Dear Friends:
I’m re-posting this one after reading my friend Jeremiah Moss’s latest writings about the imminent closing of the New Barbershop over on 9th Avenue. I went over the other day hoping to chat with the barbers, but they were very busy so I didn’t go in. They certainly are not closing for want of business. I wrote this one in March, 2008.

I don’t think any part of the city has been more blighted by money with such vulgarity and swiftness as the old meatpacking district. To pass the place at 14th and Washington Streets where Jackie 60 was and see the shopping mall it has become makes me unhappy, so I usually avoid the whole area. But last week I did go down to Gansevoort Street to meet my friends Lisa Webster and Penny Arcade at Florent, where we all used to go late at night after Jackie.

We talked about the fact of Florent’s rent going from  $6000 a month to $50,000. The manager told us that the new clientele with its sense of complete entitlement and tremendous wealth causes so much trouble that for the first time, Florent had to hire security at night. “They just won’t accept that we don’t have something that isn’t on the menu, or that we’ve told them they’re too drunk to serve,” he told us.

Such a thing was unimaginable in that ancient time of nine or ten years ago, when the old diner would be stuffed to the rafters with every drag queen and freak in town and nobody ever thought of needing security. He told us that during their final week of business in June what they would like to do is host one performance every day to represent each of the seven stages of grief; generally understood to be shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger and finally acceptance. Penny said she’d do one since she has plenty to say about all of those things, which is true. Because Penny Arcade is the conscience of the tortured soul of New York. 

                                                           Penny Arcade

The nights of Jackie 60 were enchanted nights. The streets all around it were dark and filthy and iron meat hooks hung like wind chimes from the rusted metal awnings along Washington Street. Sometimes mist rolled in off the river and brought with it a delicious Jack the Ripper ambiance.

I liked to take Pilar to Jackie dressed in her shiny black vinyl cape and the red velvet collar with long silver spikes that was a present to her from Debbie Harry. When Pilar saw me putting on black kohl and false eyelashes, she could hardly contain herself long enough for me to dress her up and brush out her mustache. She would drag me down to Jackie as fast as her little legs would go. Beyond 9th Avenue the cobblestones ran with blood and offal and God knows what, so I carried her there. It was not a place to fall and scrape one’s knee or go with bare paws. The tranny hookers would be out working, and they always paid Pilar compliments on her get-up. And those big girls kept the whole neighborhood safe.

I remember the magic of Baby Dee’s harp on its tricycle materializing out of the vapors before the gold-painted doors of Jackie, and on her stern perch, Kitty Boots, enforcing the dress code. The invitations that came in the mail with dress instructions were works of art, but if one didn’t have the correct costume it was acceptable to disappear in black on black like magicians’ velvet. 

                                      Rob Roth and Pilar at Jackie 60 in 1999

Kitty always lifted the silken cord with ceremony for Pilar, who had earned enough of a reputation as The Leather Dog to be counted among the Jackie Legends. I remember spotting Foxy in a ripped up Jackie T shirt and two black eyes sitting with Mother Flawless Sabrina on a striped divan, and Johnny Dynell like a brigand with the thinnest mustache in the world. And on Chi Chi Valenti’s birthday one year, an impeccable string quartet played on a dais in the Versailles room. There was Chi Chi, resplendent in a gorgeous wine-colored gown surrounded by rogues in powdered wigs, while Rose Royalle served champagne to the musicians until they were so drunk the cellist cried out, “Mozart is here!” and fell off onto the floor.

At Christmas there was Hattie Hathaway as tall and forbidding as she could be, in dark light with her urchin chorus, singing In the Bleak Midwinter while a big drag queen’s hand threw paper snowflakes at them from behind a curtain. How simple and beautiful it was to see. And then there was that funny group of people who came every so often from somewhere else who thought they were horses, all got up in silver bits and bridles with their grooms.

Those were beautiful nights, so beautiful that we knew it even then.

Pilar is old now and I push her around in a stroller. She sits in it very regally and gets a certain amount of attention on the street. A few days ago I was pushing her up 9th Avenue when we came to the barbershop at 18th Street across from the projects, the one with the portrait of John F. Kennedy in the window. A man opened the door for me and said to the barbers, “Una Signora,” in a way suggesting that they almost never have a lady stop there. I pushed Pilar in and the two barbers seemed very pleased to see her. I asked them if they sold mustache wax. They didn’t, but they understood right away why I wanted it. They asked me Pilar’s name and age and told her how beautiful she was, especially being an old lady. “You are the only one who asks for mustache wax in a very, very long time,” the shorter barber told me, and the taller one said, “If we did have it, you could make her look like Salvador Dali.”

This week I learned that every shop on that block has been given their notice to vacate, including the Sweet Banana Candy Store, the liquor store that has been there since 1940 and the barbershop. I’m glad I didn’t know that while I talked with the barbers, because as I pushed Pilar home, I felt nothing but the warmth of their kindness like cognac.

                          The New Barbershop on 9th Avenue, March 2008


  1. Jackie 60 was an absolutely amazing concept/place and truly was enchanted. Every single time I went there was different from the previous time and full of wild genius. Just thinking of it fondly makes me nostalgic for all the times I scaled the Butcher's trucks under the Highline and climbed up there with a new 'friend.'

  2. Ah yes. Back when the highline was a rusty old wilderness full of mystery!

  3. Late on this, but WHAT a line = "....meat hooks hung like wind chimes".....that's beautiful.....and says SO much about the district and what once was. Thank-you!

    1. And it was like that, wasn't it, a place like no other. Thank you so much for your comment, DrBop. I'm glad you liked the picture that made.