Saturday, April 09, 2005

Fulton Street Fish Market

Welcome to the Fulton Street Fish Market, not yet relocated to the Bronx. The following text desciption is stolen straight cut-and-paste style from Zora's Roving Gastronome. But I've got the pictures!

Last night, in anticipation of Oyster Fest 2005, we trundled down to that venerable NYC establishment, the Fulton Fish Market—which hasn’t yet relocated to the Bronx, apparently, despite the countless nostalgic column inches already dedicated to its impending demise. (July, maybe even September, was the estimated move date somebody gave us last night, with a shrug.) But good thing we got our asses down there anyway, because the Fulton Fish Market really is a hell of a lot more than a bunch of concrete open-sided buildings filled with styrofoam boxes of fish and ice.

Part of the thrill is that it’s the middle of the night (we aimed for 1am, but in fact most vendors don’t start selling till 2am), and we’re in this fantastic marriage of grim and glorious urbanity: a dark, sketchy two blocks under the rumbling FDR, where the asphalt has gone to seed and the only lighting is from the glaring fluorescent-lit concrete bunkers that house about half of the vendors. But immediately to the east is the Brooklyn Bridge, all aglimmer, with the Manhattan Bridge right behind; lights are twinkling off the dark, slippery river, and it feels incredibly calm and gorgeous—if you can screen out the armies of guys shouting, and trundling right toward you on those little pallet tractor things. (All you "warehouse club" shoppers: This is the real deal!)

And it’s a bad idea to gawp at the river view because these guys are also wielding sharp knives and hooks. Hooks like I’ve only ever seen in On the Waterfront. I thought this genius tool had been rendered extinct by shipping containers, so it warmed my heart to see there’s still some commerce in America that requires the loving, individual attention of a big guy’s meaty paw and a nasty sharp hook. One guy we passed was gesturing wildly with his hook in his hand; he apologized when he saw us tourists coming through, because we’re the types who might end up with a hook in the ear if we’re not careful.

The market is not a consumer-friendly place—there are no signs telling you where to park, and it seems impossible to get past a phalanx of refrigerated semis lined up to the north. There’s no cheery market agent, as at the Greenmarket, say, to ask for guidance. We parked in a seemingly random spot by some overpass pylon and hoped for the best.

But it is a surprisingly friendly place overall. It did help that one of our company was a bodacious, outgoing redhead who was genuinely fascinated with these guys’ work. When a sweatshop full of filet-ers noticed us peering into their little aisle workroom, they waved us in, encouraged us to squeeze down the little aisle between them (it was a disassembly line: guys on one side filleted, slipping the carcasses into silvery, squishy heaps at their feet, while guys on the other side skinned the filets) and stare and chat and take pictures. “You’ve had a couple beers?” the Mexican guy I talked to asked me, assuming, I guess, that the only people who would stumble in here at 1am would be drunkards with nothing better to do. No, darlin', I’m drunk on the beauty of wholesale commerce, I wanted to say, as for once I was genuinely sober.

This was still early, before the market really opened. Quite a lot happened in the hour we whiled away at the Paris Cafe bar (where everyone had been quick to direct us, natch), and when we came back, the bustle had doubled. It was short work to buy 200 oysters and 200 clams, then cart them back to the car, dodging pallet-tractors and hooks all the way. We took another quick stroll around before we left, to see a gigantic plum-red tuna being hacked apart, gold-pink snappers, shad roe (which looked like agglomerations of the lungs I’ve pulled out of quails) and lots of crabs, all rolling-eyed and foaming at the mouth out of panic. I pet some of the crabs on the head to calm them, but crustaceans don’t really respond to that the way mammals do—all the more reason to eat ‘em.

We’d seen all we could see (even the truck from Taverna Kyclades, the fish resto near my house, arriving; I have fresh respect for them), and the guys had gotten as much of an eyeful as they wanted. (“I’ve never really noticed Katie’s ass,” Peter said as we walked behind her and heard the whoops of praise from either side, “but in this setting, I somehow have a fresh appreciation for it.”) Oh, and we’d eaten a mysterious chicken-sandwich-in-a-plastic-bag—funny, there were no fishy foods on offer. So we got in the car and drove home, dropping Peter at Penn Station to catch his 3:15am train to Boston. I haven’t been up that late and roaming around without the aid of drugs since I can remember.

So now I know you can get 400 shellfish for little more than $100, and be generously and graciously complimented on your physique and charmed by men in rubber bib overalls at 3am. But of course, this is all set to change, and we know that change is bad. The Fulton Fish Market is essential, the seafood hub for not just NYC but a lot of the Northeast, and its social value is measured precisely by the prime real estate, with its gorgeous river view, it sits on. When it gets shunted up to the Bronx, I imagine these guys will feel more than a bit marginalized. But who am I to say? Hunt’s Point will be indoors (it was pissing rain all last night), and air-conditioned. And it will be closer to my house. Throw in a bushel of crabs, and maybe I can handle a little change.



























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