Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Meatpacking Before & After

Last winter, when photographer Brian Rose shared his shots of the Meatpacking District in 1985, I begged him to go back and take "after" photos of the same shots. I guess a lot of other folks begged him, too, because the man has done it. The result is, as expected, amazing, a vivid look at the old world and the new, 1985 versus 2013.

all photos by Brian Rose

The old world was meatpackers. In 1974, there were 160 businesses handling meat on those streets. Under metal awnings, sides of beef hung on hooks, dripping blood and fat onto the sidewalks, where men in red-smeared white smocks toiled in the pre-dawn dark.

The old world was underground BDSM sex. In the 1970s, gay leather clubs opened shop—The Anvil, The Spike, The Hellfire, and The Mineshaft, whose dark corners were brought into the spotlight by Al Pacino in William Friedkin’s 1980 film Cruising.

The old world was transgender sex workers. The cobblestones were their stroll. They worked in packs for safety, took coffee breaks at Dizzy Izzy’s bagel shop (since 1938), bought their outfits at Lee’s Mardi Gras, a store that catered to crossdressers. The Meatpacking District was the muddy edge of Manhattan’s universe, and nobody much cared what happened there.

During the AIDS crisis, business plummeted at the leather clubs as regulars got sick and died off. In 1985, the state gave permission to Mayor Koch to padlock all of the city’s gay bathhouses, bars, and clubs where “high-risk sexual activities” were taking place. City inspectors ventured into The Mineshaft and witnessed “many patrons engaging in anal intercourse and fellatio,” and heard “sounds of whipping and moaning,” reported the Times. (After reviewing the inspectors’ report, Mayor Koch said, “It's tough stuff to read. It must be horrific, horrendous in its actuality to witness.'') That year the Department of Health closed The Mineshaft for “violating the new anti-AIDS regulations.” It was the first of many such closures.

That same year, Florent Morellet opened a French-American diner in a shuttered old luncheonette called the R&L. Florent became a sensation, an after-hours spot for the leathermen and trend-seeking slummers alike. Morellet credits his restaurant for bringing "the first bit of gentrification to the area."

In the 1990s, rent was cheap, and in came the artists. New queer clubs opened, like the gay Lure, along with part-time lesbian hangout Clit Club, and the weekly party Jackie 60, an anything goes, non-exclusive scene for drag, punk, performance art, and poetry. Hogs & Heifers came to the neighborhood, attracting celebrities like Julia Roberts, who danced on the bar and donated her brassiere to their growing collection.

It was the beginning of the end.

A tipping point came in 1999. That year, two fashionable restaurants opened in the area, Markt and Fressen. Reviewers were not all gung-ho for the idea of fine dining on streets that reeked of blood and rotting offal. At the Post, Steve Cuozzo wrote, “Take the Meatpacking District--please. The streets smell like one big pancreas.” But the smell of money was also strong.

Next came the high-fashion retailers and the Friends of the High Line. Then it was Keith McNally’s Pastis, the restaurant often blamed with the greasy old Meatpacking District’s death. The moment the bistro opened in early 2000, people were lining up to get in. McNally claimed that Pastis would be “bohemian and unfussy, a kind of workingman’s place.” It was decidedly neither.

From there, the floodgates opened and the old world quickly came to an end. The meatpacking plants were pushed out. The transgender sex workers were chased out. The rents shot from $400 to $40,000 per month. Florent's old building, once the R&L Luncheonette, just sold this week for $8.6 million.

Brian Rose's photos tell the story of the Meatpacking District's massive shift, one photo pairing at a time--from quiet to crowds, low-rise to high-rise, rusted awnings to fresh coats of paint, meat houses to high-end boutiques, clunkers to luxury cars, poultry trucks to artisanal ice-cream trucks. Visit his website to see much more.


Warren Bobrow said...

I had the unfortunate opportunity to dine in the formerly Florent space. Horrible! Scary! Is this food or just microwaved nonsense on a plate?

Selling the building for 8.6M is a steal! They can put up a skyscraper over the top!

The food? BLECHHHHHH!!!!!

Warren Bobrow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JAZ said...

Think I may have mentioned this once before, but one of my fondest childhood memories is when mom would drag me with her to the meatpacking district every few weeks to stock up. If memory serves, her place of choice was called Old Bohemia Meats, or maybe it was just 'Bohemia Meat Market'; one of the guys in the white uniform would always smile, call my name, and come out with a big plasic bag filled with candies and taffy for me, and I'd spend the rest of the day's errand trip with a huge smile, carefully choosing the 1 piece of candy that I was allowed to have before lunch, and clutching that plastic bag with the vigilance of an armed guard at fort knox.

