They’re privy to habits of 1800s Lower East Siders

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Scott Jordan with some of the find from the privy dig underneath the site of the former Bereket Turkish kebab restaurant. Photos by Clayton Patterson

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Many Lower East Siders really dug the affordable Turkish fare of Bereket, at E. Houston and Orchard Sts. But the popular kebab house is long gone, now that that the site has been cleared for a new residential development by Ben Shaoul.

Scott Jordan, who specializes in excavating old privies, however, still digs the spot. Or, rather, he recently dug it.

Robert Perl, president and C.E.O. of the East Village’s Tower Brokerage, “made the connection” that gave Jordan access to the site. Perl has participated in a number of privy-pit digs with Jordan over the past 18 years.

“It’s an exciting treasure hunt that never disappoints,” Perl said.

As for the safety of digging in the old outhouse vaults — which doubled as garbage disposals — human body wastes decompose rapidly and are not harmful after only a few years.

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An old ginger beer bottle.


According to L.E.S. documentarian Clayton Patterson, who covered the dig, the privy well’s sides were lined with brick, and the objects seen on this page were found about 5 feet down. The find included detritus that was 150 years old or more, including a ceramic ginger beer bottle, meerschaum clay tobacco pipes, plate fragments and small bottles for medicinal tinctures.

“Scott insisted I keep several of the bottles and the clay pipes,” Perl said. “I added them to my collection.”

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Broken pipes and plate fragments were among the finds in the old outhouse well.


Jordan, who lives in Astoria, Queens, uses the objects to create unique artworks that can be hung on the wall.

Regarding the development, Perl said he knows for certain that it will contain a high-end Equinox gym.

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Sifting the privy soil for something good.
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Scott Jordan, second from left, and Bob Perl, far right, at the dig site, with Jordan’s assistant, far left, and the construction-site foreman, second from right.