VIDEO: RuPaul Takes Us Around the 1980s Meatpacking District and the Jane Hotel

April 13, 2015

We know all about the Meatpacking District’s beginnings as the Gansevoort Market and the epicenter of meat marketers, as well as its current status as a burgeoning office tower district, but in the 1980s, this neighborhood was one to which most people didn’t pay much mind. It was fairly run down, with its industrial tenants having moved out, and became notorious for prostitution, sex clubs, and drug dealing. But there was much more to the area, including an accepting LGBT community and a downtown music and entertainment scene.

In this video we found from 1986, a young RuPaul takes us into his penthouse suite at the Jane Hotel, then known as the Jane West Hotel and far seedier than it is today, as well as walks around the gritty streets of the Meatpacking District and into his friend’s 9th Avenue rowhouse, which will undoubtedly look familiar to anyone who’s walked these cobblestone streets.

Today the Jane is one of the Meatpacking District’s swankiest spots, with a celebrity-loved club and “boutique” rooms that start out as small as 50 square feet. However, it was built in 1908 as the American Seaman’s Friend Society Sailors’ Home and Institute as a hotel for sailors (hence the cabin-like rooms) and famously hosted survivors of the Titanic in 1912. The YMCA took over the hotel in 1944, and during the ’80s and ’90s it was “part of downtown New York’s bohemian culture, hosting Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the Million Dollar Club, amongst many other rock-n-roll events.” It makes perfect sense then why RuPaul, a blossoming star, chose this as his home during his second stint in New York. He shared the open space with his backup dancers Trade and Spicey. Though those rooftop views are pretty incredible, we’re not so sure about that out-in-the-open toilet.

5 9th avenue, Gansevoort Market, Meatpacking District, 5 Ninth
5 9th Avenue today

His friend Nelson’s apartment at 5 9th Avenue likely looks familiar. It’s the charming corner rowhouse at the intersection of Gansevoort Street, Greenwich Street, and 9th Avenue that in recent years was home to the popular restaurant 5 Ninth.

In an interview with the Post about his ’80s “club kid days” RuPaul says of his former home, “[In the beginning,] when I did have money, I would rent a room at the Jane West Hotel–when I was getting some go-go dancing gigs or I could perform to my own songs. It was a dump. It had that distinctive New York smell–it’s like a mixture of mold, soot and grime. The only place you can smell that now is in the subway.” Before his time at the Jane, his first stint in New York was even less luxurious: “I moved to New York in 1984, and I lived here for six months, sleeping on couches or on the piers before the city spit me back out and I went to Atlanta [for a while]. There were people who were hooking up in cars, because back then you could park your car facing the Hudson, right at the river’s edge.”

Video via 5ninthavenueproject


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