New art with all the fixings: Julia Rothman’s NYC hot dog cart
It’s with ravenous excitement and a serious fondness for street food that we introduce Julia Rothman’s new edition: Food Cart on Gansevoort Street. An artist, illustrator and author several times over, Rothman’s lived in NYC all her life, and has no intention of going anywhere else. She’s drawn so many things in this city: taxi cabs, the New York Public Library, subway cars, the bronx zoo, bodegas, protestors, people looking at art. And this isn’t her first foray into NYC’s food culture. She’s captured Katz’s Deli, Russ and Daughters, favorite pizza places, and produce markets to name a few. She even published a whole dang book on the subject: Hello, New York: An Illustrated Love Letter to the Five Boroughs. (Speaking of books, she’s on the hunt for stories to include in her forthcoming Sex with Every Body—consider a submission! And keep her 2020 pub date on your radar.)
Food Cart on Gansevoort Street is an homage to the ubiquitous hot dog cart, a stalwart of the NYC streets, a part of the landscape here in the metropolis Rothman calls home. The cart is a cacophony of images itself, positively covered in brightly-colored idealized pics of its offerings. A glossy pretzel looming luxuriously on a black backdrop, a beet-red bun-nestled beef sausage the length of an adult’s arm, fresh fist-sized falafel peeking coquettishly from a fluffy pita. Like the green orbs signaling a subway station, those trademark umbrellas stick out above the crowd, an easily spot-able advertisement. Made with a mix of paint and markers, the colors pop, the details sizzle. You might almost miss the vendor’s baseball-capped head, barely visible in all the commotion. But there he is, dead center. Rothman’s illustration reminds us to hold space for these food cart vendors, some of whom spend decades staking out the same spots, slinging hot dogs and other snacks to the scurrying masses.
Rothman has cleverly positioned the cart floating on a white background. Decontextualized, it becomes a mythological creature, a masterpiece, an elemental object of observation. The everyday is a point of particular interest for this artist, who’s been drawing the people, things, and places in her path for years. In paying close attention to what she passes by and immortalizing the minutiae of those moments on pen and paper, she gives us pause to reconsider, to pay respect. Food Cart on Gansevoort Street is much more than a hot dog cart.
When it comes to the local culinary scene, hot dogs are as quintessentially NYC as a slice of pizza or a perfect bagel. The history of the hot dog cart in NYC can be traced back to the 1860s, when it’s rumored a German immigrant first started selling sausages in the Bowery. By the 1890s, hot dog stands could be spotted outside the city’s student dorms, but it wasn’t until 1926 that they were able to operate as independent cook stations, thanks to an inventor named Frances E. Coffey. Of the thousands of hot dog stands bespeckling the city now, most are based around prime tourist attractions, high-traffic areas often lacking in easy dining options—but that’s not to say the food carts aren’t frequented by locals like us. Rather, these carts offer us concessions designed to be consumed on a corner later at night, a snack so ingrained in the fabric of our Big Apple food culture as to slip into our subsistence almost imperceptibly.
The New York City hot dog cart is iconic. It’s an institution. Food Cart on Gansevoort Street isn’t our first shout out to the seminal snack mobile—Jorge Colombo’s 42nd Street and Fernanda Cohen’s Hot Dog and I are two earlier editions that gave us a chance to wax poetic about the wonders of the water dog. And yet, the food cart is so easily overlooked, so recklessly reproached. Perhaps because of its omnipresence. Maybe its affordability or the unpredictability when it comes to quality (true). But it’s in the texture of this city, and who better to tap into that than a lifetime resident and intrepid illustrator: Rothman.