“I was with John Lennon in Washington Square Park,” aging rocker David Peel tells me, almost upon saying hello. “He taught me ‘No excuses, if you’re gonna do something, just do it.’”
For him, that meant things like putting out the album The Pope Smokes Dope, which was produced by Lennon and was so controversial it was banned in many places. But where we’re standing now, it sounds like advice you might hear from a trainer.
This is Overthrow Boxing, the no-frills downtown boxing workout gym housed at 9 Bleecker in a storied two-level space that was once home to the Yippies, an organization that arose out of the anti-war movements of the ’60s and became known for all kinds of social activism.
Since then, the building had housed the Yippie museum, until it went into foreclosure in 2014. But it’s such an institution that a ’60s musician like Peel, who spent a lot of time in this building over the years, might wander in while you’re getting your hands wrapped for class. And according to the founder, it’s a fitting spot to gather people who are throwing punches to change their fitness levels.
“The bigger metaphor is ‘What are you fighting for?’” (um…abs?) says founder Joey Goodwin, 30, a fashion and marketing entrepreneur who co-founded clothing brand Unruly Heir before throwing his hat into the boxing ring.
It’s a metaphor, of course, that depends on a particular kind of Manhattan gentrification that makes many (maybe even most) feel like the paradise of New York’s downtown counter-culture history is being paved over to put up a parking lot (of boutique fitness studios, in this case).
Goodwin, for his part, sees himself as paying tribute to that history by keeping it front and center at Overthrow. “It could have been a SoulCycle,” he likes to say. (Or a John Varvatos store…a la CBGBs.) “I was riding my bike to West 4th when I saw the building, I came in and did a lot of research on it, and it’s just super crazy history.”
Instead of going the sleek and shiny route, he showcases the building’s roots, like by decorating an entire wall of the boxing studio with copies of revolutionary Overthrow Magazine, which used to be printed there (and where Goodwin got the name for the gym).
Upstairs, the studio walls are lined with posters for rallies and demonstrations, some of which were given to Goodwin by a woman who lived in the building. He invited musicians like Peel to perform at the gym’s official grand opening party, which was last weekend.
And while other new boxing workout studios are trying to give the sport a more polished boutique-fitness presentation, Goodwin is keeping it real, with few amenities, old metal lockers, and a space that generally feels more like a dive bar than a gym. “Boxing is tough. If you clean it up completely, you’re not being honest with it,” he says.
Classes, designed by former Golden Gloves champ Alicia Napoleon, take place in the very dark basement, where duct-tape wrapped punching bags hang from metal chains on exposed pipes and booming music echoes. Classes crowd into the small space, and the stench of sweat (no holds barred) is intense.
We started with cardio drills, launched into shadow boxing, and then shared bags with others for rounds of jabs before a final conditioning drill that mixed burpees, lunges, and punch combos.
This was the only class option when I visited. Goodwin says he’s calling it Burn Out and it’ll soon be joined on the schedule by a pure conditioning class called Fit to Fight that uses props like kettlebells and medicine balls. There will also be a class that takes place in the boxing ring upstairs, and private training.
Oh, and on Friday nights, Overthrow offers Boxing & Booze, where the sweat session is followed by drinks. Maybe the walls will talk, and a revolutionary idea or two will be inspired? —Lisa Elaine Held
Overthrow New York, $32 per class, 9 Bleecker, between Bowery and Elizabeth Sts., Noho, New York, NY, 10012, 646-705-0332, www.overthrownyc.com
(Photos: Overthrow Boxing)