Thursday, March 6, 2014

Skid Row No Mo'

I can't be considered a fan of the Salvation Army by any standard, but I have to say that I felt a pang when I heard that they sold their facility on the Bowery to a hotel developer.

Lower Manhattan's Bowery has its origins in a Lenape footpath, and received its name during the era of Dutch colonization when it was used to transport produce from farms (Bouwerij meaning "farm") to the city precincts of New Amsterdam. The most famous resident of the Dutch Bowery was Peter Stuyvesant.

From the mid 19th Century to the late-middle 20th century, the Bowery deteriorated into New York City's Skid Row, with the "Bowery Bum" becoming a cultural phenomenon worthy of a 1931 New Yorker profile. In the 1970s, the Bowery became the epicenter of New York's punk movement... that was slightly before my time.

By the time I was old enough to hang out on the Bowery, it seemed like a good portion of the street was taken up by companies selling commercial kitchen equipment and outlying Chinatown businesses. While I've been to CBGB, it was clearly in its waning days, and was notably mainly for being a filthy shithole with alarming bathrooms. My go-to watering hole in the area was Swift's Hibernian Lounge, around the corner on East 4th St. Notably, the annual Guinness Oyster Fest to benefit the Merchant's House Museum used to take place on the Bowery and 4th St before moving downtown to Stone St. The festival was always a highlight of NYC street fair life, with freshly shucked oysters, great live music, and dirty big pints of stout. From my perspective, the Bowery switched from a haunt of down-and-out alcoholics to accomplished drunks. Still the area kept a sort of downmarket, scruffy charm... a mix of bars and grungy commercial properties.

With the rapid gentrification occurring, the Bowery will probably cease to become a destination for boozehounds, whether functional or not. So it goes... For the last word on the Bowery, I will defer to one of its most celebrated denizens, a guy whose name graces an honorary street sign on the storied roadway:

I tried to find a live version, but I couldn't find one without a ton of other material.


M. Bouffant said...

All good drinkers/music fans should have at least one visit to a floating-bathroom shit hole under their belts.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I saw Patti Smith many times here.

It's a decent-size place, with nice acoustics.

mikey said...

My office in SF is right in the heart of our 'skid row', an area called SOMA (South of MArket). And it's gentrifying too. In fact, we're having a pretty big shouting match about it, because Twitter's right around the corner on Market and they're trying to 'clean up' the neighborhood, and a lot of very poor and homeless people are getting shoved around as a consequence. Along with the controversy over Google running their private bus line and using public bus stops, it's starting to have some good impacts on getting private funds into the community. Google just gave SF 6 million bucks to extend the "kids ride the Muni free" deal, and I think we'll see more funding from the tech companies going to community projects.

Side note - the 'skid row' area in San Jose was called SOFA (South of First Area) and back in the 90s they'd have an annual SOFA Festival where people would donate hundreds of old couches and they'd line the street with them, and have music and food and all sorts of shit. I saw No Use For a Name play a great show there one blazing hot afternoon...