A little while ago, I started penning a post about a specific Manhattan venture that I’d actually never been to myself, that being the Squat Theater on West 23rd Street in Chelsea, which only operated out of its storefront between 7th and 8th Avenues between 1977 and 1984 (if their Wikipedia pages is to be believed). I’d read some intriguing bits about the places here and there — it being a cool spot for boundary-pushing art and theater, as well as a live music venue. That’s a shot of its interior above, taken by one Juanita Rogol, featuring Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop James Chance, Chris Stein and Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols. Obviously, it was quite a scene.
I ended up abandoning the post, as it felt a bit out of my jurisdiction, so to speak, having never been there. I’m sure there are some more authoritative takes on the place that can be found. I remain intrigued by the Squat — which was razed to accommodate the giant movie theatre that currently occupies its former footprint — but would not presume to know enough about it to write a credible post on it.
I prefaced that post, however, with postulation about where downtown -- in a both literal and figurative sense -- geographically began. Many people cite Union Square and/or the wide expanse of 14th Street (the longest east-west strip in Manhattan) as the border of all things downtown, but I made a case for it actually being 23rd, given the placement on that street of bohemian enclaves like The Chelsea Hotel, long-vanished porto-punk club Mother’s (long gone), Midnight Records (ditto) and the afore-cited Squat Theatre. While maybe not as celebrated as various neighborhoods to its south, 23rd Street has a cool, left-field history of its own.
This all came back to me this weekend, of course, given the explosion in Chelsea on Saturday night. I’m not even going to try to reprise events on that story, as a suspect is already in custody and events are progressing fast. Suffice to say, it was a major explosion, and it’s truly a miracle that no one was killed.
When the bomb went off, I was out and about with my family for the evening, albeit closer to our home in Greenwich Village. In fact, we were having dinner right in the very heart of the Village, partaking of some burgers at the incongruously situated JG Melon at the corner of of McDougal and Bleecker (which I initially railed about here). If you were in the city this weekend, you know how lovely an evening it was. The streets were filled with people just taking in the lovely autumn air.
The notion — especially so soon after the anniversary of September 11th — that someone had been planting explosive devices around town really threw us for a loop, prompting a probably long-overdue discussion about same with our kids. One of my children’s first (and proper) reactions was to worry about the well-being of a friend of theirs that lives around the site of the blast. It was — and remains — all very surreal.
While, no, we hadn’t been in that neck of the woods, the neighborhood we had been in bears all the same trappings as the one that was hit — densely populated with folks out on a weekend evening — some with their kids — just trying to have a nice time.
I’m sure this all sounds slavishly melodramatic. Apologies.
Anyway, while neither Greenwich Village or that strip of Chelsea are a tenth as cool as they once were, I found this curious little clip on YouTube of Nico (who I recently wrote of here) crooning that old NYC-centric Sinatra chestnut at the Squat Theatre in 1980. It’s odd, but fun. Crank it up.
AND STOP FUCKING WITH NEW YORK CITY!