Five Great Literary Landmarks of NYC: Taverns and Restaurants


The ground-floor barroom was once frequented by Tammany Hall types.

Located just north of Union Square on 18th Street east of Broadway, Old Town Bar dates to 1892, when it was founded as a bar and restaurant called Viemeister's, part of a strong German presence in the neighborhood. During prohibition, it was a speakeasy called Craig's Restaurant. In 1933, it was purchased by Claus Lohden, who conferred the modern name.

During the early 20th Century, the bar had a reputation as a gathering place for Tammany Hall politicians, and it wasn't until much later in the century that it acquired its literary reputation, becoming famous for patrons such as Frank McCourt, Nick Hornby, and Billy Collins.

The photogenic place - with its wooden booths, parquet floors, high ceilings, and antique fixtures (the 100-year-old walk-in porcelain urinals have been justifiably celebrated), the place is so photogenic that it provided an introductory sequence to David Letterman's show in the 1990s, and, known as Riff's, was featured in the sitcom Mad About You. It also served as backdrop for a famous Madonna video.

Madonna's "Bad Girl"

Letterman intro

Old Town Bar
45 East 18th Street


At the corner of Macdougal Street and Minetta Lane, the long-running Minetta Tavern

Though now it's a chi-chi restaurant with great food under the ownership of Keith McNally, Minetta Tavern was once a bar and Italian restaurant, founded in 1937 by Eddie "Minetta" Sieveri, and later run by Taka Becovic, a Montenegrin immigrant who had long been a busboy there.

The interior has been largely preserved, with it's black-and-white checkerboard floor, tin ceiling, backless wooden barstools, red Naugahyde booths, and hanging café chandeliers with lampshades. The place (and surrounding streets) is named after a brook that once ran through the neighborhood.

Jeremiah's Vanishing New York
Missing from Minetta Tavern: Joe Gould
Famous literary patrons include Ernest Hemingway, e.e. cummings, Ezra Pound, Joe Gould, Eugene O'Neill, William Saroyan, and Dylan Thomas - the last two of whom were clearly two-timing the bar with other taverns. More recently, actors Matthew Broderick and Mathew McConaughey were enthusiastic patrons, prior to the McNally era.

As chronicled by Joseph Mitchell in Joe Gould's Secret, and featured in a film starring Stanley Tucci, crazy guy Joe Gould (a/k/a Professor Seagull) supposedly wrote much of his Oral History of Our Time while sitting in a booth at Minetta Tavern. Sadly, the blog Jeremiah's Vanishing New York reports that the portrait of Gould that once graced the bar has been removed during its most recent incarnation. Gould, who had no need for apartments, was also famous for sleeping on a park bench in nearby Washington Square.

Minetta Tavern
113 Macdougal Street

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Location Info

Minetta Tavern

113 Macdougal St., New York, NY

Category: Restaurant

Old Town Bar & Restaurant

45 E. 18th St., New York, NY

Category: Music

Chumley's - CLOSED

86 Bedford St., New York, NY

Category: Music

Pete's Tavern

129 E. 18th St., New York, NY

Category: Music

White Horse Tavern

567 Hudson St., New York, NY

Category: Music

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