Chewing the Fat with Mickey Boardman
Much like his namesake, famed Yankee center fielder Mickey Mantle, Michael “Mickey” Boardman has cemented himself as an industry legend, a fixture of the city’s fashion and nightlife circuits and an indie mag icon, having served as a leading force at the late, great PAPER magazine for nearly thirty years. The midwest-born intern turned editorial director and unquestionable New Yorker penned an irreverent, heartfelt advice column and envisioned one-of-a-kind covers with movers and shakers both rising and established, most controversially breaking the internet with Kim Kardashian in 2014. Last month, Trotter&Sholer invited him to collaborate on “Eat Me,” an exhibition celebrating the downtown darling through the lens of food. A couple weeks ago I asked Mr. Mickey to chat about his curatorial debut; our conversation was not unlike a PAPER party, effortlessly traversing highbrow and lowbrow, bringing together IYKYK-type icons and unfamiliar unforgettables you'll surely read about in a few years time.
Jake Stavis: First off, let’s talk about the origins and title, “Eat Me”: It’s layered, and I gather your relationship with food is layered.
Mickey Boardman: Layered is one way to describe it. It’s not actually meant in the vulgar, pornographic sense, at least not intentionally. Years ago we had written something in PAPER about [Trotter & Sholler director] Matt Starr and he later asked me to come to do a video interview for the gallery. Jenna [Ferrey] is the owner. She’s delightful and fabulous, and Canadian, and studied Jainism in India like back in the day - I’m attracted to Jainism which is a whole other story. Anyway, Matt came to my house to interview me. It’s just like floor to ceiling crammed with shit, but he said I love the way you organize your art and display things, would you ever want to curate a show at the gallery? I was at the time and continue to be unemployed, or barely employed, so I was happy to try whatever. I told them I’d like to do a show about either food or fame. I love art that looks like food - like food made out of felt, or art that’s actually like a hot dog.
JS: I’m reminded of Lucy Sparrow’s Felt Bodega at the Standard - she was someone I first read about in PAPER.
MB: I bought a few things at her show. So, they preferred food, and had seen a bunch of the portraits I have. I suppose I’m self-centered on some level if I have all of these portraits of myself.
JS: Well you’re not commissioning them I assume.
JS: I don’t think that’s self-centered.
MB: Thank you. They wanted the show to be about me and about food. So they picked the existing portraits they liked, we asked some artists to create some new ones, and then we just kind of filled the space.
JS: So there was no intention of that cheeky meaning for the title?
MB: I did this Instagram post where I talk sort of about layers - I hope I didn’t alarm anyone, but it’s like we’re all these different people. When I got sober 26 years ago, you sort of peel back the layers and you’re like “ok my problem is I take drugs,” and then you stop taking drugs and you realize you took drugs to get skinny because food is a deeper issue. So beneath many of my other situations, food was always there - either eating the food, or starving and not eating the food, or throwing up the food. It wasn’t meant to be a fuck you kind of a challenge, but I guess it’s inherently in it. I love titles that have layers or that are taken out of context, appropriated, headline-y.
JS: There’s the vulgar. There’s the Alice in Wonderland allusion. It’s fun. An aside: Why are you into Jainism?
MB: I’m a cruelty-free vegetarian and I believe nothing should die for reasons other than natural causes. They also don’t like to kill anything, even insects. In extreme cases they might wear a facemask so they don’t accidentally inhale bugs or they might sweep the ground in front of them so they don’t step on anything as they’re walking. I love that attitude - even the idea of not picking fruit and instead using the fruit that’s fallen onto the ground. That speaks to me in a very deep way. I’ve read Jain books and I confess that I don’t completely understand the whole situation, but I’m very attracted to it.
JS: It’s an intriguing philosophy when it comes to consumption, the idea that nothing should be killed to sustain us.
MB: And compared to other religions that are like, you’re gonna burn in hell for watching Red White and Royal Blue, it just speaks to me in a deeper manner.
JS: So the curatorial approach is partly based on the way you organize your home. I think of you as an exemplary New York host, especially in night life, and there is something about how a show brings people, artists, together. It’s almost a sort of party, the conversation that you’re creating. Could you tell me more about how you selected these artists?
