An Old Punk’s Thoughts on Hell Square [OP-ED]

Posted on: January 16th, 2015 at 9:22 am by

This image has been archived or removed.

Hell Square petting zoo

When I moved to Orchard Street in 1976, our building was a mix of Bengali, Puerto Rican, Italian and Jewish families, plus a few recent NYU grads. There was really only one other residential building with tenants on the entire block — it was across the way, another tenement like ours. Besides cheap rents and proximity to CBGBs, the neighborhood’s big draws for me were expansive sky views and the quiet. Almost no one lived there.

I used to lie in bed at night and hear the footfall of a friend on her way home at night. I knew who it was because she wore high heels and her distinctive click-clack around 2AM meant she was headed for some sleep in her Stanton St. digs. I always found it comforting to hear that sound.

A lot has changed.

I was recently called out for complaining about what our neighborhood has become — Hell Square — and mocked for bitching about the noise and behavior of the visitors who flock here. Apparently, this means I have to surrender my punk credentials. Look, we could start with the notion that punk is a term that means one thing to youngsters and another thing to the OG punks of the mid-seventies, but that is an exhausting route and everyone has an opinion. But there are some basic differences between those of who settled here in the seventies and the folks who come to party in Hell Square today.

This image has been archived or removed.

New Year’s Eve riot against NYPD

We went out at night to hear music. There were really only a few place to go: CBs, Max’s, Hurrahs or Tier 3, even Mudd; none of these were in residential neighborhoods. They were in commercial areas or warehouse districts. There really wasn’t anyone to disturb.

We didn’t have much money. Binge drinking is expensive, and unless you were getting free drinks, you got what you could afford, which wasn’t that much. There was a lot of drinking at home or in rehearsal studios, as I recall. But designer cocktails were unheard of. As for vomiting and fistfights, let’s not confuse London with New York. Fisticuffs were not our thing, and pukers, well, they were laughed at as amateurs. There were always a few jerks, but it was not really part of the culture.

And there were not so many of us. It was always the same crowd that moved from place to place. When Haoui Montaug, the legendary doorman coined the term, “the Fabulous 500” for downtown denizens, it was in the post-Studio 54 era of the early ’80s. He deemed that our scene had reached critical mass. That took a while.

This image has been archived or removed.

Which brings us to the present. A weekend in Hell Square is like a binge drinker’s version of The Walking Dead. They have multiplied like zombies, staggering around, throwing up, fighting and crying ‘til 5 in the morning. It has forced me to leave my apartment on weekends, decamping to my boyfriend’s place in the West Village. I’m lucky I can go there.

I get it, times have changed, and I’m glad I’m not 20-something trying to make a life for myself here. The city’s population has grown, there are about three-quarters of a million more people than in 1975 and rents are through the roof. But on our turf especially, it also has been changed by the number of bars, the highest density of any area in the city. After 2001, Rudy Giuliani pretty much zoned the Lower East Side as a frat boy Disney World, and as liquor licenses were given out like samples at Sephora, the police drew back and the “good times” rolled. When a nasty crowd of New Year’s Eve revelers turned on the police on Ludlow Street, the cops may have been surprised but I wasn’t.

We are just looking for balance. I know the guys playing dominoes at the bodega are gone for good, but so are the muggings that were a fact of life and for that I am grateful. But the oversaturation of bars has destroyed the quality of life here. Mom-and-pop stores can’t afford the rents that a bar owner can cough up, so to the highest bidder it goes, aided and abetted in the past by the SLA and the Community boards.

This image has been archived or removed.

But times are changing. Residents are organizing, an unwelcoming climate for more drinking establishments is working and it might encourage some businesses to settle here that in the past might have been forced out. I would like another hardware store, another dry cleaner. The deli I frequent on Allen Street is in danger; the landlord wants a big chain to take its place and devour the other small stores on the block. If I wanted that I would have stayed in the suburbs.

So come on Hell Square partiers, get some imagination. Spend less money on cocktails and more time on a hobby, like music or art. It might even become a passion.

Your liver will thank you for it, and you can grow up to be an old punk like me.

Written by an anonymous Lower East Sider.

Recent Stories

Moxy on the Bowery is Still Happening, After All

Nearly three years later, the Moxy Hotel planned for 151 Bowery appears on pause. But its parent company, Marriott, is betting that this property, among others, will help shepherd in the rebound. A neighbor who lives nearby noticed that construction was halted at the beginning of the year, with little movement since. At the time, materials […]

Here’s the Glassy 12-Story Newcomer Headed to Ludlow Street

The halo of Essex Crossing continues to upscale the composition of the adjacent blocks. Towers just keep rising. And another is planned for a former produce wholesaler on Ludlow Street. While construction permits were filed one year ago for 89-91 Ludlow, only now is the proposed design available for public consumption. The glassy newcomer is […]

The Slipper Room to Reopen for Variety Shows April 23

With city and state restrictions on venues gradually relaxing, performance venues are trickling back to life. Here on the Lower East Side, the latest to resume its nighttime entertainment is the Slipper Room. The self-proclaimed “Palace of Variety” announced its return to the fray with variety shows starting April 23. It’s been a yearlong slumber […]

Asian Woman Attacked in Grand Street Bodega After Asking Man to Wear a Mask

Another anti-Asian attack to report on the Lower East Side. An Asian woman shopping in a Grand Street bodega was attacked after asking a man to wear a mask while inside, cops said yesterday. Tuesday evening, a 39-year-old shopper inside the Heng Yun Grocery at 329 Grand Street (near Orchard) asked one Carlos Mackey, 35, […]

New Renderings for Long-Stalled Delancey Street Condo

The 12-story “boutique condo” at the corner of Delancey and Pitt Streets – in the works for nine years already – dropped its marketing materials this week. It’s pitched as a “one-of-a-kind-building,” but doesn’t mention proximity to the Williamsburg Bridge span. As in, right across the street. The teaser website went live earlier this week, […]