BURLESQUE IN TRIBECA

by Kevin Walsh

YOU have to look carefully to see it but a small sign on a relatively nondescript 4-story building on the east side of Church Street between Franklin and White Streets (the spot where 6th Avenue begins its uptown run) evinces images of baggy pants slapstick comics, stripper girls and “The Night They Raided Minsky’s.” It’s a two sided sign with serifed vertical lettering that says “BURLESQUE.” These days the ground floor is looking for a tenant, but recently it was home to a popular bakery chain called Baked.

It’s hard to picture it now, but Tribeca, which rapidly gentrified in the waning 20th Century and early 21st, was once an industrial, working neighborhood and there was a, er, strip along Church Street that once catered to the needs of hard drinking factory and warehouse workers who were also seeking some entertainment. During the mid-1990s, Madeline D’ Anthony owned and operated the Harmony Theater, a place that Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York remembers as “as a cramped, womb-like room where men sat around in plush, red chairs while women writhed in their laps.” Jeremiah Moss knows about these places!

Moss quotes stripper Lily Burana: “The walls are covered in chipped red paint and promo stills of porn stars circa 1985. Garbage and stray butts collect around the legs of the chairs… The Harmony is commonly regarded as the bottom of the barrel, but I like it here. The money’s good, most of the customers are sweet, you can work at your own pace…”

The Harmony Theater closed in 1998, as part of Rudy Giuliani’s antiporn initiative, which many say stripped (ah, sorry) Times Square of its personality and turned it into the scrubbed and Disneyfied region it is today. (To come for the action in those days, you had to put up with the crime, so I’m of two mids about that particular transformation.)

However, 279 Church’s days as an entertainment venue weren’t over. By 2006 it was hosting Pinchbottom Burlesque, which revivified the genre, presenting shows around town in different locations. That was seemingly the last gasp, though. In super-PC times of today, does burlesque have a chance?

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7/14/21

8 comments

Peter July 14, 2021 - 9:58 pm

Burlesque actually has gone through a revival in recent years, though it’s generally cleaner than in its classic days.

Reply
Cindy July 16, 2021 - 4:23 pm

Funny…before reading the article, I felt sure that the first letter in the window sign would be an “N” – which would go with the burlesque theme, no?

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P-j Greiner July 17, 2021 - 11:11 am

Is something blurred out on the fire escape in the right side of the upper photo?

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Kevin Walsh July 17, 2021 - 6:15 pm

Yes, it’s a Google Street View image and some stuff is blurred by request.

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Mitch45 July 28, 2021 - 2:45 pm

In this age of internet porn available on every smartphone at any time, the idea of burlesque seems quaint.

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Kevin Walsh July 28, 2021 - 10:49 pm

Can’t beat the personal touch

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Martin July 28, 2021 - 5:21 pm

A takeout food place called Twiggy To Go is now on the ground floor at 279 Church Street.

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OldSkool July 31, 2021 - 5:51 pm

Wow, every time I walk down Church Street, I check to see if that sign is still in place. Personally, I think someone, somewhere possesses a great appreciation for the Harmony and is keeping a tribute. One of my few dislikes of Giuliani cleaning up NYC was that he went after places like the Harmony. There were a number of these mom & pop Go-Go bars (Billy’s anyone?) that the local, normal, non-rich New Yorker could duck into for a couple of beers and just decompress. All eradicated by Rudy with the exception of boring venues like Flash Dancers that cater to tourists, expense accounts and the wealthy.

The Harmony, though, was special. It was not driven by alcohol sales and was for the everyman with a group of dancers ranging from the heavy drug-using gal to the drop-dead gorgeous. babe Seedy as heck but to this day will take my Harmony memories to the grave. Who can forget the Chinese delivery guys sitting in the first row eating turkey sandwiches and slapping the dancers’ (bare) bums? Not I….

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