Hunting and Fishing Club Still a Lower East Side Hangout After 51 Years
LOWER EAST SIDE — Two things the founder of the Los Amigos Fishing and Hunting Club on the Lower East Side doesn't do anymore are hunt and fish.
"Now? I'm too old," said Bacheco Cortes, 80, who gave up his hobbies a decade ago after he had a knee reconstruction. "I can't walk like I used to."
Like many of the club's elderly members, Cortes has hung up his fishing tackle and hunting rifles after more than 50 years.
However, its blink-and-you'll-miss-it headquarters on Rivington Street between Pitt and Ridge streets remains a heartfelt hangout for dozens in the neighborhood's Hispanic community.
"We play dominoes, we drink beer, we cook, we have birthday parties," Cortes said.
The space often inspires perplexed looks from the area's new and trendy residents, with its red "Members Only" sign on the door (though Cortes said anyone can come in) and raucous atmosphere inside.
Some nights they dance the bolero or to bachata music, with the good times going until 4 a.m., Cortes said.
"Without this place I would go crazy," said Minerba Torres, 62, who swung by the clubhouse after she dropped her grandchildren off at a nearby school. "I have fun. I talk to my friends. I play dominoes."
Los Amigos Fishing and Hunting club started out loosely in the early 1960s.
Young men would gather on the street to talk about the day and on Saturdays go fishing together. A few times a year they went upstate or to Connecticut to hunt.
"You're outside. You have fresh air. You sleep outside," said Cortes. "Besides that, we had to get out of the way of our wives."
It was the death of Cortes' friend, Jose Rodriguez, who was shot on the corner of Pitt and Rivington streets that prompted him to rent the storefront 51 years ago.
"We had an organization before we decided to have a place where we could stay safe," said Cortes. "In those times the neighborhood was a lot rougher."
George Sotomayor, 82, has been part of the club from beginning. The early morning fishing trips reminded him of his childhood in Puerto Rico, he said.
"These are people that I have known for many years," said Sotomayor, who goes to the clubhouse nearly every day.
If someone landed a deer on hunting trips, it was skinned and butchered in the club's basement and the meat was shared.
"It was a leg here, a leg there and whoever killed it got the biggest piece," said Cortes, adding that some of the younger guys still do an occasional hunting trip and share their spoils with the others.
Cortes stopped collecting membership dues three years ago and now clubhouse expenses — primarily rent and electricity — are raised by drink sales. They also sell pasteles, a kind of Puerto Rican tamale, with a dozen for $28.
"It is $1,500 now," Cortes said about the monthly rent. "It was $50 when I started."
He said he has never made money from the club and had a career as a waiter when he ran Los Amigos after hours.
Despite being "80-and-a-half," Cortes still opens the clubhouse every day, manages the beer sales and prepares the pasteles with his wife.
"When I leave this place, I will have to be in heaven," he said.