28 March 2013

A Stroll Around the Meatpacking District

Sunday I thought I'd pick something up for dinner from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, an excellent butchery in Chelsea Market. On my way there, I decided to take a stroll around the Meatpacking District.

The Meatpacking District started out as a residential area in the early 1800s. By 1900 it had turned industrial, teeming with slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants (250 to be exact, hence its name) as well as markets with produce and dairy, and other businesses like automotive services and printing. Yet by the 1980s the area, which had been in a decline for two decades, was better known for drugs and prostitution. In the late 1990s a change began when designers started to move in and today it’s home to fashion stores like Moschino and Tory Burch as well as nightclubs and restaurants.

On the edge of the Meatpacking District, which borders the Chelsea neighbourhood, is Chelsea Market. Once a National Biscuit Company factory (rumoured to be the birthplace of the Oreo), it is now home to a variety of food shops and restaurants as well as television offices including the Food Network. It can feel touristy but there are shops worth the visit like Buon Italia for all types of Italian goods, The Lobster Place (currently closed for renovations) that has amazing lobster rolls, and Chelsea Market Baskets where you can pick up some lovely Leonidas chocolates. Across the way Homestead Steakhouse, which was established in 1868, is a nod to the area's history with meat and has a pretty cool neon sign.

In addition to fashion and food, the Meatpacking District has some darlings of the tech world for neighbours. Google's New York offices are in the former Port Authority building on Ninth Avenue and an Apple store on 14th Street always attracts a crowd.

Many of the streets in the Meatpacking District are wide for this part of Manhattan and some are paved with cobblestones. Brick tends to be a predominant feature, a relic of the area's 19th-century history.

While some buildings retain their traditional brick facades, others have modern additions like the Diane von Furstenberg flagship store. The perfect melding of old and new can be found on the High Line, a former elevated rail line that has been converted into a park in the sky. Beginning in the Meatpacking District at Gansevoort Street, it runs all the way up the West Side to 30th Street.

A big draw of the area is the Standard, High Line Hotel. Known for its exhibitionists (countless people have been observed engaging in all types of acts through the rooms' non-reflective glass windows), it's also a popular late night spot for celebrities and the fashion crowd. Outside there are changing sculpture exhibits that tend to be of the cartoonish nature.

Amidst all the glamour, there are a handful of meatpacking companies hanging on like the London Meat Co., tucked away behind the Standard. Others have left but their names remain (the Dave's Quality Veal sign is still painted on a wall though the company has moved). There's even a lumbar yard right across the street from Chelsea Market (love it). But no matter how much the area's occupants change or how many modern additions are made, the buildings with their wonderful architectural details will always serve as a bridge between the Meatpacking District's past and present. 

Photos by Michele.

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