A bottle of squat: Beer tries to tap spirit of Blockos
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | “Busch beer. Head for the mountains.”
“Tastes great. Less filling.”
No doubt, there have been a lot of catchy beer ad slogans over the years.
How about this one? “Crack open an abandoned building — crack open a frosty cold Doss Blockos.”
Hey, it could work — but it’s just a suggestion of The East Villager.
Yes, in what is probably a first, there is now a beer named after a former East Village squat. But it’s brewed in a place about as far away on this Earth as one could get from Alphabet City — Australia.
The company that makes it is the East 9th Brewing Co., named after the East Village street that the squat was on until its inhabitants were evicted by police 12 years ago.
Reached by phone in Melbourne, the first question by Benjamin Cairns, the beer’s brand manager, was, “What time is it there?” It was midnight New York time, so about 2 p.m. in “Oz.”
Currently, Doss Blockos beer is only available Down Under, in “funky bars and restaurants,” Cairns said. It was released about two years ago.
Each bottle of Doss Blockos is individually packaged in its own paper bag — to evoke the feeling of swigging a brew on the streets of the East Village while dodging arrest by Ninth Precinct cops for drinking in public.
And each bag is emblazoned with the squatter slash symbol and a graffiti image of one cartoon figure spanking another, the latter which was found on a wall in Australia, and is by street artist Jak Rapmund.
Cairns suggested continuing the long-distance interview by e-mail. Asked what moved them to make Doss Blockos beer, Cairns responded, “We see the squatting movement as inspirational, and take a lot from the spirit and sense of community that the EV squatting movement produced. It’s an ideology that makes you stop and think about the world, and what’s important in life. We’ve built this beer brand as a testament to those that continue to live life their way, and aren’t afraid to go against the grain.”
He said the name Doss Blockos and the packaging are intended to evoke the “defiant rawness” of the squatter lifestyle.
Asked what the connection is between the East Village and Melbourne, he said, “Melbourne is a city that has a strong sense of independence, creativity and personality. Melbourne prides itself on its unique bar culture — which suits us down to the ground…NYC bars like PDT, Angel’s Share and Death & Co would be right at home here!”
He said, in the near future, they hope to introduce Doss Blockos in New York, since it’s “where it all began.”
There will surely be the inevitable criticism among former East Village squatters that the suds are a sellout — a way to “commercialize” and “cash in” on movement. But beyond the paper bags and iconic symbols, the company is carving out a social mission.
“As we grow, we are developing more and more ways in which we can help out these communities from which the ideology sprung,” Cairns said. “The more success we have, the more we look forward to helping out.
“So far, we’ve received some really positive responses from the squatting community in the EV. We’re set to work together in the East Village in the near future and lend a hand in preserving their heritage and lifestyle,” he said. “We’re also working on some stuff here in Australia to raise awareness of the problematic homeless situation here and in NY. We’ve just finished shooting a documentary on squatting and homelessness in NY.
“We’ve got some strong links with the creative scene here in Australia, and try and support local artists where we can,” Cairns continued. “We have recently created an artist residency with T-squat.com in Melbourne.”
Queried if he’s spent time in the East Village, Cairns said, “Yeah, we’ve been there a number of times…and loved the East Village, the multiculturalism, endless number of bars and eateries to try and the friendly New York locals. It’s such an interesting place to us, with such a mixed heritage.”
One notably hoaky thing about the beer, however, is “The Story of Doss Blockos,” on the company’s Web site, which makes mention of “mole people” and says the lager was “brewed beneath the city’s discarded railway systems.” Hmm, sounds like a dose of “Mad Max” somehow got mixed into that myth.
So why did they name the beer after Dos Blockos (which was the way it was actually spelled — “Dos” with one “S”), as opposed to Serenity squat, Fifth St. Squat, or Umbrella House or Bullet Space? Was it just a catchy name?
“I think that the history attached with the Doss Blockos squat in particular was a story that we all fell in love with every time we were slumming it in New York,” he said. “The fact that it brought together a community to stand up for what they believe… the idea that they will fight for what they want and love is beautiful.”
Squatters definitely stood up and fought for Dos Blockos at the end. The squat was active from 1992 until ’99 and had as many as 60 residents at its height. A film shoot for “Trainspotting” was held there in 1996.
After the developer notified them of their imminent eviction, the squatters — including the late Indymedia journalist Brad Will — fortified Dos Blockos with a crown of projecting metal rods ringing its roof line to keep police from getting access to the tenement’s top. (After the eviction, the Ninth Precinct commanding officer at the time told The Villager that the place had practically been booby-trapped, with squatters concealed under trap doors.)
As a police chopper circled overhead, the late Michael Shenker, a leading spokesperson for the squatters, who had chained himself up in front of Dos Blockos, held forth until his arrest. Jerry The Peddler, known as “the most arrested man in the East Village,” was removed from the place in full arm and leg shackles, a smile beaming on his face.
In 2002, 11 of the 12 remaining East Village squats made a deal with the city under which they each purchased their buildings for $1. Since then, they’ve been working with UHAB (United Homesteading Assistance Board) to bring them up to code as permanent affordable housing, with some squats already having completed the process.