Mad About Midtown: An Accountant Steaks Out Midtown West's Moo-ving History

I'm often too swamped throughout the day to step out for lunch at the boutique firm in Midtown where I regularly work up a ravenous appetite as a staff accountant. Accordingly, by the time I leave my office at 43rd and Madison in the late afternoon I could eat a cow. This biological imperative has long fueled my quest to track down and devour Midtown's superlative steaks.

Before I deliver some little-known historical morsels on the area’s meaty history, I'd be remiss not to point any vegetarian or vegan readers in the direction of plant-based shrine Hangawi, its sister restaurant Franchia or vegan destination Blossom for mouthwatering alternatives to animal fare. Dear flesh-avoidant friends, if filet mignon leaves you squeamish, read no further. (Seriously, stop now.)

For the rest of you bloodthirsty feasters, hoof it over to Keens Steakhouse for their chateaubriand, Japanese meatery Ikinari Steak Fifth Avenue, Wolfgangs meat mecca, Match 65 Brasserie or Gallaghers for their nonpareil prime rib. You stand a great chance of sinking your teeth into something delectable at any of these Midtown mainstays.

But now, let us put our steaks on the back burner and climb aboard my time-travel machine to investigate one of midtown's many hidden amenities of yore. Though hotly contested in some history nerd circles as the stuff of urban legend, one particular Manhattan myth has changed the way I think of Midtown West. Sometime in the first half of the twentieth century, when cows were boated across the Hudson River from our neighbors in New Jersey to meet their fate on the dinner plate, they were routed from the docks to their demise via a storied subterranean cow tunnel, allegedly built around 1930 using either oak or vaulted brick.

Ever felt like cattle trying to walk through Times Square? Imagine that but you’re actually a cow. These bovine precursors to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles proved a hassle to herd at street level through an increasingly congested city. The broken telephone of urban sagas leaves us uncertain as to whether or not the tunnel was leveled by epic construction projects like the Westside Highway or the Javits Center. Nevertheless, sources claim that, to this day, it runs 200 feet along 34th Street beneath 12th Avenue.

Some see the invisible movement of yesteryear's cows to their fate at euphemistically named "processing facilities" as a harbinger of the modern indifference around the hazy origins of meat products. Others thrill at the thought of a fabled infrastructure still furrowed today into Midtown's underground. Alongside that unseen undercarriage of internet, electricity, public transport, and parking amenities, the prospect of a clandestine livestock passage leaves a wistful glint in the eyes of hungry learners, who can learn more about Midtown’s fabled cattle pass in beefy blogs like the Edible Geography blog and the ever-marrowy podcast 99% Invisible.

If such a legendary cow tunnel remains intact at present, it begs the question: what is its destiny? Where once heifers headed into town for the butcher's block, lard renderings and the like, might there one day stand some decadent post-apocalyptic nightclub? Will the tunnel's blueprints be reconsidered for a chicly leasable Midtown West office space? As long as folks working there could pop aboveground for a top-notch Midtown steak, I wouldn't cow at the idea.