8. Paresis Hall

Paresis Hall, a brothel where the boy prostitutes work in The Alienist, is a real location that existed in New York City in the 1890s. The gay bar and brothel was located on the Bowery, just south of Cooper Union, and run by gangster Biff Ellison who was with the Five Points Gang. The word paresis is a term used for the insanity derived from long-term cases of syphilis.

Shown with a sinister vibe in the show, the real Paresis Hall was also a place of community. According to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s blog, it was also a safe haven and social center for young men exploring their sexual identity:

“A few men of the Paresis Hall men organized a club called the Cercle Hermaphroditis, which permanently rented a room above the bar. At the time, laws against transvestsism, as well as the antagonism of other men, made dressing in women’s attire on the streets dangerous. Paresis Hall gave them a space where they could gather without fear, and store some of their personal things in a place more private than their living areas. The hall also served as an entry point into a much larger ‘gay world,’ where men just beginning to identify as ‘fairies’ could learn subcultural styles, and ways of speaking and behaving. They could exchange information about developments affecting them, from news of police raids to upcoming balls or social events. Here, they could build and express solidarity, and provide the kind of emotional support needed to reject the views of a largely hostile world beyond Paresis Hall.”