People & Places

Comments (0)

Coco McPherson's New York Obsession New York 2000 -

Until recently, the meat market was my secret dreamworld, a place most alive in the middle of the night, surreal for its rows of hanging animal carcasses and the white-coated men—with names like One-Eye (blinded by bleach after he bugged a waitress once too often), Dog Eddie, and Rabbit—who attended them, and the prostitutes who fought on the cobblestoned streets and who later gathered at Dizzy Izzy's (closed this spring) for coffee. All this is over now, and a new neighborhood is rising like Disney's version of New Orleans, drunk and rich, with lots of money and a little help from writers who shill for developers in the Sunday real estate section. My neighbor rides around on his bicycle shouting into a bullhorn, "Go back to Soho," and like a gentle but insistent traffic cop, "Soho is south of here," and only occasionally, "GET OUT OF MY NEIGHBORHOOD." Indeed.

Remember that scene in Fellini's Roma, where workers using an electric mole break through a wall and expose ancient Roman mosaics, which vanish seconds later? These days, walking around the meatpacking district is a lot like that. Vanishing but still standing is the market's industrial beauty, and unless you're devoted to new stores selling little gem prayer bracelets and minaret-shaped candles, there's nothing to buy. One exception is Bahay (24 Ninth Avenue, 989-9412), which sells the owner's own beautiful ceramic pieces and the work of local artists. Across the street is Western Beef (403 West 14th Street, 989-6572), where I shop for incongruously labeled staples like Western Beef Sugar and Western Beef Cornflakes. For actual beef, however, see Adolf Kusy (861 Washington Street, 242-4755) or Steve Brooks at Diamond Meats (37 Ninth Avenue, 727-2067). In the early morning, you can still expect to weave through restaurant trucks picking up meat—boxes of triangles, rounds, circles, flaps, and other mysterious cuts—for the day's meals. For a taste of the neigh- borhood's other flesh, go straight to Hellfire (28 Ninth Avenue, 647-0063), where men pay $30 and women nothing at all for, among many other things, the pleasure of riding a man with a saddle strapped to his back. If you're actually hungry, do as I do and order a good diner cheeseburger from Nick's City Kitchen (44 Ninth Avenue, 929-2807) or the steak frites at Florent (69 Gansevoort Street, 989-5779), then walk to the corner of Little West 12th and Washington Street for a look at the Miami-inspired "pink building" and its lovely decaying neighbor, Loew Avenue Beef (closed this year after nearly half a century—RIP). Across the street, the elevated track known as the High Line is covered with lush green weeds. See the trees growing from the metal girders and say a prayer for gentle pioneer Lee Brewster; at his Mardi Gras Boutique, even the tallest gentleman was a lady.

When you've watched the death throes of the meat market for too long, go to my other secret dreamworld, Coney Island. There, the decay is still beautifully intact. On your way, hit La Taza de Oro (96 Eighth Avenue, 243-9946) and order Spanish coffee to go—it's the best in New York and still only $1. Proceed to West 4th Street and get on the B train. Get off at Stillwell Avenue. As you exit the station, stare at the sturdy candy apples at Coney legend Philip's Candies (1237 Surf Avenue, 718-372-8783). Cross the street to the Sideshows by the Seashore (1208 Surf Avenue, 718-372-5159). Notable for its wondrous humans, it also has excellent souvenirs. Buy a set of brightly tinted postcards of the Parachute Drop or Luna Park, only 50 cents each, or a giant 1949 black-and-white postcard of the boardwalk in its heyday. Next door, find independent oddity the World's Tiniest Woman. ("29 tiny inches," her barker intones. "She's here, she's weird, and she's alive.") On the other side of the shooting galleries (and the figure perpetually vomiting brown water into a barrel) is the beautiful wreck of the Thunderbolt, with its mysterious entrance overgrown with vines. Up on the boardwalk, take a long walk down to Café Tatiana (3154 Brighton Beach, at 4th Street, 718-646-7630). Get drunk and watch the sun set as beautiful Russian ladies of all ages perambulate the boardwalk. Address your postcards. Tell your friends you're never coming home.

My Voice Nation Help
Anne Favrot
Anne Favrot

January 23, 2009 ~ Memory of Outstanding New York Theater Moments: Meat Packing District, January, 20 years ago.

What Coco didn't tell you, being too modest or well bred, is that some of the best theater performed anywhere on the island of Manhattan took place at her loft on a cold and windy corner of the Meat Packing district one January night in the '90's. If you climbed the four flights of stairs and then knocked at the oversized metal door with giant hinges and sliding bar, you were admitted 'by invitation' to the most extraordinary showing of HEDDA GABLER performed since Ibsen's opening night. The audience was made up of family members and friends of the performers, who were also the tenants of the loft. Seating was arranged for us in sofas, on benches, in 'love seats', in arm and on folding chairs, all facing the windows. The set was before us as a 'faux' proscenium hatched out of the 4' space between the lower Broadway facing windows and our knees. Rich velvet curtain treatments, suggested the 19th century stage, with the drawing room furniture and props you'd expect of a traditional HEDDA. However, an area downstage left hinted at the post-modern treatment to come with a work table and reading light facing us. The rustling of programs began to subside, as the ambient apartment lights went down. The performance began with the arrival of the actress playing Hedda Gabler. No sooner had familiar words and gestures reassured us that the performers were at ease, than a second Hedda Gabler in identical costume arrived and began her scene in counterpoint to the first Hedda. The husband reacted to each one differently; with the first H he was blas�even a bit contemptuous, as he took her for granted in His home/ His castle. With the second Hedda, he seduced and cajoled her into reacting to him, and we watched as the familiar words received an unexpected jolt. Coco, as Hedda 2 snapped and sparkled with contained fire, her blonde hair and blue eyes alight. We forgot we were in the audience, all disbelief suspended, in the game of sorting out the plots, subplots and dueling wit. Just when I felt I had regained my footing in the story, Hedda 2 moved downstage, outside the story frame, seated herself at the bare table, turned on the lamp and began to read her lines in Norwegian, joined a moment later by a second husband? Suddenly living 'subtitles' were thrown into the air, forming a harmonic chord to the visual rhymes of twin actresses and ironic subtexts. It was then that I knew I was attending a moment in New York performance history that might miss the 'theater critic' reviews, but more truly represented the spirit of inventive play than any other acting moment on the island of Manhattan. And it took place one cold January night late last century in a neighborhood they called "The Meat Packing District". Anne Favrot Brooklyn/New Orleans