What GofG Would Have Looked Like 140 Years Ago: A Guide To Manhattan Brothels And Nightlife 1870-Style

by Ross Kenneth Urken · January 26, 2011

    Ever needed a pocked-sized insider's guide to Manhattan when out? Today, you might consult the GofG Calendar, but in 1870, you'd want The Gentleman's Directory, a sort of Zagat guide for punanny. Bet your bottom bordello dollar on it.

    As the New York Times City Room blog reports, this insidery guide kept at the New York Historical Society, "did not confine its anonymous critique to the quality of wines or the ambiance of the 150-establishments listed between its covers. Rather, it defined its role as delivering 'insight into the character and doings of people whose deeds are carefully screened from public view.'"

    That is to say, it specialized in directing libertines and tryst-hungry men to dens of iniquity.

    This little black book determines, for example, that "an hour cannot be spent more pleasantly" than at Harry Hill's place on 25 East Houston Street" and that a place at 55 West Houston Street included "8 to 10 boarders both blondes and brunettes."

    The euphemistic language advertising whore houses continues with 61 Elizabeth Street offering "everything that makes time pass agreeably."

    The Times highlights a nuanced difference between the licentious habits of men in post-bellum New York and the more restrained outward society:

    "The Gentleman's Directory" provides this generation with a glimpse of the simultaneously libertine and puritanical city that came before it. Prostitution was illegal, but brothels were rampant in the decades after the Civil War, operating under the noses of police and census takers."

    Most amazingly, Timothy J. Gilfoyle, a professor at Loyola University, has proposed that about 500 brothels existed in Manhattan in 1870. The guide offered something of a Craigslist for these folks when the rapid information travel of information paled in comparison to today's fast transference.

    Interestingly, 23 brothels were located on W. 27th st. alone, so before club land took over there with Bungalow 8, Pink Elephant, Avenue, 1Oak, and Marquee early this decade, this was an already a rampant hot spot in the city.

    The book promoted tangentially safe sex through an advertisement promoting "French imported male safe" (i.e. condoms) and poked fun at itself by humorously insisting it didn't actually want to direct men to the brothels.

    "Not that we imagine the reader will ever desire to visit these houses. Certainly not. We point out the location of these places in order that the reader may know how to avoid them."

    Now Imagine how far we've come from The Gentleman's Directory in gearing you to the hottest and morally upright parties of the night.