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Issue 241

‘We Were All Artists’: An Oral History of Times Bar

Revisiting the short-lived but legendary artist-run bar in Berlin

BY Calla Henkel, Max Pitegoff, Karen Archey, Lindsay Lawson, Ken Okiishi, Simon Denny AND Dan Bodan in Interviews , Roundtables | 08 MAR 24


Ken Okiishi It should be remembered that, when someone found out you had moved to Berlin from New York, the first question was always: ‘But why would you want to live in this horrible place?’

Dan Bodan When I relocated here from Montreal, during the final dregs of the 2000s with its techno parties and bohemian cafes, real estate was still incredibly cheap. My rent was only EU €50 per month.

Calla Henkel People had a lot of time. If you came as an American and you were able to get an artist’s visa, you could slide into a very low-maintenance life where you could be an artist and not have to have a bunch of side jobs.

Karen Archey A friend of mine once said Berlin is like the last stop on the L train. It’s much more liveable than New York, which will chew you up and spit you out. Berlin allows for a different type of lifestyle. I remember once talking with a European artist about the difference between European and American perspectives on art-making. They said they found American artists and art professionals to be a bit pushy. Reflecting on that, I realized that all of us have an immense amount of student-loan debt, which really does something to you, I think, and to the community. It felt much freer in Berlin. 

Lindsay Lawson Berlin was scrappier in the noughties. There were some bars around at the time that were basically just shitholes in the wall. But in a good way. Just slapped together and illegal, and nobody really cared.

Times Bar interior. Photograph courtesy: Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel
Times Bar interior. Courtesy: Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel


Calla Henkel While I was a student at Cooper Union in New York, I had the opportunity to go on a foreign exchange programme. I actually wanted to go to Malmö, but there was only one spot left in Berlin. I didn’t have a Berlin fantasy: it was just where was available at the time.

Max Pitegoff I came to Berlin after Calla. New York had felt very rigid, hierarchical. Berlin was an open horizon, with a community of artists that made anything seem possible. The city had an amazing conjunction between nightlife, art and performance, which, coming from Cooper Union where I’d been interested in performance and its documentation, was exactly what I wanted in that moment.

Dan Bodan The first time I saw Max and Calla was at Kim Bar near Rosenthaler Platz. I used to DJ there some nights with my friends. Max and Calla showed up wearing basketball jerseys and black tights. We were just making fun of them the whole night.

Calla Henkel After the exchange programme ended, Max and I returned to New York to graduate, and we opened a bar in our studio at Cooper Union.

Portrait of Calla Henkel.
Portrait of Calla Henkel. Courtesy: Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel

Max Pitegoff The bar was terribly run and almost got us kicked out of school. We were saved by the dean, Saskia Bos, who had come from De Appel in the Netherlands and explained the tradition of artist bars in Europe to the administrators. The experience was one of the things that pushed us to go back to Berlin and open a bar. On graduation day in 2011, we paid the deposit on the space with award money from the school. Lindsay, who we had met on the dancefloor at Kim Bar, was the one who pushed it into being more of a business, which, in retrospect, I really appreciate.

Simon Denny One day, I was walking down the street after an opening and I ran into Calla and Lindsay. They said: ‘We’re going to open a bar and it’s going to be called Times Bar and it’s going to be like Cheers.’ And I was like, well that could be kind of cringe, but I really like these people, so let’s go!

Portrait of Max Pitegoff. Photograph courtesy: Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel
Portrait of Max Pitegoff. Courtesy: Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel


Calla Henkel We wanted to find something for around EU €500, which seems insane now, when you think of what’s happened to city rents since. When you run a bar in Berlin, one of the biggest questions is your neighbours because noise bounces off the old buildings and bubbles down the cobblestones. After a lot of searching, we found an old travel agency that faced a graveyard, so it was sonically a fantastic location.

Max Pitegoff There was also an older couple living above the bar who were hard of hearing: they told us they weren’t so concerned about the noise.

