So I know this an unusual request, but I’m wondering if anyone can help me track down a Chinatown brothel.
Er, let me explain.
Way back in 2004, I’d just graduated from college and was scouring Craiglist for apartments when I came across a cheap room for rent in Chinatown – just $700 or so in what was described as a “unique” 8-bedroom group share. Sounded interesting – and more importantly, affordable – so I immediately booked an appointment and headed downtown.
To the best of my recollection, the apartment was located on the east side of Chinatown just south of the Manhattan Bridge (I remember wondering if the noise of passing subways might be an issue). Maybe Market Street, or Catherine? It was a second or third floor walk-up, and that’s where my memory ends.
At first glance, the place seemed rather nice – a large living room/kitchen combo, with comfy couches and a very homey feel. I started to get my hopes up that I’d finally found my first apartment in the city.
Then I saw the bedrooms.
There were eight bedrooms in total surrounding the living room, and I’m not exaggerating when I say they were literally the smallest bedrooms I’ve ever seen in New York City. Each room was barely – barely – big enough to hold a full-size mattress, with maybe one foot of extra floor space. If you weren’t on your mattress, you couldn’t be in the room.
There were no closets, so residents had made full use of all available wall space and ceiling height, with numerous bookshelves and clothes hung on pipes. There might have been a single, narrow window. Strangely though, each room had its own sink.
Things got even weirder when we went to the shower room. Yes, shower room – if I’m remembering right, one large room with shower heads on all four walls. Originally intended as a communal shower, it had since been divided up with shower curtains for privacy.
It was then that my guide revealed that we were in a former Chinatown brothel, and all of a sudden, everything made sense. Each of the eight prostitutes had had her own miniscule room for servicing clients (I suppose the in-room sink was a courtesy of sorts). It also explained the large communal shower.
Though everyone I met was very nice (a very bohemian mix of artists), I ultimately declined to live there. Because the rooms were so tiny, I was told there was a lot of hanging out in the main area of the apartment and socializing with the group, and were I interested, I’d have to do a formal interview with all seven residents to see if I fit in. Things began to feel a bit too much like a claustrophobic version of The Real World, so I took off.
But I’ve never forgotten the place. A few years ago, I tried to track it down to do a Scouting NY piece on it, but couldn’t locate the address. I’m positive it was south of Division Street, and most likely around Market, but beyond that, I’m at a loss.
So has anyone out there ever heard of this apartment? Maybe you were taken by a friend to a party one night at a strange Chinatown apartment with eight microscopic bedrooms and gang showers? If so, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to photograph it if it’s still out there and try to dig up more information on its history.
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