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BY PUMA PERL | Back in 2010, two friends and I initiated a poetry/performance series at the Yippie Museum Café. Every week, we chanted and burned sage in a losing battle against the smell of the feral cats that lived upstairs. Ibogaine enthusiasts trooped down to their basement meetings, cheerfully ignoring the boundaries being broken onstage. For 40 years, the building, eventually known as 9 Bleecker, was home to countercultural characters and free thinkers of all kinds. (The Youth International Party, known as the Yippies, founded in 1967, was an anti-authoritarian, youth-oriented offshoot of the anti-war movement.) On February 8, 2014, following years of court hearings, Yippie archivist Alice Torbush was the last to leave. “And yes,” she told me, “I turned out the lights.”
Eight years later, I’m back at 9 Bleecker, sitting in the upstairs office of Overthrow New York with its founder and CEO, Joey Goodwin, and our mutual friend, Clayton Patterson. The vibe is warm and friendly. A bear-like dog lies under the table and a second one wanders around. Staff members pop in and out — one’s a Golden Gloves winner, another is described as the “worst boxer in the world.” As Goodwin explained, “It’s a boxing gym, but it’s also a community, a throwback to the spirit of CBGB and the Mudd Club. How do we,” he asked, “take the past and all that shit people say doesn’t exist anymore and translate it? How do we create a fresh script for Generation Z, written by Generation Z? I know it sounds weird. It’s a boxing gym — but at the end of the day it’s a birthplace for culture, a training ground for a new youth revolution.”
Clayton added, “It’s the authenticity factor, a real connection from the past. This place is an old-style gym with old school boxing.”
“Yes and no,” Goodwin countered. “I’m more focused on learning from people like Clayton and Alice,” whom he described as “shepherds and mentors.” “World champions train here,” Goodwin noted, “but we’re different. We almost disrupt everything. If I hold on to the authenticity thing, I get stuck in it.”
World champions do indeed both train and teach at the gym — top tier fighters include head trainer Alicia “The Empress” Napoleon, currently the WBA Super Middleweight Champion, with a 9-1-0 (win, loss, draw) record. Two of the other female trainers are Ronica Jeffrey, International Boxing Federation World Super Featherweight Champion (15-1-0), and Haitian American super featherweight Melissa St. Vil (10-3-4). The gym is split into two basic groups — classes, which are primarily female, and people who come to train, a more mixed group of community members, friends, and family. Monday night classes donate to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU; also available are classes aimed at the transgendered community, and for those with Parkinson’s disease.
Goodwin, 33, grew up between Palm Beach, Florida, and the Lower East Side. He described himself as always feeling like “a bit of an outsider,” the main benefit being that he never felt confined to just one world. As a kid wandering the Downtown streets, he discovered the basketball courts at West Fourth St. and Sixth Ave. (which he described as the “embodiment of New York City rhythm”). “It’s the thing that’s so great about New York,” Goodwin said. “You can go there when you’re 10, 16, or 80, and still feel like you can wind up in Madison Square Garden, whether it’s playing, coaching, heckling, or ringside seats. Clayton gets on me every day — you can still have the hope of doing something magical, because it’s New York City.”
Realizing that his desire to become a basketball player was genetically impossible, he originated other ventures in untraditional ways. A clothing line started when a basketball court friend, Curtis Rose, created a prep-meets-Downtown sensibility, but it tanked during the 2006-2007 recession. Through Craigslist, they met artist John Gagliano, who is currently the Overthrow Art Director, and with whom he began a marketing company. It was during this period, 2010-2012, that Goodwin’s passion shifted to boxing. “I’d become close to this guy from the courts named Magic [Sidney Smith], probably the best basketball player out of the Lower East Side. He was obsessed with boxing. One day he took me over to East River Park, got some gloves, and we started messing around.” From there, they started going to boxing rings. Along the way, he learned about the underground boxing parties, known as Friday Night Throwdowns, that were happening Downtown. Like raves, they moved from place to place, building makeshift rings. He later found his way to Mendez Boxing, on E. 26th St., where he met Carlito Castillo, an “older, gruff man” who started teaching him.