Calla Henkel In Berlin at the time, there were no simple bars. Everywhere seemed to have red walls and  to be over-stuffed with vintage chairs – a kind of material extremism. So, we were like: let’s just keep the space white, build a white-tile bar similar to the one that we had at the studio, and show a roster of individual artworks. There’s nothing harder than naming a bar – apart from naming a band, maybe. But one day, we were on the subway in New York and we saw an ad for The New York Times, and we were like: ‘Oh, “times” is so great because you’re living in them but, once you’re reading about them, they’re over.’ We also knew that we weren’t going to do it forever, so it was like the times of that moment.

Max Pitegoff Times Bar was a copy of the bar we made at Cooper Union, which was styled after the infrastructure of the school’s main building, renovated by the architect John Hejduk. He used a lot of white tiling; that’s where the white-tile bar came in. We also felt like it was this blank slate for performance. All of the furniture was made by us and friends. It was mostly really cheap wooden benches and tables.

Times Bar interior.
Times Bar interior. Courtesy: Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel

Lindsay Lawson It was a weird, tiny space. When we first opened, we didn’t even have any storage and we weren’t going to bother installing a sink: we thought we could just have a bucket under the bar and dump out the contents into the street! But then we were like: ‘Fuck, that’s a terrible idea! It’ll fill up so fast, we’ll be doing it every two minutes!’

Dan Bodan The tiled bar was the most prominent thing, and the mirrored backroom, and the strip pole.

Simon Denny I remember the artist Nik Kosmas doing a stellar effort on the pole. The music was from playlists on phones or computers. No one would bring out vinyl in that context. Absolutely not.

Karen Archey Max and Lindsay always used to get really cute flowers and there was a kind of artists’ showcase behind the bar. Then there was the creepy basement where they would do dance parties sometimes.


Lindsay Lawson We had a soft opening two weeks after we got the keys. It was way busier than we thought it would be, and we totally didn’t know how to make drinks or anything – not that we ever got very good at it.

Dan Bodan, DP, 2012, video still
Dan Bodan, DP, 2012, video still. Courtesy: Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel

Simon Denny I was never a club person, so I felt very comfortable there. It was an English-speaking bar full of artists, where I could drink beer and talk until dawn. It was always the same people – you’d turn up there and know everybody. They had some very intense parties, too, particularly for American holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving. I got the sense that some other people I knew outside of the group it served in Berlin thought it was a little lame. I don’t remember it being considered all that cool.

Karen Archey Of course it was cool! It was a bunch of young, hot artists hanging out together. I remember that the curator Carson Chan would bring gallerists and collectors over, and Calla and Max would comp them a bottle of wine or champagne. So, it was a way for everybody to network. There were lots of different people, mostly European and Americans, but it wasn’t only Americans.

‘We weren’t so naive that we thought it would make us money.’

Max Pitegoff Calla and I had always been a little wary of post-internet artists, who we regarded as a group that had abandoned non-material practices in favour of finding a market for their work. But these were the artists – including our first-ever customer, Simon Denny – who made Times Bar really interesting. Our tab book is like this amazing narrative of artists whose careers were really blowing up at the time.

Dan Bodan I was living around the corner from Times Bar for the first month after it opened, so I was often there three times a week. We were all in our mid-to-late 20s and everyone had just gotten out of art school. It was a tiny space and everyone was packed in together. That boiled over in a lot of cases. There were a lot of fights.

Calla Henkel It was chaos, so you either dipped into it or you didn’t.

Times Bar pole
Times Bar strip pole. Courtesy: Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel

Lindsay Lawson There was some real drama, some breakups where it was a serious situation. But when a bunch of 20-somethings are running a bar together, stuff like that happens.

Karen Archey There was a topless dance one night. I was like: ‘No, I’m not into FKK [German nudist culture]!’ I had to spend a few more years in Berlin before I felt comfortable being nude. Dan performed quite a bit. He’s such a unique person. He has this larger-than-life voice, which is surprising because he looks so casual. I remember having an intense conversation with someone about evolution and being totally not in agreement with him. Some people were taken with certain accelerationist thinking about the nature of gender, the nature of a people, the nature of a race. And I thought it was getting problematic. But we had all known each other for quite a long time and, because of that, there was an immense sense of trust. I really miss that.

