New York Daily Photo Analytics

Friday, May 01, 2009

Fresh Meat

I was told that meat hanging on hooks streetside in the Meat Packing District was a thing of the past. However, many things are said, not all of which are true, so this morning at 6AM, I left my home with camera in hand to find the truth. I rarely venture out in the morning to shoot for a posting the same day, but it seemed appropriate that fresh photos accompany fresh meat. Questioning a number of delivery men in the area produced the same answers - I would not find meat hanging on hooks. Still not believing what I was told, even by local workers, I began to wander the neighborhood. Sure enough, I arrived to see Weichsel Beef at 525 West Street unloading a delivery of pigs from a refrigerated truck.

The owner, Sam Farella (top center in the photo collage), was on the scene and informed me that a large trailer of beef was due to arrive and I was welcome to take photos, but no photos inside the warehouse. I returned a little later to a huge truck full of beef being unloaded.

The neighborhood is lined with warehouses - nondescript 2- and 3-story windowless concrete buildings. Most have metal awnings which use conveyor systems, hand pulleys, and hooks to move meat from the trucks to the warehouse. When warehouses in the area are converted for retail use, the distinctive metal awnings are typically restored, but without the hooks.
Sam was quite congenial and accommodating. He told me of other photographers who have shot around his place - the harsh and edgy look of raw beef is often used for photos with models and advertising, where the juxtaposition creates a harsh contrast. He allowed me to step briefly inside his warehouse - an enormous cold room filled with all manner of hanging carcasses and men at work.

Weichsel Beef has been in business over 70 years. Sam started his career as a butcher and has been in the meat packing district since 1957. He has owned Weichsel Beef for over 33 years. The company butchers meat to be resold to shops, restaurants and retail customers. He also told me he was a member of the Gun Club on MacDougal Street - a fascinating and curious place that I wrote of in 2007.

The Meatpacking District is officially known as the Gansevoort Market. By 1900, it was home to over 250 slaughterhouses and packing plants. In the 1980s it was a center for drug dealing and prostitution (particularly transsexuals) and sex clubs such as the Hellfire Club, the Anvil, and the Mineshaft.
Since that time, the area has been gentrified - only a handful of meat processors survive. Weichsel is the last place to get deliveries with full size carcasses delivered using a hook and conveyor system.

Clothing boutiques, nightclubs, bars, restaurants, and other retailers started to establish themselves in the area in the 1990s. Diane von Furstenberg, Christian Louboutin, Stella McCartney, and numerous others line the Belgian block cobbled streets. Popular spots include the bar Hogs and Heifers and the restaurant Pastis. One of the most famous area establishments was the French diner Florent, the first restaurant in the area, opened in 1985 by Florent Morellet and closed in 2008.
The Gansevoort Historic District was established in 2003. If you are looking for action, the neighborhood is teeming with live humans at night. Early morning is the time for fresh meat...


honestchitchat said...

Your meat looks good!

Hegstrom said...

If you ever go back ... I'm curious ...

How is it that he has been able to hang on and stay in the meat packing business all these years as all of the others have disappeared?

From you description he sounds like and interesting gentleman.

Enjoyed the photo ... enjoyed the story.


Brian said...

I did not ask, but in most cases like this the company typically owns the place and in time will decide when to sell the property and cash out. A long term lease is also a possibility. The desire to stay in business with rising costs is often a personal decision - some may want to stay in business for reasons other than just money.

huevoscocodrilo said...

Hi !

Amazing photos:)
less amazing job...


Jeremy said...

Well Brian .. this brings back great memories ... I spent 25 years in the NZ meat industry as an engineer building them; as a director of the vets and meat inspectors etc etc .. I could almost smell the place .. and taht is not in a bad way. Most people don't want to know where there food comes from or how it is processed. The meat industry can be a unique and wonderous beast !!

thanks for the post. rgds Jeremy

JWsHon said...

WOW! I cant wait to venture down to the meat packing distict now!
Wait, wasnt the butcher's name Sam on the Brady Bunch??? I am feeling a connection!