It wasn't until I grew up that I realized the trigger that would make my day on those trips wasn't the candy; it was being called by name and as a little punk kid being made to feel important enough to have a worker in a busy meat packing plant stop what he was doing to make me feel that way. Those meat packing businesses took great pride in what they were doing, provided a vital service, and got real satisfaction when they recognized a repeat customer anxiously awaiting their cuts. And the president himself wouldn't have been treated any differently than my mom and I were.

Even as kids we knew what went on over there at night after the last driveway was hosed down; and it just made it all the more intruiging a place. The amazing thing was that there was an unspoken understanding between the daytime and nighttime world, and the 2 worlds coexisted pretty seamlessly.

Of these posts, I think the Meatpacking ones really make me feel saddest; the fact that it has turned into bottle service disneyland for attention starved celebrities, unaccomplished children of privilege and popped collars to flaunt their material worth is the ultimte bitter irony, as its plasticness is the complete antithesis to what the daytime AND nighttime Meatpacking worlds were all about.

Lisa V. said...

I feel physically sick looking at what The Meatpacking District has become. I rarely go to that area any longer. It disgusts me. I want my city back & that is never going to happen. So very sad & truly heartbroken. NYC & all its gritty reality was my love, my comfort zone. Now it looks like being on a bad acid trip while reading Future Shock.

Anonymous said...

Warren, no one cares what you think considering you live in Morristown, NJ. Isn't there a Jersey blog you can comment in?

Paul Pelkonen said...

I cannot recommend enough the superb documentary 'Queen of the Meat Packing District' about the birth, life and sad end of florent. It is a fascinating, human and magnetic portrait of the heart of the Meatpacking District and the day the heart stopped beating.

laura said...

i liked the florent in 1989. i also like the patis later, as 1998. (good crowd). then one day, maybe in 2008 or 09, i re-visted pastis for lunch. screaming tourists w/shopping bags. i ordered food, it took a long time. the food looked disgusting, maybe it wasnt cooked enough, i dont recall. complained, got attitude, i ran out, the waiter chased me! i ran so fast, i escaped. few areas escpecially downtown, are for "locals". there is also no more "artist" culture. stop complaining its old news!

Pat said...

In the photo of 14th St. & Hudson that was the Eagle Tavern on 14th St. with the sign hanging overhead. I used to go there in the 80's to hear Irish traditional music on Friday nights and there was a trad session Monday nights. It had beautiful ship themed decor inside. Then the Eagle closed and the trad music venue moved to another pub. I remember Markt too, because it used to be something else, maybe an apothecary? You went into Markt and there were the original fixtures, all these cabinets with drawers, if I recall correctly. And the floor tile was great, even in the ladies room, I wish now I had photographed the tile. I think the Apple store is there now, everything gutted, horrible.

Lisa said...

Pat, the Eagle Tavern became the Village Idiot in the 90s. I worked at an ad agency nearby and we would go there to drink cheap pitchers of beer, shoot pool with the old men regulars, and listen to Willy Nelson and David Allen Coe and the like on the jukebox.

sallieparker said...

I can't whine for the transformation of the Meat Market. It's astonishing how many of these references are reaching back 20-25 years and talking about the Olden Days. I first knew the area in the early 70s, when I was a kid and knew Shelley Graham (Georgina Spelvin) and her partner, who lived with a couple of friends in an old pickle factory or warehouse on Little West 12th Street. It was a very barren, lonely area, rather like Tribeca a few years later or SoHo a few years earlier. Bums and winos drifting in from noplace in particular, the West Side Highway walling you off from good river views, at least till a big chunk of it fell down here (December 73) and they closed down the WSH south of 34th. It was one of the many spots in Manhattan than had done nothing but decay since before the Civil War. Before knocking the Mineshaft and other dens of sin that sprang up a few years later, you should bear in mind that these fisting oubliettes actually upgraded the environs and helped make them commercially viable. But there's no room in my heart whatsoever for people who want to romanticize what was a post-industrial slum.

Toke! said...

Back in the day I walked through the MPD on my commute from my job at S.I.R 25. I was back in town last year and didn't even realize I was on the same street. Weird.

Karen Simon said...

here is also a very nice interview/article with brian rose's view on NY:

it is sofascinating to see how quickly one location can change and develope. . .

Jack said...

I frequented the clubs back in the 80s. Walked thru area last year and it was disturbing. I couldn't afford Florent back then but saw the change coming. I will say that I worked at the old McGraw Hill bldg on 42nd Street in the 80s and 42nd has changed much more drastically. I remember there not being any big box stores on Manhattan and few national chain stores. Manhattan is a big upscale mall now. Disney, Armani, Barneys, Bed Bath and Beyond oh my

Todd and Christie said...

What is the enormous building in the third and fourth photos on the post?