Simon Denny The bar consolidated a group of people who were working in dialogue anyway. It made research and becoming a group easier.

Max Pitegoff In 2012, there was an article in frieze d/e about Times Bar, with a photo of people dancing on the bar at New Year’s Eve. This is how it’s somehow remembered. But, of course, there were also many nights when it was extremely low-key, and those are the ones I really remember. I was always working behind the bar, so I don’t have any memories of the dance parties in the basement.

Ken Okiishi I don’t think of bars as places to generate memories, but as places to evaporate into before going somewhere else.

Skye Chamberlain, Times Painting, 2012. Photograph: Nick Ash
Skye Chamberlain, Times Painting, 2012. Photograph: Nick Ash


Lindsay Lawson One idea from early on was to hang an artwork on the wall behind the bar. It took a while for us to figure out what to show first, because we felt it would be such a statement. In the end, we chose a piece by one of our friends, Matthew Lutz-Kinoy. We decided we would install the work during opening hours, which made for a weird kind of event or happening.

Max Pitegoff We showed one new work every couple of weeks. We didn’t want Times Bar to be an exhibition space, necessarily, but it became evident that one of the most exciting things about it was our very clear focus on a single artwork. The installation became our favourite moment, because people would start arriving at the bar early and giving their input.

Simon Denny For whatever reason, I thought it would be more interesting to hang a work in the toilet than behind the bar. I had just made this fold-out pamphlet – Envisaging Vocational Rehabilitation (2012) – that was partly a critical re-assessment of Web 2.0 interfaces: I chained it to a box in the toilet so people could read it while they were in there.

Max Pitegoff My favourite work might’ve been by Nicolas Ceccaldi, which was a pair of red and blue pants scissoring, a perfectly dumb colour theory joke. Yngve Holen also showed a great work: a photo from a tourist bar in Mitte that offered tips for English-speaking guests on how to behave in a German bar. Oliver Laric made this gigantic wall mural that took three coats of paint to cover up and Kandis Williams brought a giant collage. The last work we showed there, Skye Chamberlain’s Times Painting (2012), was incredibly special. We asked him to make a work that referenced the paintings at Bei Schlawinchen, a bar on Schönleinstraße which has all these cartoonish paintings of its patrons on the walls. It’s like a German bar trope. Dan Rees showed a video work, which was incredibly stressful to install in the tight space behind the bar. The work was always way too close to the bartenders’ heads and sometimes got damaged. There just wasn’t much space.

Dan Bodan, DP, 2012, video still
Dan Bodan, DP, 2012, video still. Courtesy: Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel


Calla Henkel All our work deals with performance and documentation. We had made the decision not to take photographs in the bar because it felt wrong to turn our friends into these images of nightlife. Instead, we wrote down everything in the tab book, because we were constantly loaning people money or they wouldn’t pay for drinks. We loved that this book became a sort of script for Kammerspiele [chamber play] because we felt like we were running a theatre. So, when Times Bar closed, we decided to actually write those plays with those people and use the artworks that had been hanging in the bar as set pieces.

Karen Archey Max and Calla’s work is about capturing the beauty of community.

Dan Bodan I know it bothered a lot of people who went there, because they wondered whether they were just characters in an art project. Since I was always performing music there, I was always aware that it was an art project-cum-bar.

Max Pitegoff We had been studying performance and also thinking a lot about performance documentation. Calla and I both primarily considered ourselves photographers, but we were also really interested in not documenting these kinds of spaces, in allowing for this darkness. We wanted to create an art space that wasn’t an artwork but would maybe generate work, seeing it as a sort of studio. We kept that alive a little bit, and we really thought about how you make photographs in this space after the event has happened and the people are gone. So, we ended up photographing only either after a party or before a party. Very little documentation of the events at Times Bar actually remains. The only time we really broke that rule was when we made Dan Bodan’s music video DP [2012], when we decided to shoot the most romantic version of Times Bar that we could, knowing that this was our youth and attempting to capture some feeling of that. I’m happy we did it, in retrospect, because the memories I have now of Times Bar really come from that video.

Lindsay Lawson We always talked about it exclusively as a bar. Obviously, it functioned as more than just a bar because it was filled with artists, and we did these public installations. But if people asked us whether it was an art project, we’d say it was a bar.