MB: A lot of them are people I know or know of. I’m the type of person who if I like someone’s work, I like to get to know them, even if it’s just on Instagram, telling them I like their work or something like that.
Take Marika Thunder: She’s the daughter of Rita Ackermann, who I know and who we wrote about in PAPER in like 1994. I remember going to the store Liquid Sky with Chloe Sevigny. They had these granny panties with Rita Ackerman drawings that I bought for myself. Her mother really captured a moment in the ‘90s, and here’s her daughter so I was excited about that.
There’s this artist Clint Machado who did this sort of Jello-y sculpture of me - he’s my neighbor, but he’s also a set designer and prop stylist who worked for years with David LaChapelle. He was Peter Pan at Disneyland and he was on the show American Bandstand back in the day. I wanted to have him, not necessarily because he works with food, but I wanted to have people coming together who knew each other, and who didn't know each other, and should know each other.
Matt, Jenna and I worked together to find artists - I kind of like there to be multiple layers of connection to everyone. I learned that approach to life from Kim Hastreiter at PAPER. Before my mom passed, we had planned to do a few other events in the space. I wanted to have a fundraiser for La Morada, this Oaxacan restaurant in the Bronx - it’s one of Kim’s favorite restaurants. I wanted it to be a real communal coming together.
JS: The foods that are featured - there’s something very New York about some of them (Peter Pan donuts, hot dogs), but there’s also something very nostalgic Americana going on. Is there a throughline?
MB: Despite living in New York for decades and going to the Chanel couture show and things of that nature, I think of my taste as being very suburban strip mall. I didn’t want it to be this celebration of nouvelle haute cuisine with foams and stuff. I wanted it to all be like… what’s a nice way of saying junk food or fast food? Comfort foods, familiar foods, just sort of iconic dishes from that perspective. I actually hated the taste of Tab, but the branding was so brilliant. Kate Schelter normally does things that are very preppy - a tennis racquet or a lobster roll - I had her do a portrait of a Happy Meal. Mayaan Zilberman made the sugar sandwich that melted as time went by. At first when we were talking I thought it sounded a bit high concept, but because it was a sandwich I was into it. It all needed to be a little bit literal, a little bit pop, a little bit shopping mall.
JS: We had this moment in the mid aughts where we saw a lot of chefs reinterpreting junk food staples. I don’t want to say it’s played out, but it’s lost its shock value. So to see that next step, rendering junk food inedible as an art object - I suppose we’re back to Oldenburg. You’ve had this idea for a long time that your taste is suburban strip mall - I remember your Grub Street Diary from years ago - but at the same time, you’re also very much of a certain New York restaurant scene. I think of you as very much synonymous with Indochine.
MB: Back in the day when I would say “oh I’m not a foodie,” I guess it was about not wanting to seem pretentious. I like things that are accessible and familiar on some level, and I feel the same way about clothes. I love clothes for myself in very basic familiar American sportswear shapes that are very understandable. I don’t love crazy silhouettes, but I love them in crazy loud fabrics or sparkle. I would hope that I am now less insistent that my taste is lowbrow. I have good taste and I’m sophisticated, but this is also just the kind of food I eat - I do eat a bag of M&Ms while waiting for my egg and cheese on a bagel. The food at Indochine is delicious and I think it’s one of the best restaurants in New York, but the reason I love it has a lot to do with the ambience and the people.
JS: That makes a lot of sense to me. The Odeon isn’t pulling out the stops to reinvent brasserie fare, and it’s also about so much more than the food. Dining there feels at once very chic, but also very accessible, unlike a lot of trendier spots.
MB: I’ve never related to people who always want to go to the hot new place, and then there’s another hot new place and they leave the first one. I always want to go to Indochine, I always want to go to The Odeon. It’s also about the history I have at those places, the celebrities I’ve seen, the wonderful times I’ve had there with friends. We threw a party at The Odeon after 9/11 welcoming people back downtown, and that was kind of an emotional and amazing moment. We couldn’t go to the office for a week because the office was on Broadway and Franklin at the time, and you could barely get below Canal without showing ID that you either lived or worked there. One of my favorite restaurants when we had that office was Pakistan Tea House on Church Street by Ground Zero. It was one of those amazing South Asian spots that was hot with all the cab drivers, where you pick rice and bread and two dishes for like $6. We basically begged the police at the checkpoint to let us get back down into Pakistan Tea House. There was this other amazing spot called Uptown Juice Bar. They had one up in Harlem on 125th Street and another one down on Chambers, it was all vegan soul food. They’d pack one of those quart containers for soup, and just stack the dishes on top of each other… Where was I going with this whole thing?
