Yesterday, Cathryn Swan of the Washington Square Park Blog organized a rally in the park to save its hot dog vendors against the wrath of socialites. Thanks to reader Lois, a former vendor in the city's public parks, for sending in these photos from the event.
all color photos by Lois
As Swan first revealed on her blog (complete with secret documents!), a private group of "wealthy women" have incorporated themselves into a conservancy, a.k.a. "a little friends group," and are pushing to boot the “unsightly” hot dog vendors from the park, replacing them with more upscale food carts, along with a cart from celebrity restaurateur Mario Batali that will be allowed to remain. (Batali is on the board of the little friends group.)
The upper-crust cabal is run by John Leguizamo’s wife, Justine, and socialite Veronica Bulgari. John Leguizamo defended himself on Twitter, saying, “I wanna keep the hot-dog guy," and "We had nothing to do with it. The park did it on their own and we became the scapegoat.”
On the same day of the rally, the Post reported that the Parks Department was reconsidering its decision.
This isn't the first time that hot dog vendors have had to fight for their right to exist. Bloomberg got strict with them, his inspectors overcharging fines for various infractions. Also in the 2000s, the city tried to boot Vietnam veteran hot-dog vendors from in front of the Met. The vets won.
Rudy Giuliani tried the hardest to get rid of them in his 1990s Quality of Life campaign. As the Times wrote in 1998: "There is a difference between making the streets safer and cleaner and making war on the New Yorkness of New York City. In his zeal for order and obedience, he must not destroy the lively street scene that is part of the city's historic flavor. No one misses the squeegee men, but do we really want to outlaw the corner hot-dog stand?"
Ed Koch also cracked down, sweeping vendors from the busier streets for creating too much clutter. As the Times reported him saying in 1988, "This is not supposed to look like a souk."
Somehow, the hot dog carts and their vendors have come to symbolize disorder, disobedience, and the untamed spirit of the city. Maybe that's why many of us love them so much. They are among the last vestiges of the real New York, not controlled by big national chains and not branded "artisanal" with jacked-up prices.
The hot dog cart is utterly democratic. For over a century, it has been a low-threshold entryway to business for immigrants and others. There is nothing exclusive about the hot dog cart. It is not pretty and it resists control. That's exactly why it is problematic to the new urban elite, especially in today's luxury New York.
We've had enough of socialites dictating what the city is all about. Will Mayor de Blasio continue the war on wieners? Or will he give the humble and historic hot-dog cart (and its vendors) a break?
Hot dog vendor, 1910, via New York Times