Thursday, March 15, 2007

Greenwich Street between Carlisle and Rector Streets

‘Sodom South’

(from Our Town Downtown)

By David Crohn

It’s 10:23pm, and here I am. Just south of the former site of the World Trade Center, as far from home as Australia, as the Upper East Side.

It’s almost dead here. No watchers at the Pussycat Lounge, no girls. Just me and the bartender, and a few alcoholics who came because it’s close and open.

Two drinks pass, and I slide off the bar and out the door. As I step out into more quiet, I wonder how I am different from the boozers and the reekers inside the Pussycat. Only a pretense toward intellectual honesty—akin to my low tolerance for alcohol—sets me apart.

It’s also tranquil a door down, at Thunder Lingerie. Just me and a few other shoppers, although I consider myself more of a browser for now. I could trade in a few of my singles for quarters and check out the peep show in the back, but without enough booze in my system the excuses gnaw at my newfound commitment to the Immersionist school of participatory journalism. The DVDs look dusty, the lights are too bright and the clang of a distant cash register all remind me—like the whiff of coffee from a stripper’s mouth—that this is nothing but empty, bloodless commerce. I return to the red glow of the Pussycat Lounge.

It’s 12:37am, and what the fuck an I doing here? Oh, that’s right, I am slumming. I’m probing the veracity of a recent New York Times article, “A Seedy Stretch, Sure, but Worth Saving, Denizens Say.” It said every New Yorker has a taste for the salacious, “what the French in their love of slumming like to call ‘nostalgia for the mud,’” and that this block, Greenwich Street between Carlisle and Rector, was a kind of “Sodom South,” home to the Pussycat, Thunder Lingerie and what was once a brothel fronted by an artist’s loft.

You know things are bad for the agog, would-be lothario when he has to turn to the Paper of Record, a graying beacon of middlebrow, for ideas, but Giuliani be damned: I’m here to find some seediness. How will I know when I find it?

At 1:30am, after several more drinks, I find it, staring up into the pustules on a stripper’s backside. Vaguely nauseated, I knew I had found squalor. My troubles were gone, and everything became beautiful.

Stumbling home, 40 dollars poorer, I am reminded of teetotalers’ wisdom. Whether liquor makes stretch marks and gin blossoms lovely to the eye or just smudges them out of sight is immaterial. The point—of which I was cognizant once, when I was sober and before those brown breasts subsumed the entirety of my experience—is that only one of Satan’s henchmen can act as so deviant and effective an agent.

Returning to the block the next day, I am welcomed by what I discover is more like the new seedy, or “Seedy Lite,” where one could just as easily procure a panini as a lap dance. Or a luxury condominium, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the way they seem to be springing up everywhere around here.

The condos at 120 Greenwich are sold out, but a quick look at how that happened provides a revealing glimpse into the dynamics of Manhattan real estate way downtown, an area still smarting from 9/11.

As far back as September of last year, there were 30-odd units left, including one-bedrooms for $620,000 to $680,000. So the developer, Senex Greenwich Realty Associates, set up a financing program in which buyers had to provide only 5% of the selling price up front. The remaining units sold like hot cakes, for as little $31,000 down. It’s near one of downtown’s “seediest” stretches, but a solid deal nonetheless.

What Happened Here
Unless the preservationist gods act quick, the Pussycat Lounge—along with three neighboring Federal-era townhouses—may soon be demolished to make way for a luxury hotel on Greenwich or Washington, which is one block west.

To paraphrase the Pussycat’s owner, Robert Kremer, “No!”

Not only has he has filed a lawsuit against the hotel developer, saying a partner sold the property without his knowledge, but he has enlisted the help of Andrew Berman, the tireless director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation. In a proposal to the city, Berman has asked that part of the area be landmarked, including the 200-year-old building his bar calls home. It was once, after all, “the residential thoroughfare of New York,” the “address you wanted to have” during the late 18th century and early 19th century. Godspeed.