A number of weeks back, photographer Matthew Weber hosted an image on his truly astounding photo-blog, Black and White Street Photographs of New York (really, if you’re an aficionado of my blog, you owe yourself a trip over to his), that caught my eye. Here it is.
While I indeed love the flyers plastered up showcasing then-new albums by Billy Idol and Alice Cooper, it’s the red building in the background that fired my imagination.
The Triangle II … or simply 675 Hudson Street off West 14th Street … always seemed like the centerpiece of the Meatpacking District. Like a slightly diminutive sibling to the Flatiron Building a couple of neighborhoods away, it stands perched on a dividing line between Hudson Street and 9th Avenue, not unlike the bow of a ship sailing north. Weber’s photograph above, shot in 1986, perfectly captures the gritty, weathered and not-just-a-little forbidding character of the surrounding neighborhood at the time. Today, of course, it’s a very different scene.
But even back during the less salubrious days of the Meatpacking District, 675 Hudson was a bit of landmark. It was featured in no shortage of significant films, notably “Single White Female,” “Fatal Attraction” and “The Hours,” and even made a cameo in the stylish clip for “When 2 Become 1” by the Spice Girls (of all bands). Here’s a shot of it circa “Single White Female” in 1992 (thanks to Jeremiah Moss).
Personally speaking, I’ve always been drawn to it — not just because of its interesting history and architecture, but because it also played host to a number of distinct concerns in its lower quarters. Back in the 80s and 90s, among its more celebrated tenants were sex clubs like The Hellfire Club, The Manhole and, most famously, The Vault.
On many an evening during my nights out on the tiles in the 90’s with similarly inclined cohorts, whenever someone asked “Where should we go now?” (invariably postulated after we’d been shown the door by one establishment or another), someone would jocularly and zealously exhort “TO THE VAULT!!” One night we actually went, but that’s a story for another post. Here’s a shot of the exterior I took sometime in the late 90’s.
On its southern side, meanwhile, was The Hog Pit (which I discussed at some length here). In this capacity, this stately triangular building was something of an oasis in the Meatpacking District. It was but a stone’s throw from other fabled spots like The Cooler (long gone), Hogs & Heifers (still there, somewhat astoundingly) and the Village Idiot (now a bicycle shop, if memory serves).
My very first time setting foot in the building, meanwhile, would date back to the summer of 1989. As discussed in this ancient post, I was interning paylessly and perilously at SPIN Magazine at the time, and one afternoon, my fellow intern Sam and I were dispatched to the apartment of estimably affable contributor and rock photographer extraordinaire Pat Blashill. I can’t remember what our mission was — to pick up some negatives or proofs or something?? — but off we went, darkening the already-somewhat forbidding door of 675 Hudson to procure whatever materials SPIN needed from Mr. Blashill. I remember his home being suitably funky, but endearingly homey at the same time.
Now 25 (Jesus Christ!!!) years later, I am back in touch with Pat Blashill, thanks to the world-shrinking services of Facebook. In thinking about this entry, I thought it might be fun to ask Pat — now living in Vienna, Austria, of all places — about living in the heart of the Meatpacking District during the bad old days. Happily, he was more than game to discuss it.
So Pat, when did you move into the Triangle II building?
I moved from Austin, Texas, to New York City in June, 1987. A friend of a friend was subletting his room in the Triangle II building—the address was 675 Hudson. Just before I left Texas, some friends helpfully informed me that the apartment I was moving into had once been a gay S & M club called the Toilet. So I knew I was getting into something. When I got there, one of the rooms in the apartment had a cage in the corner that was big enough for about three humans.
What was the neighborhood like at the time?
It was colorful. The meat markets were still quite active, and after the sun went down, our corner was another sort of meat market. Lots of very attractive African-American fellows in dresses and heels. And there was a great late night bagel spot called Dizzy Izzy’s in the middle of everything. Yummy white fish spread. I walked in there once and Susan Sarandon—dressed head to toe in black leather—was ordering half a dozen sesame bagels to go.
Were you aware of the businesses also in operation in the building (i.e. the Vault, the Manhole, the Hog Pit, etc.) Did you patronize them? Were they good neighbors?
Oh yeah, we were aware and proud of our cozy little historic corner. You may also know that Fatal Attraction was filmed on the second floor of the building before I moved in, and after I moved out, part of the Meryl Streep story in The Hours was shot in our apartment. The Ed Harris character jumps out of my bedroom window and kills himself in that movie.
I didn’t patronize the Vault, but I did go down there once because we blew a fuse and I needed to get to the circuit breaker box. The staff there were easily the palest humans I had ever seen. But very polite.
I didn’t ever go to the Hog Pit—I’m a barbecue snob, being from Texas and all.
What are your most striking memories (good or bad) of the place and/or neighborhood?
We had some really good drum parties in our apartment. We would tell everyone we knew to show up with a drum or something that could be played like a drum. People brought pots, pans, metal crates and industrial washing machine cylinders. We would start pounding out a groove, and just keeping banging until the police came to shut us down. Jon Spencer and one of the guys from Big Black showed up at one, and they were pretty amused by it all.
Eventually a hip hop club opened up nearby, so I also enjoyed being awoken at four-thirty in the morning whenever some of the more macho hip hop kids would decide to fuck with the drag queens. I once saw one of the transvestites chasing some of those kids with a two-by-four. Those club kids got so much more than they bargained for.
Why did you move?
We eventually got kicked out when we couldn’t prove that our apartment had been a residential space for long enough to qualify for rent control. So we had another big party a few days before we moved. A few walls got demolished. Sort of like when Black Flag left Los Angeles.
What do you miss most?
Oh, it was really fun, but I’m not that person anymore. I don’t think New York is that city anymore.
Have you been back since?
I’ve walked around the building a few times since then—at least one of our neighbors still lives there. I didn’t notice any cheap bagel spots in the vicinity…..
Anything you’d like to add….
A fond memory: after I’d been there for a year or so, my mom came to NYC to visit me. Naturally, she had been alarmed when I first told her I wanted to move to New York. But when she got there and stayed with us in 675 Hudson, she loved it. I came home from work one day, and she was just sitting by the window, watching the city buses, and the meat packing trucks, the transvestites and the Hassidic Jews who drove by on their way back to their homes in New Jersey. She looked back at me and said, “Oh Pat, this is just fascinating!”
I’d love to sincerely thank Pat for sharing his recollections with Flaming Pablum
Today, you’d never know the above shenanigans transpired at 675 Hudson. The sex clubs are gone, and the Hog Pit is now a Bill’s Burger Bar. The north end of the building plays host to a well appointed Italian eatery, and there’s now a Tango-themed dance studio on the third floor. I have no idea what’s in the space formerly occupied by The Vault, but I doubt it’s as exciting.