New York Daily Photo Analytics

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Slumming is a peculiar phenomenon - people work hard to improve their lives economically and socially, yet once established, some work just as hard to find and frequent the type of places that they endeavored so desperately to leave behind.
Or so it appears. There is a cache to slumming. The act of dumbing down ones choices for eating and playing, somehow confers authenticity and coolness. But I think what is actually happening is that this type of activity is limited to areas where others of like mind and age have settled. How many actually want to live among the poor, isolated in a neighborhood with none of their peers? There are some, of course, who did  move into uncharted territory and paved the way for others. I have always admired the spirit of these early pioneers.
In fact, it is debatable whether there can be any real slumming in Manhattan - virtually every neighborhood is fully gentrified, partially gentrified or populated by some variant of the downtown hipster. There are few neighborhoods left which are strictly the domain of the common, working class man or woman.
In the final analysis, a person of means can never really experience the life of the poor or the common man. If nothing else, knowing that one has options and is only a tourist in a disadvantaged world makes all the difference. 
I was surprised to learn that slumming dates back to the late 1800s. According to a recent fascinating New York Times article, When ‘Slumming’ Was the Thing to Do, the practice started in London and had versions in urban America, centered in Chicago and New York City.

In 1884, a headline in The New York Times proclaimed: “A fashionable London mania reaches New-York. Slumming parties to be the rage this winter.”
It was one of the early indicators of what grew to be an entertainment phenomenon that lasted decades: well-off white New Yorkers exploring black, Chinese, gay or poor working-class communities. Popular neighborhoods for this voyeuristic pastime included Chinatown, Harlem and the Lowest East Side tenements, home to the “Hebrews.”

More recently, a new industry has been built around the practice - coined "slum tourism" or "poorism." The practice is controversial - is it tourism or voyeurism/exploitation? See an article here about the phenomenon.
Hector's Diner is authentic. Located at 44 Little West 12th Street under the , it is still patronized by workers from what remains of the local meatpacking industry. The meat packing district was truly the quintessential working class neighborhood and one that required some intestinal fortitude to visit. Carcasses hanging on hooks, barrels of entrails and meat refuse was the reality here. I rented storage space here at one time - early morning visits required a little mental preparation for the visual assault. The neighborhood is now quite ultra chic, but vestiges of the original meat industry still exist - see an article and photos here, Fresh Meat, about my recent visit.
I have not eaten at Hector's or been inside, but judging from the food reviews (which have been quite favorable), I expect that at the right time of day, along with the common man, you will find some others slummin' :)


Thérèse said...

Very informative. Great post.

Brian Dubé said...

Thanks. I was particularly fascinated by my reading on slumming in the 19th century.

Mirela said...

Great post and the photo! I've heard of the slumming, but only on TV/movies... I had no idea it was real! :-O

findkaye said...

Great words. You describe the old MP district exactly as I remember it. Only at that time I was in New York "on business" running around post Jackie 60 with drag queens through the carcasses and the disturbing barrels FULL of GROSS. I just found my pictures of that lovely sight. I live in NYC now and the area just is not the same.

hamung said...

nice photo,i will make blog like this,thanks..the idea..

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very informative thanks for this one.

George said...

I like this picture. It's gritty and distinctive. And that meat truck with the prosaic name of Solaris sounds suspicious like it's run by organized crime.

NY web development company said...

excellent blog and great photos. i like this picture.

m.fletcher said...

I really enjoy your blog. I esp like this photo.

It's true that "slumming" has become a trend among those who can afford better. But as someone who loves to eat in these sort of dives, I'd have to suggest it's not voyeurism but more like nostalgia.

These are the places that my dad used to go for lunch. They exude an authentic character that is totally lacking in many newer businesses. What I miss is the quality of genuine atmosphere, food and patrons. said...

I'm lonely for NYC.
The last time I was in NYC
I had a piece of coconut cake ,
at Hector's.
It was just a bit toostale and too sweet.
Thanks for the photo