David Plakke, Photographer

Resident at Westbeth since 1995

First Night at Westbeth, Part 1

It was the spring of 1995. Or was it the fall? No matter. This balmy evening, seven years in the making, found me crazy with excitement. I had just moved from a 7,500-sq.-ft. studio with 17-ft. ceilings in Hoboken—a drafty, poorly insulated former condom factory nearly impossible to keep heated—into my 475-sq.-ft. studio with an 11-ft. ceiling in the former Bell Labs building; the air in my studio was as hot and dry as Arizona in August. After moving about for a decade, from the East Village to different parts of Hoboken and now returning, this time to the West Village, I knew I was finally where I belonged.

Exiting my little H215 sauna on Washington Street, I set out to discover life in the hood. My hood! How cool. My night’s quest would find me just a few blocks north of Bethune Street, up Washington Street, to the Meatpacking District. In those days, the stench of rotting flesh was everywhere. The sidewalks were stained with blood and entrails dripping from the carcasses like low-hanging fruit on metal hook conveyor belts. The High Line was nothing but a decaying ghost of its original self. Hidden in its underbelly were creatures of the night, many seemingly 6 ft. 4 in., their towering stature aided by their 7-in. pumps, appearing, and then just as quickly receding back into the dark shadows, all hawking their wares. The meat market. Right.

I began my night’s quest on Gansevoort and Washington Streets, zigzagging north to east, back north and west, stopping into any establishment that would have me. Most of the clubs were below street level with sketchy names like the Cellar and the Locker. These were the days of heroin chic, manifested in an overabundance of anorexic, pale model types dressed all in black, their skinny selves dissolving into the purple ambience of black-lit rooms, sipping their exotic drinks, smoking their long thin cigarettes, posers all.

(Continued in Part 2.)

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