Five Great Literary Landmarks of NYC: Taverns and Restaurants
Stay in one place long enough, many bars have found, and you're likely to eventually develop literary cachet. Indeed, many of the city's most venerable taverns - Old Town, McSorley's, and the currently-defunct Chumley's - are or were lined with the dust jacket covers of authors who drank there. Once upon a time authors went regularly to these places to drink themselves silly - nowadays, they're more likely to go for the Wi-Fi. Here are some of FiTR's fave literary hangs.
Welch poet Dylan Thomas lived in the Chelsea Hotel late in 1953 and traipsed back and forth from there to the White Horse Tavern, an ancient bar on Hudson Street in the West Village that dates to 1880, when the neighborhood was mainly Irish, and cargo ships docked on the nearby piers. He was already sick from lung disease and the smog levels were high when he arrived in New York to supervise a stage production of Under Milkwood, and repeated drinking bouts at the White Horse didn't help. A room at the tavern was dedicated to him in 1986, and the sign hangs over the table that was supposedly his favorite.
Hunter S. Thompson was also a regular
Meahwhile, the White Horse became the darling of other literary sets. Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, and Hunter S. Thompson are other figures associated with the premises at one time or other.
White Horse Tavern
567 Hudson Street
Within spitting distance of Washington Irving's red-brick house (now home to a not-bad sushi bar), Pete's Tavern lays claim to being the oldest continuously operating tavern in the city, founded in 1864. Of course, that doesn't mean operated by the same family, and during the stretch in the first decade of the 20th century, when it was owned by the Healy brothers and known as Healy's, the place was the regular refuge of O. Henry (the pen name of William Sydney Porter), just like it says today on the awning.
Formerly of Austin, Texas, where he was famously accused by the bank he worked in of embezzlement, O. Henry became one of the premiere short story writers of the day, and he supposedly wrote "Gift of the Magi" in a booth at Pete's in 1905 - or so it says on the booth. Decades later, Ludwig Bemelmans wrote the first Madeleine book at Pete's. A slender complement of celebrity authors, you may be thinking, but keep in mind those two authors are supposed to have actually written things there, rather than just gotten drunk.
O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)
The bar is worth visiting on its own, with its original pressed-tin ceiling, carved rosewood bar with gold medallions, and giant dark-wood booths that look like caves. Bring your laptop in case you feel like writing something.
129 East 18th Street
Chumley's began life as a speakeasy in 1922, features of which make it one of the best examples remaining in the city: no signage, escape route through a courtyard in back that empties onto Barrow Street, a peephole inside the front entrance that allowed the proprietors to eyeball you before entering.
According to a plaque near the front door, which opens into a pair of subterranean rooms plastered with book covers, Chumley's was the refuge of such literary figures as Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Eugene O'Neill, Orson Welles, John Steinbeck, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, who lived just down Bedford Street in what is known as New York's narrowest house, at just 9.5 feet. See if you can spot it.
Edna St. Vincent Millay lived nearby
Chumley's is located at 86 Bedford, and the house number is apparently where the term "86'ed" came from, meaning to be forcibly ejected from a bar.
Unfortunately, Chumley's chimney collapsed in 2007, and the place has been closed ever since, with occasional reports of its imminent reopening. We can't wait.
86 Bedford Street