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‘What the Fuck Is a Beastie Boy’: At What’s Left of Paul’s Boutique

A bygone NYC gets a street sign that serves as a throwback reference.

1:21 PM EDT on September 11, 2023

The original location of “Paul’s Boutique.” (Hell Gate)

During a summer where the legacy of hip-hop was both endlessly celebrated and relitigated, a pivotal part of New York City's groundbreaking rap scene went mostly unremarked upon—the Beastie Boys, a group of three smart-ass white New Yorkers whose own cringiness was part of their original, cloying bit, until they ended up somehow transcending the bit and found their fingerprints indelibly plastered all over '90s rap. Since the death of Adam Yauch, or MCA, over a decade ago, the Beastie Boys have been defunct. (No one's agitating for an MCA-less reunion.) Beyond a regular MCA DAY event, and a 2018 autobiographical book and 2020 documentary, the remaining Beastie Boys are enjoying the relaxed back end of a career that featured a near-flawless album catalog, a landmark ruling that preserved much of hip-hop's early sampling practices, and the spawning of an million-dollar throwback clothing industry they helped kickstart.

But New York City's not quite done with the Beastie Boys, even if their own central place in the story of hip-hop is becoming less physical. On Saturday, at the corner of Ludlow and Rivington on the Lower East Side—the same spot where MCA took the 360-degree Lower East Side street scene shot that's featured on the cover of 1989's groundbreaking "Paul's Boutique"—hundreds of Beastie Boy fans, the two remaining Beasties, and local politicians gathered to rename the intersection "Beastie Boys Square." 

The remaining Beasties address the teeming crowd. (Hell Gate)

"You look at these streets and you don't really think who they're named after—Ludlow, Rivington, Father Demo Square—but it makes me really happy to know that 50 years from now, some kid on their way to school is going to look up and say, 'What the fuck is a Beastie Boy,'" said Ad-Rock, aka Adam Horvitz, still somehow boyish-looking in his mid-fifties. 

Horvitz and Mike D (Mike Diamond) profusely thanked the crowd who had waited through almost two hours of steamy mid-day heat to pay tribute to their heroes. And they thanked New York as a whole, which was, despite their mid-career West Coast relocations, always the core and subject of their work (corner stores, references to local commercials, exaggerated New York accents). 

Casey Harris with his original "Paul's Boutique" LP. (Hell Gate)

"We grew up elsewhere [in New York], but the Lower East Side was the cool place that we wanted to go and hang out, and it was gracious enough to have us, to let us see so much incredible music," said Diamond. "We couldn't be what we became without growing up here in New York City." 

"Thank you for teaching us what to look at, what to listen to, what to wear, how to love—thank you," Horvitz said. 

For a certain middle-aged set that grew up idolizing a group of people who remained effortlessly cool through all seasons of life, the street renaming, given how rarely the two remaining Beastie Boys are making public appearances, was a must-attend event. 

Brett Cohen's Beastie Boy tattoos. (Hell Gate)

"Every time there's a Beastie Boys thing at this point, we can't miss it," said Brett Cohen, who commuted from Philadelphia with his wife, Jenny, and goes to every Beastie-related event he can. "They taught me, and this was really important to me growing up, that if you're passionate about something like they were, just follow your dreams, stick with it." 

Casey Harris, who trekked in from Jersey, stood at the corner with his original vinyl edition of "Paul's Boutique." Gone is the actual "Paul's Boutique," which was actually Lee's Sportswear, the clothing and accessories store that was part of a grimier New York City; in its place is Wolfnights, a "gourmet wrap" joint. Wolfnight's wasn't part of the celebration; the "Beastie Boy Square'' sign went up in front of the bar Pretty Ricky's, which was being used by the Beastie Boys as a merch store for the event. 

(Hell Gate)

"The Beastie Boys will always be looked at in this niche way, not quite central but so important," said Harris, reflecting on what a kid might find if they look at the street sign in the future and Google the name. "But, at the end of the day, the good music always gets found."

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