The "Meatpacking District" in New York City was once ironic shorthand for the patch of West Village blocks, centered roughly at 14th Street and Ninth Avenue, to which countless visitors flocked, seeking the alternative sexual universe that existed there before the invasion of slumming heterosexual tourists looking for Stella McCartney's latest couture designs.
At the height of the feminist, gay, and sexual revolutions of the 1960's and '70s through the mid-'80s, the Meatpacking District was home to the city's thriving and mostly queer S/M and sex club scene.
from: "Losing the Meatpacking District: A Queer History of Leather Culture"
by Abby Tallmer
Far from being a desirable destination, the Far West Village, as it was known back then, was unknown territory to most New Yorkers except for butchers, neighborhood residents, and the select group of queer and kinky people who roamed the streets and filled the clubs there in the late-night hours, staggering home in the early morning as the sun was rising and most others were heading off to work. During the day, strong men dragged animal carcasses through the garbage-filled streets. It was an area reserved for those with iron stomachs, given the stench of dead flesh and rotting trash that permeated the air.
Growing up in the neighborhood, I was ashamed to invite my grade-school friends over for fear they would think I lived in a garbage dump.
But at night, the place came alive and the unlit, otherwise desolate streets became filled with other men, also tough-looking, but clad in leather chaps and motorcycle jackets with hankies protruding from their rear pockets and keys dangling from their sides. They lingered on street corners, purposefully eyeing one another, striking up conversations, offering each other a light, and often disappearing down mysterious alleyways or spilling into or out from unmarked but much-trafficked doorways.
There were other characters as well— adventurous male/female couples; groups of nervous young gay men and women clearly new to the area and intent on a mission, most often clad not in leather/fetish gear but in "regular" clothes; and the ever-present trans hookers, most, but not all, of whom were black or Hispanic.
“Never take your present for granted, because there’s no telling how quickly and how thoroughly it will be erased.”
Many of the hookers almost completely passed as women, most of them as stunning as they were scantily dressed. They could been seen most often awkwardly climbing into and out of the limos and trucks driven by the married men from Staten Island or New Jersey who traveled there just for them.
In the early 1970s, I lived five blocks north of Christopher Street and three blocks from the Hudson River. I was then about nine years old, a queer kid waiting for the right time to spring this news on my parents. I was raised in a very permissive household and often walked the streets alone even after dark.
Needless to say, the night action in my neighborhood hardly went unnoticed by me and, in fact, served as the object of much curiosity.
I remember riding my bike around the neighborhood, making special trips past the piers and the bathhouses and through the deserted side streets west of Greenwich Street, and down 14th Street and the short blocks just below. Though I wasn't quite sure what exactly went on behind these hidden and locked doors, I knew somehow— God knows how— that whatever it was had something to do with being gay, with being sexual, and even with a particular form of gay sexual expression that I gathered was considered in some way shameful.
The very same men who cheerily said hi to me in my building's elevator usually looked more horrified than happy to see me when I greeted them from my bicycle as they loitered, regaled in leather, in alleyways or in front of dimly-lit clubs or bathhouses.
As I would learn later, the unofficial center of all of this action was the "Triangle Building" on 14th Street and Ninth Avenue, which now houses Vento, a popular Italian restaurant opened in 2004, but was then the site of some of the most notorious leather bars in the city.
Entrances to a stunning array of S/M and sex clubs and backrooms lined both the Eighth and the Ninth Avenue sides of the Triangle. Those directly on the Triangle included the nationally known Hellfire Club, the Vault, J's, The Man Hole and many others.
Queer clubs within strolling distance included the notorious Mineshaft, the Anvil, the Asstrick, the Cellblock, the International Stud, the Glory Hole and, later, the Lure. Many patrons migrated back and forth all night long, every night of the week back when sexual freedom defined an era.
Nearly all of these clubs, except for the Hellfire Club and the Vault, were predominantly gay, though a few stray women here and there could at times be spotted in some of the less strict men's-only clubs.
The Mineshaft's door policy, however, was notoriously strict, and many gay men were turned away each night for violating its strict leather/macho dress code. That didn't keep some inventive women from testing whether it was foolproof.
I know this to be true firsthand, for one night just after I turned 18, my best friends, Saul and Brian, decided that it would be fun to dress me up and sneak me in with them.
...continued in "Best Sex Writing 2012"