Monday, January 7, 2013

Big Apple Meat Market

We've been hearing rumors about this for awhile and now it's happening. After more than 20 years in Hell's Kitchen, right behind the Port Authority bus terminal, the Big Apple Meat Market is closing. The good news is, they're moving to a new space a couple blocks away.

Hell's Yeah NYC got a shot of the goodbye signage and points to what's coming--the Times Square Hotel, a 38-story glass tower "consisting of 440 micro luxury guestrooms." Yes, "micro luxury." Click here for a look at the giant glass tower to come--it appears to be taking the entire block with it.

So the Big Apple market is surviving, but the building is not, and it won't be the same. Prior to housing Big Apple, this space was the home of meatpacking warehouse Washington Beef, in business for over 60 years. A ghost of the old name is still on the building, and in this 1934 photo of the block, that "meats and poultry" sign might be pointing to it, back in the day when this area held a lively marketplace for fruits, vegetables, and meat.

NYPL, 1934

People used to buy meat at Washington Beef, if they dared. New York magazine profiled it in 1970, calling it "the hardcore reason to shop along Ninth Avenue," but "you must be on intimate terms with the butcher" to do so. (The whole article is worth reading--it covers food shopping on 9th Avenue, a marketplace that "not even the Port Authority Terminal has managed to destroy... I'll bet someone is planning a 'renewal' right now." The fiscal crisis of the 70s made sure that did not happen. Until now.)

Another interesting tidbit about the address, if somewhat random, is this story about Ellen Meyer, a young woman who lived upstairs in the early 1900s, where she suffered from some strange catatonic condition for which she was taken to Bellevue and stuck with pins to no avail. But I digress.

The Big Apple market is a great place to visit in part because they never really renovated from the meatpacking days. The racks and rails for the meat hooks still line the ceiling, painted red. In the butcher shop, they're still use for hanging meat.

I've taken a handful of pictures at Big Apple over the years, knowing that a place so special could not possibly last.

There's something about the gloomy, semi-aquatic light, and the way the brands seem to hail from an earlier era, that lend Big Apple a frozen-in-time aura.

Signs are made by hand, not spat out of some corporate office in Texas. Above a ziggurat of pink egg cartons, the signs are hung on crooked strings.

The exterior is wonderfully dreary, covered in graffiti and pigeon shit. Standing here, you could dream yourself into a lost New York. But not for long. It's all coming down for more glass, more chain stores.

A couple of years ago, the Times did a piece on Big Apple. The article includes a wonderful slideshow of photos, featuring the sort of person who shops at Big Apple, the sort of person that is also vanishing from New York, replaced by the svelte and distracted, the hollow men and women, tapping away at iPhones in sterilized Whole Foods aisles.

Christian Hansen for The New York Times

Meanwhile, until January 13, there's the old Big Apple. Visit while you can. Buy some eggs, butter, and meat. “If it wasn’t for this store," said a Mr. Bozzonetti in the Times piece, "the majority of the people in this neighborhood would be out of luck."

Update: We wondered what would happen to the neighboring Stiles Farmers Market. Hell's Kitchen local Andrea Kleiman just sent in the following photo with good news, Stiles is "here to stay":


Steve Kennedy said...

What is happening to Stiles, the vegetable market. Owned by the brother of the now deceased DJ Danny Stiles?

Jeremiah Moss said...

i don't know about Stiles market, but it does show up in the architect's rendering for the hotel. it seems implausible, but maybe it's staying?

if anyone finds out, please share.

thegaycurmudgeon said...

So sad. I'm glad I got to shop here before it disappeared. Great reporting, once again.

JubilationTCornpone said...

Stiles has a sign saying it is staying put, thank you very much. It is actually not connected to the two corner buildings that will be disappearing.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Jubilation, i just got a pic from a reader of that sign.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful writing, but visiting your blog is becoming too depressing.

I have often wondered how long these local spots would survive along 9th Avenue. This addition of a "micro luxury" hotel will make the neighborhood even more unbearable for residents.

