Ludlow Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is as iconic to Manhattan as the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Park Avenue, the Stock Exchange and historical Katz’s Delicatessen that still sits proudly on the corner of Ludlow and Houston as it has since 1888. Ludlow was the quintessential New York bohemian enclave, home to artists, writers, musicians, haberdashers, dive bars, punk rockers, New Wave glam dolls and club kids. Hot and humid summer nights were spent on tar covered roof-tops where partygoers downed bootlegged frozen margaritas from The Hat restaurant and baccalao – freshly fried salted cod– and danced to everything from Salsa to Hip Hop to Depeche Mode to some amazingly bad basement spunk under the glow of Christmas lights and haze of a lot of smoke.
It was a street where one was just as apt to encounter the seven-foot alien visage of Deany Weeny, the oh-so pallid and oh-so serpentine creator of the ersatz and decadently sleazy Tuesday night party “Rock and Roll Fag Bar” as they were the artist Bansky, creating his over the top, larger than life, urbanscapes. Or Andy Warhol, slinking about in the earlier days along with the Tutonic goddess, performance artist-cum-model and later influential musician Nico, and members of the then burgeoning group Velvet Underground which gave rise to the now infamous Lou Reed.
The imperial drag queen Lady Bunny hopped around the bars with club kids like Richie Rich who was much admired for his tightly cropped platinum blonde hair and festive ensembles patched together with pieces such as five inch platform combat boots, striped leggings and scintillating short shorts. Not to mention the clown makeup!
But, Ludlow was far more than a promenade for the freakishly divine. It was a community that could trace its roots all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Originally owned by loyalist William Howe Delancy as part of his greater estate which encompassed most of the Lower East Side, the land was confiscated after the war, and over time became a settlement of immigrants – at first becoming the heart of the German neighborhood Kleindeutschland. There was also a large influx of Jews from Eastern Europe who opened shops and restaurants. As the decades passed, the area attracted a Hispanic population, made up mostly of Puerto Rican immigrants. Together, these people made the mythical melting pot of Manhattan a reality, while – no doubt unintentionally – providing a safe place for outsiders and outcasts to live and creative movements, like the No Wave which combined film, music and the visual arts, to gestate.
Today, even though the true bohemian spirit is gone, Ludlow still remains one of the more intriguing streets in all of Manhattan. New restaurants, boutiques, bars and clubs sprout up all of the time, and visitors can sense the deep and storied history that this relatively small stretch of land holds. Ludlow Street is not only at the heart of the Lower East Side, it is also a vital artery on the island of Manhattan.