“Carlito made me fall in love with boxing,” Goodwin recalled. “At first, I wanted to go to a bar and kick someone’s ass. But it’s like chess, an exercise in mindfulness. You’re always just fighting yourself. I started to loosely formulate the idea that if you could take boxing parties and apply them to the boxing club and create the class aspect, you’d really have something.” He described his thoughts as “a vision to create the supreme of boxing — turn it into a cultural center.”
In April 2014, while riding his bike to play basketball, Goodwin noticed a realtor sign on 9 Bleecker. He’d never heard of the Yippies or taken note of the building before. With no clear intention in mind, he called the number. “There was graffiti all over the window, and it was near the holy grail of culture, CBGB. When I was shown the site, my first impression was the overwhelming smell of cat shit. When I saw that honeycomb window, I envisioned a boxing ring right there. The basement looked and smelled like a crack house. On the third floor, I found two stacks of newspapers — Yipster Times and Overthrow. When I saw the name ‘Overthrow’ I began to imagine the gym as a bigger idea, a foundation for a movement.” He started asking questions and looking into countercultural history.
Goodwin signed a lease in May 2014. With the help of friends and one handyman, he began cleaning up, salvaging what he could. “Everything was covered in cat shit, like crazy old typesetting machines, tables, etc.” There was no question that the newspapers would be preserved. He moved into a space that is now the bathroom — and to help pay expenses, his father and his fight club friend, Charlie Himmelstein, rented office space. He ran a marketing business on the first floor and a group called Bridgerunners rented the basement.
Alicia Napoleon, not yet a champion, taught the first test class in January 2015. They recruited by hiring Dan Perino, the “looking for a girlfriend” guy, to post fliers all over the area. They opened as Overthrow Boxing New York in May 2015, with a huge party. Today, there are 60 staffers and a second location in the former Trash Bar, in Williamsburg. He’d scouted out that location the same way, riding his bicycle through the streets. Recruitment is more sophisticated, but some outreach methods don’t change. “I spend a lot of time sitting outside on the bench,” he said. “People stop, take photos, talk about the facade, want to know more.”
In fall of 2015, Goodwin noticed a lady with a purple hat and Navajo braids was gazing at the building. “I used to live here,” she said. It was Alice Torbush, and they formed a friendship. He was especially curious about the newspapers. “It was almost this political offshoot where in my mind the punk scene was more romantic, and now the political side was mixed in.”
Torbush began sending him underground zines and papers that she has archived and managed to rescue from the building. There was also a tremendous amount of material she had collected that was stored a the house of a friend, Gilbert Baker (designer of the LGBT flag). When he passed away, the archives were moved to the gym. There are now 45 boxes of literature to be preserved. Clayton has served as a liaison in the mission, which includes a plan to scan digital files. “The Museum of the City of New York has come down,” he said. “The papers give a broad overview of underground politics of the day.”
Torbush is pleased about the venture. “We published ‘Overthrow’ through the nightmare years of Reagan and Bush #1. Now this generation is stuck with Trump,” she wrote me. “I’m glad Joey is keeping up the tradition of rabble-rousing. Humor is especially needed now. Pick your friends well and continue the struggle.”
My take is that Joey Goodwin has indeed picked his friends well. “I didn’t want to obliterate what was here before. I wanted to encompass and create our own sound where the past meets the future,” he said. “This is what makes Overthrow a cultural institution as well as a gym,” Clayton added. “It contributes to all levels of wellness: mind, body, and soul.”
And that’s one way a movement begins.
Overthrow New York is located at 9 Bleecker (btw. Bowery & Lafayette). Call 646-705-0332. Overthrow Brooklyn is located at 256 Grand St. (btw. Roebling St. & Diggs Ave.). Call 718-233-3480. Visit overthrownyc.com. On Facebook and Instagram: facebook.com/OverthrowNewYork and instagram.com/overthrownewyork.