I'm wondering how much longer Esposito and Sons will hold on.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

I used to live down the street from here (priced out in 2002 when the first 'luxury' high-rise went up) and would hang out in the meat market on sweltering summer days as I had no a/c. What a wonderful place to get fresh food. Walking down that stretch of 9th between 42nd and 35th, I don't recognize anything any more.

Steve said...

Pretty sure Espositos owns their building, so they shouldn't be going anyway.

Best butcher in NYC!

laura said...

i visited w/a friend on 9th ave& 43st for many years. we would go to an amazing italian market, i think near 52nd. does anyone the name of it? is it still there? there was also a great coffee shop on 9th & 47th i think, w.side of the st. are they still there? how will people survive if theres only banks, whole foods, cell stores, you know the rest. i mean are the days of just plain fresh groseries numbered?

Anonymous said...

How long before the hotel guests complain about the fact that there is a bus terminal across the street? Is micro-luxury the same thing as overpriced hostel? Renderings are hideous and soulless ala Bloomberg's vision of a generic Metropolis. Can we tar and feather him and drop him off back in Boston or wherever he came from? I know they don't want him either, but he seems to have followed one of us home...

Suz said...

I suspect that the blogger did not have to shop for his groceries every week at the Meat Market.

Sure, the prices were great. But I was never sure I wasn't going to get salmonella from the place given all the cross-contamination, especially the checkout counters.

The whole place was just so completely dingy and gross. Filthy floors, impassable aisles, and the smell in summer. I used to dread going there.

While I wish it wasn't being converted into a giant hotel, I am kind of amazed at how thick your nostalgia is. Everyone went there because of the prices, despite of how horrible it was.

laura r. said...

micro luxury means 10x10 rooms for college kids, youngsters on a budget, from all over the world. many europeans japanese you get the picture. the rooms will be modern & clean, sleek. these guests are just happy to visit NYC. they stay in those places for the price, the hipness. dont confuse this w/a $500,000 condo. they may even find the bus station cool as well.

Mikey said...

True. The prices are good here and it feels like the old New York, but it is a little dirty and basically in the middle of a crack spot behind port authority. Decent place though and sad to see it go as the people working there are nice and it's a great neighborhood place to pick up the essentials when broke in a more and more expensive part of town. I would shop here sometimes when i lived in hells kitchen.

Buy Meat said...

Before i moved to the UK i used to visit this place quite regular. Its a crying shame the place has gone now. Im afraid its the sign of the times :(

Unknown said...

It's sad that we see so much of our Beloved New York disappear. My father was born on Ninth Ave & 54 St in 1929. His father owned the produce store on the ground floor, which is now a Korean deli. The Ninth Avenue El ran right outside their window growing up, and there was no such thing as TV. My grandmother was an Italian seamstress, working across from Macy's, very proud to have become an American and part of a union (International Ladies Garment Workers Union). My mother grew up at Eighth Ave & 50 St. When I got my first apartment in Hell's Kitchen in 1984 my parents said "We fought our whole lives to get out, and you just move right back in!" It was said with love though, because they loved the neighborhood, and were a part of it, as was I. One of the first places I found living on W46 St was Washington Meat Market (Big Apple). I always shopped there for my meats. What a bargain, and the quality! I moved to LA after awhile, and many years later moved back. Guess what! I went right back and shopped at Big Apple. Now I'm back in LA and am sad to hear of it's demise, and of Manganarro's, and of the demise of the New York I knew. My Aunt Julia lived in a tenement on West 37 & Tenth Ave back in the day, it was painted white so she always said "I live in the White House!" It's now getting torn down to make way for the new Hudson Yards "extravaganza". Aunt Julia used to work at the Market Diner on Eleventh Ave, back when you were scared to death to be on Eleventh Ave! I guess what I'm trying to say is, my parents and family lamented the death of the NYC they knew, then it was my turn, and now time marches on. I just suppose it's a continuum. They all just seemed to get on with their lives, take it in stride, and say pay it no mind. When I've had a stressful day, I lay down at night, pull the covers up, and remember the Hell's Kitchen I loved and helped form me and not only gave me so many memories, but wrote my DNA. That can never be torn down or replaced.