As I mentioned back on this ancient post, a website named BlockAvenue.com once reached out to me to see if I wanted to contribute by writing up a little entry on "my favorite block in NYC." It sounded like a fun, curious little exercise, so I gamely obliged and wrote up an entry on Cortlandt Alley down off Canal Street. Evidently, they liked it so much — or they were entirely desperate for content — that they even wrote up a little shout-out about it on their accompanying blog. I thought that was jolly nice of them, although it seems that my reasons for liking that particular strip (ambiance, local history, atmosphere, aesthetic, cultural significance, etc.) had precious little in common with the reasons most of their other contributors cited for their favorite blocks (proximity to gyms and Starbucks), which I think was sadly symptomatic of this city’s self-awareness. Five years later, all evidence of that website is gone, including my little piece on Cortlandt Alley, regrettably.
Cortlandt Alley, of course, is still there, although I’ve been noticing an uptick in scaffolding up and down its narrow canyon, which makes me fear the worst.
A thin, arguably forbidding strip that extends between Canal and Franklin streets, with a slight misalignment at White Street that makes its trajectory essentially lightning-bolt-shaped, Cortlandt Alley remains my favorite street in Manhattan.
If you’re not immediately familiar with the name, you’d doubtlessly recognize it from its placement in countless films. Off the top of my head, Cortlandt Alley plays a defining role in the music videos for “Cousins” by Vampire Weekend and “Stiff Upper Lip” by AC/DC and probably about seven-dozen others. It’s probably most famous for being the “Hot Gates”-like entry to 77 White Street (at the center of the afore-cited lightning bolt), which used to be, of course, the Mudd Club.
I never made it to the Mudd Club (rhapsodized most famously in song by Talking Heads during “Life During Wartime”), as I was too young at the time, but I’m an ardent fan of the music and the scene it spawned, from the No Wave skronk of bands like Teenage Jesus and DNA through the mutated dance music of Konk and Liquid Liquid and all points in between. It closed in 1983 or so, I believe, and is now a very chic condo. I actually know a guy from my former building who lives in the building now. When he told me he was moving to a spacious apartment at 77 White Street, I immediately blurted out “THE MUDD CLUB!” and he showed no sign of recognition to what I was talking about. I know there’s a plaque on the building detailing same today, but I’m betting no one who lives in there today has any genuine idea of what the place was all about. Again, this city largely has no sense of its own myriad histories, which is sad.
Back in November, I landed a new job way downtown, one that now finds me regularly exploring various byways on my way to and from the office. On the days when I have to drop my kids off at their school in the Gramercy area, I usually hop on a downtown 6 train afterwards, and get off at Canal Street. From there, I take a leisurely, atmospheric stroll down Cortlandt Alley. Even this many years later, it still fires my imagination like nothing else. Frequently, I’m moved to take pictures.
Here are my shots from not only my commutes over the past six months, but also some shots from the past couple of years on Instagram (along with a couple of shots of my kids).