The Gentleman’s Directory

The internet gives us access to so much graphic misbehavior at a given moment that it’s noteworthy to discover that a small book still has the capacity to shock. The volume in question, described yesterday in the NY Times, is an 1870 guidebook of the ins and outs of Manhattan’s brothels. The Gentleman’s Directory is an indispensable tome for those who required knowing details about the houses of ill repute in our good borough. It couldn’t be more discreet–yet there’s an implicit appreciation of worldly topics that should be known but not discussed.

The Directory makes special mention of Harry Hill’s on Houston where ‘an hour cannot be spent more pleasantly’ while Greene Street is dismissed ‘a complete sink of iniquity.’

There’s also a map that allows you to learn if you reside in a former house of ill repute. Unless you live on West 27th, Houston, or a few select blocks of Soho you’re out of luck. And even if you do, most of the buildings have been torn down long ago.

It all seems very far away, but recalls an event from one of our early evenings in Manhattan, more than a decade ago. For a variety of reasons we were drinking with purpose in Sardi’s–the legendary restaurant and watering hole near Times’ Square. We entered into conversation with two women who couldn’t have been nicer, in fact, they may have been too polite. Against our better judgment we asked what their professions were. They paused, looked at each other, and laughed. They answered in unison: ‘We’re nurses.’

The look in their eyes couldn’t have been any more knowing, and the silence that followed communicated clearly: ‘Welcome to the city, kid.’

[The Gentleman’s Directory (PDF)]

Comments on “The Gentleman’s Directory

    Christina on January 28, 2011 12:44 PM:

    That’s an amazing story and this book such an strange and funny little artifact. Thanks for sharing.

    Ray T on January 28, 2011 1:23 PM:

    Page 5 says, “We don’t intend to tell the reader where the Central Park is, the Croton Aqueduct, the new Court House, Cooper Institute, or Knox the hatter, as anyone can point out to him the location of these celebrated places…”

    Interestingly enough, a quick Google of Knox the hatter returns an eBay listing for an advertisement from 1925.

    The advertisement lists the price of their fall “Fifth Avenue” at a reasonable $8. Adjusted for inflation, that $8 is approximately $100 today.

    I’ve never heard of Knox the hatter before. It’s interesting to find out that at one time, he was the premiere hat manufacturer of the city, ranking up there with such companies as Tiffany & Co. and Lord & Taylor.

    Foster on January 28, 2011 5:14 PM:

    Strangely enough, the nyt article failed to mention the esteemed brothel located near west 4th and Christopher. Great piece other than that,

    K.A. Adams on January 29, 2011 10:10 AM:

    Knox was located on the South West corner of 40th Street and 5th Ave. The impressive building still stands and is now an HSBC bank.

    Terrapin Stationers on January 29, 2011 2:03 PM:

    Does anybody know if and when the Caleb Carr books
    will shot?

    My Affair with Michael Bastian on January 29, 2011 6:57 PM:

    I see my apartment

    tintin on January 30, 2011 4:05 PM:

    I did some training with the Army in Panama and the MPs sat us down before our first leave and told us which houses we could go to and those we couldn’t. Most had gambling on the main floor and girls would proposition you there. Rates were affordable. A 50/50 was $20 and you could usually arrange a polaroid for an extra $5. If you think Porter’s polaroids are cool…

    Matt on February 1, 2011 12:40 PM:

    Ah…the good ol’ days!

    ArmyVet on February 6, 2011 9:01 AM:

    TinTin, was visiting prostitutes illegal for members of the military at the time?

Comments are closed.