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Not in My Back Alley

Freeman’s restaurant vs. theater scion.

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The alleys of the Lower East Side have been the sites of many fights, but none more chic than the one brewing right now outside Freeman’s restaurant. “They want a monopoly on the alley,” complains Simon Hammerstein, the 27-year-old scion of one of America’s most famous theater families, who is opening a dinner theater–nightclub that backs up on Freeman’s scenic dead end. Together with Richard Kimmel of the Wooster Group and Randy Weiner of The Donkey Show, Hammerstein signed a fifteen-year lease on a former sign factory on Chrystie Street, into which they’re sinking about $1 million for renovations. “We’re going to have limos lining up the alley,” boasts Hammerstein, who’s enlisted Jude Law, Josh Lucas, and Rachel Weisz as board members and potential limo riders. Unsurprisingly, Freeman’s sees a disturbance in their hipster feng shui. “Limos would be a disaster,” counters Freeman’s co-owner Taavo Somer, a conflicted gentrifier who wants to maintain some of the neighborhood’s old-world charm.

The 200-seat venue, tentatively called the Box, will mount plays, magic shows, and burlesque. But for now, the drama is out back. On a recent afternoon, Hammerstein was in the alley, wondering what happened to the new STAGE DOOR sign over their back entrance, two steps from Freeman’s. “If they stole our sign, they’re going to start shit,” he said. Somer later said that the sign must have fallen. “I think we threw it out,” he finally admitted—as another employee winked.


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