Portrait of Lindsay Lawson.
Portrait of Lindsay Lawson. Courtesy: Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel


Calla Henkel Eventually, we realized we either had to turn Times into a real bar or close. With every space we run, there comes a point where we have to ask ourselves: what and who are we doing this for? By that point, Max and I knew we wanted to open a theatre.

Dan Bodan I was relieved when Times Bar closed because it had become the only place I went to. I felt like I could go back to exploring the city again because I had no obligation to be there. Other people were upset about it, though. They thought it showed a certain cynicism to start something, build a community for a year, and then tear it away.

Karen Archey I really missed it. It had a really positive impact because it was a place to gather and to create community.

Simon Denny I was sad when they said they were going to stop, because it had become a really important part of my social and intellectual networks and I thought they might suffer without it. It felt like a little bar made just for me and my friends – and I think a bunch of people felt the same way.

Max Pitegoff We couldn’t make enough money for all three of us to comfortably live on. We were able to pay for our studio, which was EU €300 per month at that point, so it definitely helped. But, no, we weren’t so naive that we thought it would make us money. The amount of energy it took to stay up until six in the morning those weekend nights and clean the next day – we did everything ourselves – we just couldn’t keep going. We were all artists; after a year, we realized we needed more time for our practices.

Lindsay Lawson After we closed, people said: ‘Oh my God! Where are we going to go now? What are we going to do with ourselves?’ That was funny because we hadn’t been open that long. Then Calla and Max ended up opening New Theater, so a lot of people went there, though it had a different vibe.

Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff, New Theater Bench Prototypes, 2013, installation view. Courtesy: Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin
Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff, New Theater Bench Prototypes, 2013, installation view. Courtesy: Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin

Max Pitegoff For me, the best moments were just before we were about to open and just after we closed, when it was me, Calla and Lindsay behind the bar, not knowing exactly what the evening would bring. And then, directly after, exhausted and recounting everything that had happened. That became the entry into a writing practice. Because we had decided not to take photographs, we started writing things down that happened at the bar, which also fed into how we wrote scripts for New Theater.

Lindsay Lawson I was relieved when we closed. Being responsible for a space like that, where the hours are really long, was really wild. I remember somebody saying to me it was like a little Berghain. But it’s Berlin: people stay out all night and use drugs, so if you’re the person that’s running the place, you have to be there for them. It was a cool place to get together, but the day-to-day work was a lot. And we had so many margaritas at that time. I realized: ‘Fuck, I’m fucking up my stomach with all this sugar and salt!’.

This article first appeared in frieze issue 241 with the headline ‘Just Slapped Together, and Illegal, and Nobody Really Cared’

Main image: Skye Chamberlain, Times Painting, 2012. Photograph: Nick Ash

Calla Henkel is a writer, playwright, director and artist. Together with Max Pitegoff, she currently operates a theatre in Los Angeles, US, called New Theater Hollywood. Her upcoming novel Scrap (Spectre, 2024) will be published on 14 March.

Max Pitegoff is an artist. His work with Calla Henkel was exhibited most recently at Reena Spaulings Fine Arts, New York (2023). Together, they currently operate a theatre in Los Angeles, US, called New Theater Hollywood.

Karen Archey is Curator of Contemporary Art at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and a doctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam.

Lindsay Lawson is an artist. Recent exhibitions include ‘Into the Drift and Sway’ (Bärenzwinger Berlin, 2021–22) and ‘Apophany!’ (Efremidis Gallery, Berlin, 2022).

Ken Okiishi is an artist. Recent exhibitions include ‘Vital Behaviours’ (MoMA, New York, 2021) and ‘A Model Childhood’ (The Art Gallery, University of Hawaii at Mānoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2021).

Simon Denny is an artist. He teaches at Hochschule für Bildenden Künste Hamburg, Germany, and Berlin Program for Artists, Germany. He lives in Berlin, Germany.


Dan Bodan is a singer-songwriter born in Canada and based in Berlin. His album Soft (2014), with artwork by Julien Ceccaldi, was recently released on DFA Records.