Volume 75, Number 31 | December 21 - 27, 2005

Villager photo by Gary He

When this photo was taken last month, cobblestones on Ninth Ave. were being relaid after a collapsing vault underneath had been shored up.

Meat Market nightlife is starting to go underground

By Lincoln Anderson

It seems whenever one looks, yet another trendy hotspot has opened in the Meat Market. Steakhouse SBK and Buddha Bar are just two of the more notable new high-profile establishments on the way.

One place that may be opening sometime soon, however, won’t be readily apparent to the naked eye.

Ari Ellis, owner of the historic Triangle Building at 14th St. and Ninth Ave., is reportedly exploring the idea of extending his Ara wine bar, located in the building, into a subterranean vault under Ninth Ave. next to the building.

The vault landed on Ellis’s radar about seven months ago when a curbstone on a section of Ninth Ave. above it started to fall into it. The spot was cordoned off with construction fencing and covered with a metal plate and a bus stop also had to be moved a block to the south in front of the trendy Hotel Gansevoort while repairs were made.

Ivy Jeanne Brown, a resident of the 1848 building, in which she also runs her Go Fish art gallery, said she was concerned about the safety of using the vault, which is actually a former Civil War-era horse stable that was buried when the Hudson River west of Ninth Ave. and Greenwich St. was landfilled.

Brown expressed concern about the vault last month, saying, “What we’re seeing is a lot of digging and not a lot of reinforcing. There’s a lot of stuff coming out. We see big steel beams going in.”

The former stable most recently was used for storage by the gay and S & M clubs that once proliferated in the Triangle Building’s lower floors.

Damon Dell, proprietor of the 10-year-old Hog Pit bar at the building’s 13th St. end, thought he had dibs on the vault, but after it started to collapse, Ellis took a look and got interested.

“He was trying to figure out if it was his problem or the city’s problem [to fix],” Dell explained. “The city said, It’s yours because you have the space underneath. So he said, I’ll take it.”

Dell used to have access to the vault from his bar, but it’s now been sealed off to him by cinderblocks.

“If you took that away you could go all through the city,” he said of the blocked passageway. Indeed, some say there is a vast network of vaults and tunnels criss-crossing beneath the Meat Market — some of them, as legend has it, even inhabited by “mole men.”

The inside of this particular vault wasn’t too appealing, but definitely had possibilities if tidied up, said Dell, who used to store beer down there.

“It’s a hole…dirt…water — a lot of gay porn magazines, dildos. I swear to God,” he said.

Dell said that Ellis was putting some glass blocks into the sidewalk above the vault.

Initially, Ellis expressed interest in talking about the vault. In an e-mail to The Villager last month, he said: “I have compiled tons of info on the Ninth Ave. vault. Too much to try and relate via e-mail.”

Ellis said he’d “be happy to talk about” the vault in more detail on the telephone when he returned from a business trip.

Ellis did say, though, that the total space of the vault under Ninth Ave. is 6,500 square feet, 4,700 square feet of which Steve Hansen of Vento restaurant apparently has claim to and 1,800 square feet of which constitutes a new “found” vault.

“We have done extensive structural work, essentially restoring the entire thing with all new pillars waterproofing, roadway, sidewalks, repointed/replaced arches, etc.,” Ellis wrote. “The structural engineers tell me it is four times as solid/strong as any vault built today because it was originally built to witstand the load of coal sleds, which have four times to six times the active load of a fully loaded 18-wheeler (today’s standard). So it is easily one of the safest vaults in the city, if not the safest.”

Matt de Matt, owner of the Gaslight bar across the street, said the vaults don’t extend under the part of Ninth Ave. by him.

“I heard it was a speakeasy back in the day,” he said. “There were little routes so people could get away.”

Craig Chin, a Department of Transportation spokesperson, said the vault had been safely repaired.

Subsequently, after The Villager asked to take a look inside the space and take some photographs, Ellis got cold feet. In an e-mail, he said that on the advice of his lawyer, he had decided not to speak anymore about the vault.

So the mystery of the Meat Market vaults continues, for now.

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