The last time I went to the part of Brooklyn now popularly known as DUMBO was in 1997. I went to Gleason's Gym because I was interested in boxing and wanted to see one of the oldest boxing gyms in America.
Getting there felt like a dangerous adventure. It was the middle of nowhere, it seemed, a wasteland of forgotten cobblestoned streets in the dark shadow of the rusty Manhattan Bridge. I did not feel safe, but I did feel brave. And that seemed like the right feeling to have when you go to a real boxing gym. It's impossible to have that feeling today.
I went back to Gleason's last week to find an entire world turned upside-down. The gym is in the same place, but everything around it has changed. There's a West Elm and a Bo Concept on the first floor. The affluent walk the scrubbed cobblestones, shopping for luxury goods. Gourmet markets sell $5 single-serving bottles of juice.
Gleason's sign is on the outside door, but it's dwarfed by a sign for The Fitness Guru. I waited for their customers to come down the stairs, carrying a fleet of Bugaboo strollers, figuring a Mommy and Me class had just let out. I trembled to think what I would find inside Gleason's.
Thankfully, not much has changed inside the old gym. Once the door closes behind you, you can imagine you're still on a former Front Street. Aside from a few young women in hot-pink gloves and a few middle-aged men with white-collar faces, the room is filled with boxers, serious and sweating. Champions and contenders still train at Gleason's.
The owner, Bruce Silverglade, sits by the door and makes you feel welcome--but inside you still get that unsafe feeling. And it feels good. Men are beating each other. Other men dance around the floor, punching heavy bags. A bell goes off and they all drop their hands. It goes off again and the soft/hard sound of fists and gasps resumes. The room seethes with aggression.