In today’s Meatpacking District, animal carcasses and bloody butchers’ coats are rare. But this small tract of Downtown Manhattan, ringed by the West Village, Chelsea and the Hudson River, does retain an industrial feel. And there’s a fair amount of leftover charm in its cobblestoned streets and sidewalk overhangs. The high-end boutiques of Diane von Furstenberg (a longtime neighborhood resident), Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen fill former packing plants. Fashionable restaurants, such as Pastis and Spice Market, draw crowds nightly. There are also stylish hotels, including the Gansevoort, the Soho House and the Standard. The 2009 opening of the High Line, a wildly popular elevated park, confirmed the Meatpacking District’s status as one of Downtown’s main attractions for visitors. The trend is scheduled to continue with new construction like the relocation of the Whitney Museum (opening 2015).
The area has a fascinating history of reinventing itself. Fort Gansevoort stood at the foot of what is now Gansevoort Street, keeping watch over the Hudson River in the early 1800s until its demolition mid-century. Then the West Washington Market, which morphed into the Gansevoort Market, set the tone for the neighborhood as a center for commerce. For nearly 100 years, the far western stretches bustled with farmers selling their crops. At the turn of the century, slaughterhouses and meat wholesalers joined them. By the 1920s and 1930s, meatpackers dominated the area. It was home to other industries, too, from piano manufacturers to lumberyards to book-binding and even one notable publisher. (The P.F. Collier building, at 416 West 13th Street, was the headquarters of the popular periodical Collier’s Weekly from 1888 to 1956.) In the later 20th century, the flesh trade joined the meat business. The area became a haven for transsexual prostitutes and gay sex clubs such as the Hellfire, the Anvil and the Manhole. In the 80s and 90s the nightlife changed into a more “anything goes” scene. A vibrant, decidedly straighter nightlife endures in the area, with clubs such as Tenjune and Cielo.
The High Line is the neighborhood’s most prominent landmark. Between 1934 and 1980, freight trains ran on elevated tracks high above Washington Street. Abandoned for nearly 30 years, the tracks were refashioned into a park in 2009, its southern entrance on Gansevoort Street. The mile-long greenway, which stretches north into Chelsea, now serves as a respite for strolling New Yorkers and visitors alike. To access the neighborhood on underground tracks, take the A, C or E subway train to 14th Street or the L to Eighth Avenue.
The old Nabisco factory on the neighborhood’s northern border, where the Oreo cookie was invented and produced, is another brilliant reuse. Chelsea Market, a conglomeration of food shops, Major League Baseball, NY1 and the Food Network, occupy one building. Its sibling across 10th Avenue houses high-profile restaurants: Mario Batali’s Del Posto and Tom Colicchio’s Colicchio & Sons. Other preservation-minded conversions include the enormous Manhattan Refrigeration Company, now the West Coast Apartment Complex, and the Triangle Building, once a Civil War hospital, now a Dos Caminos Mexican restaurant outpost.