JS: The Odeon.
MB: Oh yes. We had an ad trade with them and Indochine, so anytime we had any work thing we’d go to one of those. The day of 9/11, we were shooting Jimmy Fallon for the cover. We had to rethink the whole issue. It was one of those moments where the deadline was now and everything was behind schedule, so we made an issue that was everything we love about New York, with a big section on reasons to be cheerful. We wanted to support businesses downtown wherever we could, so we talked to Odeon and said let’s do a party to welcome people back downtown. It was a really fun, sweet, and emotional moment. It’s much more than the food - it’s the history and layers to these places. One of my favorite spots newer spots in my neighborhood is Thai Diner, but I don’t have an emotional history there. I went there all the time during Covid, and I think the food is delicious, but for me there’s nothing like an old favorite. I’ve lived in the same apartment for over thirty years, I had the same job for over thirty years, and that’s just who I am. There are people who love to move around a bunch, but when you stay in the same place and grow and develop, that’s when certain kinds of magic happen for me.
JS: What are your neighborhood haunts where you feel that sense of community?
MB: My favorite place used to be this spot on Mott Street called Cafetal, it was sort of like an episode of the Soprano’s - it was full of old Italian regulars, run by this older Italian guy called Louie. Vanna White’s daughter was the waitress - she had married an Italian guy - and at first she was kind of a terrible server but she got much better. She went back to California during Covid, but it was always very neighborhoody. The food was… fine, but Lynn [Yaeger], Michael [Musto] and I would go there every day during the pandemic. It closed very recently and left sort of a hole in my culinary heart.
More recently I started going to Cafe Gitane all the time. I always felt like I wasn't cool enough, like it was too hip and very Sofia Coppola - and I love Sofia Coppola movies, but I always felt a little bit like it wasn’t my place, but I was wrong. The servers are wonderful, the food is wonderful.
JS: I remember going years ago thinking the same thing. I’m wondering if there’s been a humbling in a post-Jane Hotel era (where they used to have a second location). Of course, it’s still around and Nolita rent there certainly isn’t cheap.
MB: There was no business on my street when I first moved in. There was one little furniture studio, then he left and Calypso moved in. Cafe Gitane opened after that, and since then basically every first floor space has been converted. So I feel like they were kind of pioneers and I respect them for that. I’ve always liked the owner when I ran into him on the street. Maybe we were the problem. We are cool enough and hip enough and the food is yummy. I love Despaña - I spent my junior year of college in Madrid and went back there to teach English, so anything Spanish I just love. And Superiority Burger - it’s not my neighborhood but I’m obsessed. And I’m also obsessed with Zooba - I was in Cairo in April with my friend Sally Singer. We went to the original location and I was so excited.
JS: I had a 12-hour layover in Cairo back in 2018 and it was the only meal I snuck in while I was there. I loved it.
MB: I’m desperate to go back. Some friends of mine have a fashion school in Cairo in a mall (it all comes back to a mall). They had us talk at the school and I became obsessed with [the neighborhood of] Zamalek. Everyone always says Cairo is so crazy, the traffic is horrible, it’s so chaotic… I was so fuckin’ relaxed in Cairo, and Zamalek is amazing, it looks like a movie with art deco architecture. My friend Sally was obsessed with this store Malaika Linen - these two designers from South America started this company teaching local women and refugees how to do traditional embroidery. I have no interest in napkins, but I bought like 25 placemats from these people. They have a factory outlet where they sell their seconds and whatnot; we got in an Uber our first day in Cairo and drove out there. We looked out our window and were like “oh look, there are the pyramids,” on our way to get more linens and ceramics. I loved Cairo.
All images courtesy of Trotter&Sholer