Last Saturday night, some friends from out of town invited Peg and I out to dinner, so we secured a sitter for the kids and happily accepted. The restaurant our friends chose was a very hip new-ish spot over in the Meat Packing District, a neighborhood I rarely spend much time in anymore for a variety of reasons. In much the same manner as my attitude towards Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side, this was not always the case. Back in the mid-to-late 90's, the MPD was often a regular stop on the nighttime trawl, specifically for the purposes of catching shows at The Cooler (a low-ceilinged former meat-locker-turned-rock club), doing shots and feeding the scary turtles at The Village Idiot and eating greasy grub, drinking cheap beer and playing bad pool at The Hog Pit. There were a few other choice little venues in the area, but more about them later. Otherwise, the streets in question were ruled by slabs of rotting animal flesh and toothless transvestite hookers. Yes, these were the salad days.
Back in those days, the Meat Packing District had a great, irreplaceable feeling of the fringe frontier. It was perched on the very edge of the city and, as such, it was more than a little funky. I remember looking for apartments to rent back in 1995, and my erstwhile real estate agent-turned-drinkin'-buddy Neil (a Brit ex-pat, Elvis Costello fiend and avid travel guide author) showed me a great studio apartment right off Gansevoort Street. I remember actually really digging the space, but on our way out, we encountered a disquietingly jittery individual of not-immediately-definable gender blocking our exit on the front stoop. S/he was sporting two black eyes, a tattered ballerina tutu and looked to have recently had a violent run in with a very careless barber. We asked "her" to politely step aside so that we could exit the building, and she promptly leapt into the street, bent over and displayed "her" bare hindquarters to us. My fascination for said apartment dissipated immediately. Thirteen years later, I still wouldn't want to live on that particular strip, but for entirely different reasons.
In the fall of 2000, my musician friend Dusty Wright took part in an open air benefit of country & western music that was organized to raise funds for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The main thrust of "Beefstock, as it was dubbed (I still have the official baseball cap) was to generate money and inspire support for the City to designate the "Gansevoort Market" area (which loosely stretched from just below Gansevoort to just above West 14th) as a historic district, thus protecting its architectural integrity and sense of community. You can read more about this undertaking here (you have to scroll down a ways). In any case, Beefstock was a big success. Dusty played well. There was a non-mechanical mechanical bull and lots of beer. A fine time was had by all, and loads of people seemed to donate to the cause. The `hood seemed destined to retain its character and dignity.
About a year later, however, the attacks of September 11th changed everything. In short order, the City felt it had bigger fish to fry than preserving the sanctity of one of its historic neighborhoods. "Gansevoort Market" as a designated district went down the toilet.
In the ensuing years, the entirety of the Meat Packing District has undergone a severe facelift, and it's barely recognizable. The Cooler over on 14th street closed. I managed to attend one of its final shows, fittingly headlined by NYC proto-punk legends, Suicide. Botanica opened up with Tod [A] of Firewater guesting on a visceral cover of Faust's krautrock standard, "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl." I haven't the foggiest idea what's become of the space since then. Similarly, to the east of 9th Avenue, the endearingly decrepit roadhouse that was The Village Idiot is long gone. More depressingly, the fabled S&M clubs like The Vault and The Hellfire Club have also vanished from the neighborhood. I once went to The Vault one night about a decade ago, but that's a sordid post for another time. The Meat Packing District was changing rapidly.
Of all the spots in the neighborhood, however, The Hog Pit was always my favorite. An adjunct operation to the more-popular/salacious Hogs N' Heifers a block to the west (where celebrity douche-bags like Julia Roberts would hang out, much to the delight of the New York Post's Page Six), the Hog Pit was a great, far-flung, backwater BBQ joint. The food was pretty good (not mindblowing, but pretty good), the atmosphere was endearingly seedy, the beer was cheap (Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can a good few years before it became the ironic beverage of choice) and the jukebox was excellent. I remember one evening being threatened by a buxom bartender with a black cowboy hat and leather chaps on (I believe the woman in question was this young lady) that if I played a certain track by Pantera one more time, she was going to take me out to the pavement and kick the crap out of me. I remember hanging out there one Halloween night with some friends in from Seattle and having a long, detailed discussion about real estate with porn star Vanessa Del Rio (who was dressed like a busty vampire). I still have an old, grey Hog PIt t-shirt with fang-holes in the sleeve after the in-house German shepherd forced me into a game of tug-of-war with it.
I hadn't been back in a very long time. Like I said, the transformation the Meat Packing District has undergone does not compel me to visit the place anymore. When we were back there last Saturday night -- at an opulent and ludicrously expensive place called Spice Market, just across the street from the Hog Pit -- I was happy to look across the way and see the place packed to the rafters and seemingly thriving (albeit probably stuffed with a-holes staying next door at the noxious Gansevoort Hotel). Imagine my shock and sadness, then, upon reading that the Hog Pit is yet another beloved downtown institution that is falling prey to Manhattan's merciless new world order.
It won't officially be forced out until January, and there's talk of it settling somewhere else. But as far as I'm concerned, the demise of the Hog Pit on that once-desolate corner of 9th Avenue marks the very bitter end of the Meat Packing District for me. The Pit will be gone, and all that's left will be the swine.