Getting in is no easy feat — through a hatch on a busy street, like Alice in Wonderland, scrambling along a ladder quickly enough to be swallowed up by the city unnoticed to end up in this abandoned subway station — a breathtaking, mystical space in Lower Manhattan.

It’s what I imagine would have been a major pedestrian plaza and transfer intersection. Aside from the high ceiling room, there are multiple rooms that break off to the sides from the main plaza upstairs, viewable from downstairs by the openings in the ledges above. Beyond that, there is an incomplete tunnel where tracks were never laid down. On one end, you can see where it terminates at the concrete wall, but to the other side, the tunnel veers off, rather ominously, around a bend where, at the end, are the beginnings of what would have been a platform.

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It’s only similar to the “Underbelly” for being deep in the subway system where nobody could hear you scream. Whereas the Underbelly project was a curated gallery of street artists (minus the MSK dudes that are “graffiti artists”) from all around the world with a one night opening, this was not curated. It’s not known. Yet, the underground, concrete cavern has some of the best graffiti the city has to offer, containing a lineup of almost entirely New York writers.

The location is highly exclusive and the graffiti shows that. It’s a no-toy zone, filled with burners and clean throw-ups from infamous underground kings/urban explorers/tunnel rats — SEKA, SOZE, CAYZ, REGS, VIZE, ZENR, the ACC crew (2ESAE, NETA, DRO), some old school classics like RIME, SETUP, JEDI5 and then the local LES bully’s — the PPP crew like MINT and SERF and REMO, but also DEBT and the original GAS ONE. INKHEAD and PHONOH obviously, also tunnel kings/roller kings. And PRINT, an uptown writer from the Bronx — he’s kind of a wild card in this lineup.

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It’s a time capsule at the bottom of the rabbit hole. The graffiti is all in prime condition — nothing faded or incredibly old, which is impressive considering the humidity), the colors still popping off the wall. The graffiti ranges — from early 2000s to very recently, from tags by JIM JOE on the doors to short poems and small character doodles. It feels very primal in a way, like ancient cave writings. It’s pure, raw, uncurated  — quality work in a very unique collection, self-regulated by writers which is a very rare exemplification in NYC graff nowadays. It’s a place for true explorers and adventurers, requiring precision in access and escape. The risk is truly worth the reward.

(Photos: Alexis Janine/ANIMALNewYork)