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Tuesday, September 12, 2006


The first time I visited NYC, I went to stay in the West Village where my girlfriend lived. At that time I didn't know much of the history of Greenwich Village, only that this was where my litarary hero Jack Kerouac and the Beat Poets such as Allan Ginsberg had hung out during the '50's. I thought I'd died and gone to Beatnik Heaven. At that time the Village was at the height of Flower Power, and there was a lot of buzz about an event called Woodstock that was about to take place just outside of New York City. I had no idea what this was. I just knew I was there, walking around those tree-lined streets, sitting on the stoop in the evening, watching the crowds go by. My friend lived on MacDougal Street. I didn't know then that this was the street were Louisa May Alcott (Little Women) had also lived.

This time when I was preparing to return to NYC, I did some research, mainly about the literary history of the Village. I wanted to visit every home, pub and theatre where famous writers had lived and worked. Greenwich Village has always been a symbol of NYC's artistic and literary history. The Village was largely developed in the late 19th century so the streets aren't laid out on a grid system and have names rather than numbers. Washington Square was once one of Manhattan's first prestigious residential neighbourhoods. The Park was established 1828, surrounded by Greek Revival townhouses. Several of the oldest of these are still standing as is the Stanford White designed archway in the Park. Henry James lived here, also Edith Wharton. In the cluster of rooming houses on West 10th St. writers such as
ee cummings and Theodore Dreiser lived.

Eventually the Village attracted a more bohemian group of writers, among them Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and O Henry. And during the 50's and 60's it was popular with the existentialists and Beat generation writers as well as poets like Dylan Thomas.

The Village was also the centre for theatrical experimentation. Playwright Eugene O'Neill got his start at the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal St. For over 40 years the Sullivan Street Playhouse was home to The Fantastics. And Edna St. Vincent Millay founded the Cherry Lane Theatre.

Nowadays the Village has become more upscale with trendy boutiques, antique shops, night spots and cinemas. We window-shopped as we walked through the shaded streets in search of
The White Horse Tavern which opened in 1880 and gained a name for itself in the late '50's as a haunt of Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer and poet Dylan Thomas. Inside, the snug little booths and polished wooden bar are perfect for the literary crowd to gather for discussion along with their pints. On the walls are portraits of Thomas who collapsed and died on the sidewalk outside the pub after imbibing a vast quantity of whiskey (the accounts run from 7 to 19 shots! Apparantly he was diabetic.)

We sat at one of the little tables outside and ordered burgers. Of course I had a pint of Guiness in honour of Dylan.

A few blocks from here on Bedford St. is Chumleys. It was a little hard to find because it used to be a speak-easy and there is no sign outside, just a big old wooden door with the number 86. Here's where Kerouac hung out. It's long been known as a writer's hangout. John Steinbeck used to come here too. And F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of The Great Gatsby here. It was also a favorite haunt of actor Humphrey Bogart.

I stepped inside only long enough to take a photo or two of the interior. The walls were covered with photos of authors and book cover illustrations. It's a dining place so the tables were full. If we hadn't already chowed down on the burgers we might have stopped here for a bite to eat and another pint. But it was time to head for The Village Vanguard for an evening of cool jazz.

This is one of the oldest jazz clubs in NYC and known as "New York's most prestigious jazz club". It's located in the West Village on Seventh Ave S. down in a dim-lit basement.
There is limited seating and though we'd booked our tickets ahead, we were advised to get there early to find a good table. We were lucky to get seated near the front. The $35 admission includes $10 toward your drinks. We ordered and sat back to enjoy the evening.
This show featured Paul Motian (drums), Joe Lovana (sax) and Bill Frisell (guitar).
One thing I liked about it was nobody talks while the performance is on so you can really enjoy the quality of the music. When the first show over you can pay another $10 to stay for the second show and this would cover your drinks.

We opted to leave and take the subway back to Manhattan, just in time to browse through Times Square enjoying the excitement of the night-time crowds, and stop of Lindy's for some of their famous cheese cake. Yum!
I have never tasted cheese cake like it! A thick, rich slab that melts in your mouth.

We got back to our hotel at midnight, exhausted but happy with our day. Even our misguided little adventure on the subway when we were heading for the Village, had turned out to be fun. (We took the wrong train in the wrong direction. The folks on the train were helpful and polite, showing us the way to go -- back to Times Square and then down a different set of steps to get the Downtown train. ) Remeber this about Manhattan: Central Park and north are Uptown.
Times Square is Midtown. Greenwich Village and south is Downtown.

Next: Dinosaurs at Central Park and a Pedi-cab ride to Strawberry Fields!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ruth, enjoyed this writing ..being an armchair traveller to NY, walking the same sidewalks that famous writers have walked..eating bagels and cream cheese mmmm
Gives me a better picture of my daughter's home,