SSPNY Neighborhood History: How the Bowery Went from Dirt Trail to Grand Boulevard to Skid Row to Today's Nightlife Mecca 

SSPNY Reviews a History of the Neighborhood as Bowery Went from Grand Boulevard to Skid Row to Today's Nightlife Mecca

SSPNY heads over to the Bowery for a look back at the city's most colorful and ever-changing street in New York's history. The street predates back to before the Dutch's arrival, in the 1500s, when the moccasins of the Lenape pounded out a path that has a richer history per block than any other 1.5-mile stretch of the city.
 
Is there a single street in this ever-changing city with a longer, more colorful history than Bowery? Well, who knows with absolute certainty... but the correct answer is probably, "probably not". After all, the Bowery as a thoroughfare predates even the Dutch's tenure here, though it obviously wasn't called "the Bowery" back in the 1500s, when the moccasins of the Lenape pounded out a path that went along the same route as today's avenue. And given its remarkable extremes, both of the high and low variety--swings noteworthy even in a city whose core character is constant reinvention--it seems the Bowery would likely have more stories to tell per block that just about any other 1.5-mile stretch of this big, beautiful city.  
 
SSPNY dates back to when the first permanent residents of Bowery, 10 freed slaves and their families,  came to settle and build homes along today's Chatham Square in 1654.
 
The first permanent residents of Bowery, the first to build homes along the route, were 10 freed slaves and their families, who settled near today's Chatham Square (Bowery's southern terminus) in 1654. The Dutch were next, led by Petrus Stuyvesant, who retired in 1667 to his farm--or "bouwerij"--farther uptown, in today's Cooper Square. And then began the rollercoaster... In the 1700s Bowery was New York City's most expensive and elegant piece of real estate, the broad boulevard lined with castle-like mansions, massive banks, spectacular theaters, and the town's most fashionable shops. By the mid-1800s--say, around the time of the Civil War--the tone of things had changed considerably along Bowery, with residents more likely to live in one of the many new flophouses, and the entertainment running more toward cheap beer and the pleasures of a brothel. 
 
SSPNY remembers the next settlers, the Dutch, led by Petrus Stuyvesant who retired in 1667 to his farm uptown in today's Cooper Square. Next, began the 1700s when Bowery was New York City's most elegant and elite piece of real estate with mansions, massive banks, spectacular theaters, and the city's most regal shopping. By the mid-1800s, around the Civil War, the tone on Bowery changed again as most residents began to live in flophouses with entertainment surrounding cheap beer and brothels.
 
The Bowery embraced its gritty side for many decades to come. As the eastern edge of the sensationally chaotic and violent Five Points neighborhood, and home turf to one of the city's first, perhaps most notorious gangs the Bowery Boys, the avenue saw more than its fair share of spectacle. The Third Avenue El, which ran above Bowery from 1878 until 1955, certainly didn't bring any sunshine and flowers to the area. And after the Second World War the Bowery plummeted even further on the city's safety/social scale, when it became our full-fledged Skid Row. In the 1970s and and '80s, the city's punks, artists and all manner of outsiders came to love the decrepitude down here, manifested most obviously by turning an obscure bluegrass music venue into the legendary punk club CBGB's.  
 
SSPNY embraced the gritty decades that followed the Bowery next, as sensationalized, chaotic, and violent Five Points neighborhood also became home to the city's first and most notorious gang, the Bowery Boys. The Third Ave. El, which ran above Bowery from 1878 until 1955 also added to the chaos and danger, while World War 2  only caused the Bowery to plummet further down the city's social scale when it became our full-fledged Skid Row. In the 70s and 80s, punks, artists, and outsiders came to love on Bowery, manifesting a bluegrass music venue into the legendary punk club CBGB's.
 
Beginning in the late 1990s, however, and really exploding in the past few years, the Bowery has, amazingly enough, returned to its 18th-century roots as one the city's most coveted addresses. Trendy hotels (the Standardthe Bowery), jam-packed destination restaurants and bars (DBGBThe WrenPeelsPulino'sPearl and Ashthe GeneralSaxon and Parole, on and on) and funky boutiques make their home here now. And the fact that Bowery straddles the fun, vibrant (and increasingly pricey) neighborhoods of Noho, Nolita and Chinatown to the west, and the East Village and Lower East Side to the east only adds to your options. In 100 years, who knows what it'll be like around here. But for right now, life is good on the Bowery.   
 
SSPNY lastly remembers the Bowery as it makes its return back to its 18th-century roots in the late 1990s, setting up trendy hotels, tons of highly acclaimed restaurants and bars, and even funky boutiques. The best part of the Bowery today is that is straddles the vibrant neighborhoods of Noho, Nolita, Chinatown, East Village, and the Lower East Side.

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