most memorable nightlife encounter would be my first year in New York -- which was '91 -- in the Michael Todd Room at the Palladium, which is no longer here. That's when the nightclubs were really awesome in Manhattan, and it was my first year here and it was magical, dancing in this huge room. It was a real New York experience.

Can we expect some nightclub music here? Oh yeah, absolutely, there will be some dance parties. We'll likely have DJs every night -- pretty eclectic. We've got a guy that's an accomplished DJ that just wants to do a rock and roll night every Tuesday.

And what about Passerby's legendary illuminated dance floor? Oh [laughs while flashing a grin], that just might be making an appearance.

* Check Niteside for Part II of the interview later today.

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