please wait, site is loading

Chapter Fourteen

Click on the toggle button above for full screen slideshow


I could not have disappeared any further from the art world than when my existence had become reduced to a daily one-man battle of protecting the guard tower from an endless onslaught of internal mutiny and external threats. Finally, I decided to do something radical: to raise the standard of the restaurant and aim at a more mature clientele, jeopardizing the student demographic that I had not intended to dominate the atmosphere in the first place. I was idealistic in the beginning, offering food and drinks that was affordable for a broad spectrum of customers. Unfortunately, that democratic approach failed, hence, when La luz became Abrams’ Tower, a small increase in beer prices would signal that the place was no longer a student’s haven.

It was telling that Polish newspapers and magazines published numerous articles about La luz, but not one was ever written about Abrams’ Tower.

However, the repercussions were many. For one, the tenement neighborhood posed a serious obstacle to well-heeled visitors in search of good wine and high-end fusion cuisine. The sabotage of the once-easy access to the tower’s door – orchestrated in tandem by the Landlord, my own manager and neighbor – torpedoed the plan to attract a new clientele. It was hard enough to cross the frozen jungle passageway during the coldest days of the winter. It was another to survive the chilly interior conditions caused by the deteriorating roof’s condition, which made proper heating impossible.

It was telling that Polish newspapers and magazines published numerous articles about La luz, but not one was ever written about Abrams’ Tower. I believe that one reason for this was the simple fact that Wrocław did not have a single professional food critic. Few Poles knew anything about most of the new items on our menu. Ironically, as the local media turned its back, the restaurant garnered more and more exceptional recognition abroad, even though it had become a nightmare to find, and hellish to enjoy, when being inside was like entering a refrigerator. The other reason for a media blackout was the obvious conspiracy of protecting the identity of the ghost Landlord.


Laws still operative from the communist times that protected workers’ rights, enabled employees to get away with murder – whereas I, as the business owner, would be held accountable. They could have robbed a bank on the other side of Poland, while I was on vacation, and I would still have come under suspicion. There was another glorious form of extortion: three different managers I hired used the excuse of a serious illness or accident that in no way was connected to, or caused by, working at my business, yet I was forced to pay them for months that they were not working. One was Robak, the manager who had a terrible car accident on Christmas day. Coincidence or not, the characters involved in all three cases had private contacts with my Landlord. Coincidence or not, all three of them threatened blackmail if I fired them. Robak even threatened violence.

Another one sat at home, collecting his monthly paycheck, recovering from a leg injury sustained while dancing at a private party. For the next three months, that injury did not stop him from climbing the steep stairs of the tower – another example of using the dubious prop of a cane, to receive his salary directly from me. When I found a legal opening to dismiss him, he resorted to the usual threats I came to expect: to call city inspectors. Poles were so suspicious of each other that more than one advised me not to hire a woman manager. I was forewarned that she might seek employment for only one reason: to use me to get paid for maternity leave. At least this type of fraud never came to pass.

With Ryba’s memory forever in mind, and in the face of these relentless assaults, I masochistically continued to pursue my vision. I tried everything I could think of to somehow keep the business afloat, even after my master chef had gone, few people were able to find their way to the tower’s entrance and it was impossible to keep the place warm during the worst days of winter. The only possibility for new customers to make their way to the restaurant was by discovering remote passages through the grounds of nearby tenement apartments. I posted signs with directions outside, but these were quickly vandalized. I started up a lunchtime catering business, but it floundered. I experimented with using the building just for parties and cultural events and being open only on weekends. Another business plan in shambles, in desperation I tried every alternative I could think of, ranging from an all-you-can-eat menu to offering special deals similar to those sold by Groupon, staying open as a late night club, serving low-cost “global tapas,” and making hookah available. As the ultimate cost-cutting act, I opened the business only on Friday and Saturday evenings, even though I was bound to honor a slew of long-term service contracts. It was this or face bankruptcy procedures, and this, my accountant warned me, would be brutal. Meanwhile, I prayed that the court case instigated by my Landlord, in an attempt to recover unpaid rent, would be decided in my favor.

Was it a coincidence that at this time I not only lost my alcohol permits but my legal residency as well, and that the court’s verdict was imminent?

I tried to keep the faith, when a Polish prosecutor, who was too young to have been a former Communist Party member, told me that the legal system had evolved since Poland joined the EU and that it had become one of the “least corrupt” departments of the government. A friend, whose husband was a judge, said not to worry and that if I just told my story in court, everything would turn out hunky dory. This seemingly knowledgeable encouragement gave me the impetus to not abandon the ship. In the back of my mind, there always was the nagging doubt about the possibility of an actually fair trial. Before she sued me, several people strongly advised me to go on the offensive and sue my Landlord, but I was wary, not only because she was being protected by the mass media and had political clout, but because I was warned that a court case in Poland could last for years.

From far away on the other side of the continent, things obviously looked much different. The most bitter of all ironies occurred in April of 2011, when the London Guardian published an article of readers’ comments that featured Abrams’ Tower as the first place to visit in Poland. What poetic timing! Just two months later I finally had to close the place down for good, just as Wrocław was about to be selected the 2016 Culture Capital of Europe.

Was it a coincidence that I not only lost my alcohol permits, but also my legal residency – just as the verdict of the lawsuit that the Landlord had waged against me was imminent?

The verdict date was set for April. I felt quite confident at that point that I would win, because the judge had belatedly accepted, as evidence, the photos I had taken of holes in the roof, after my Landlord’s lawyer claimed that a recent repair of the roof – amounting to what looked like a synthetic rag to replace fallen tile – had been adequate. Then, strangely, the court date was postponed for about six months before the inspector came by to check out the roof and completed an analysis of the tower’s condition.

Meanwhile, another devastating bureaucratic axe came crashing down on me with what felt like the crushing weight of the Berlin Wall.

 Click here for Chapter Fifteen: The Absurd and Cruel Politics of Immigration