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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