The Tenderloin District's Juicy History

There are Chinatowns in every major US city, and the first Soho is in London, but one thing’s for certain: NYC neighborhoods are the most hardcore of their names – and the city’s erstwhile Tenderloin district is no exception, San Francisco be damned. Though the moniker is now associated with a gritty-ish neighborhood in the West Coast’s hub of nerds and trendy people, New York Tenderloin was the first.

The tasty-sounding district (suspiciously close to Hell’s Kitchen and the Meatpacking District) owes its name to old-timey police captain Alexander “Clubber” Williams, who allegedly said, “I’ve been having chuck steak ever since I’ve been on the force, and now I’m going to have a bit of tenderloin,” possibly commenting either on a pay bump—since bribery meant easy money—or the area’s status as a red-light district. Either way, he was called the “Tsar of Tenderloin”, so it’s not hard to fill in the gaps.

The district was notorious for its debauchery—women would show their ankles and bar patrons would have one too many. In all seriousness, the neighborhood flourished between the Civil War and World War I because it was so densely filled with crime that the police simply couldn’t handle it all. In an interview with Untapped Cities, historian David Freeland commented on the district’s growth as the other side of the luxury coin, “Money flowed into the area, thanks to the influx of wealthy businessmen from the provinces – who came to New York with money to spend, and who were always looking for “after-hours” recreation opportunities!” At some point, the black market shifted away from its exclusive, high-end clientele, but it’s not as if business ever slowed; Hell’s Hundred Acres was huge, demarcated by 23rd and 42nd Streets and Sixth and Eighth Avenues, which are now parts of Chelsea and Midtown South.

This could be an amazing HBO series. How is no one working on this?

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