August 2 is the birthday of Ashcan School artist John Sloane (1871-1951) so we thought we’d take the opportunity to share one of his works, and one of our favorite paintings in the Brooklyn Museum, The Haymarket, Sixth Avenue.
Sloane was all of one year old when the Haymarket (initially called the Argyle) came into being at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 30th Street. At the time, this area was in one New York’s vice districts, known as The Tenderloin. The venue was originally a legit playhouse, but in 1878 it was revamped to better suit the tastes of the area, and rebranded The Haymarket after the street in London’s West End theatrical district. Yet while the outside still resembled a a classy theatre, the inside became a saloon and dance hall, or as the Bowery Boys have aptly called it, an American Moulin Rouge. It was a place where men of every economic class could come in, drink, and socialize with rented ladies (as well as girls and even boys). Services ranged from simple companionship, to a whirl on the dance floor, to sexual assignations in the establishment’s many private compartments. Pockets were picked as a sideline. These being Victorian times, every bit of it was illegal of course, but coppers were eminently bribe-able in those days.
Sloan’s painting was deemed scandalous in its day for depicting unaccompanied ladies entering the sinful premises. “It could only mean one thing!” critics said, and they were probably right, although you’ll get no slut-shaming on this blog. Anyway, society needn’t have worried. The Haymarket closed in 1911, and the Tenderloin became less known for vice than for catching a train at Penn Station.
To learn more more about variety history please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.