A great deal of American Literature has been written in Greenwich Village. That’s one thing I learned from the Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl today. We did not crawl from pub to pub however – as the title may indicate – but walked through the West Village and stopped at three pubs having some literary importance. About 15 people, all but one Americans, but only two New Yorkers, had joined the tour. We met at 2 pm in the White Horse Tavern’s Dylan Thomas Room, where we were greeted by our tour guides Eric, who runs the tour company, and Pamela, a law student. I first had to sign a paper to make sure I know what drinking alcohol can do to me and the tour company is not responsible for taxis running over me when crossing a street. I sat down at a small table, ordered an iced tea (what a shame in a literary pub) and got into talking with a family from Richmond, Virginia. They were in New York for the weekend to meet their son, who lives in Brooklyn and was with them. The son asked my where I am staying and as I told him about my six neighborhood plan he was amazed. He told me he had lived in Greenpoint as well – in the more Polish part, he said -, currently lives in Fort Greene and is quite fond of Brooklyn. So I am not the only one.
But back to the pub. White Horse Tavern opened in 1880 and is the second oldest pub in New York after McSorley’s Ale House, existing since 1854. It was frequented by longshoremen from the close by Hudson River then and became a literary place only in the 1950s. It’s most famous drinker was the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who had his last whiskeys here before he fell into coma in Chelsea Hotel and died some days later at the age of just 39 in 1953. Other famous writers hanging out here were Norman Mailer, Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac.
Both our tour guides turned out to be not only very knowledgeable but as well humorous and made a good performance. They recited poems from several authors, mainly by heart, and told funny stories about Greenwich Village residents and Greenwich Village Ghosts.
When Eric showed us an old house where former mayor Jimmy Walker had lived on Gay Street, built in 1820, he explained to me, the German, that for Americans this is pretty old.
Our next stop after having a look at some houses where writers had lived or worked was the Kettle of Fish on Christopher Street. It is a pretty simple and worn out place with two ragged sofas and a corner where people can play darts. It has been on Macdougal Street originally, where it had been a popular hangout for the Beatniks and where Andy Warhol had a fight with Bob Dylan about a woman.
In the current place lots of journalists had come and worked there. And Frank McCourt, when he still was a wannabe writer.
On our way to the last pub, we passed Chumley’s at 86 Bedford Street. Chumley’s was a famous speakeasy and declared a literary landmark. In 2007 a chimney had collapsed in the dining room and it has been closed for renovation since then. Greenwich Village is still hoping for its being reopened with at least a bit of memory to the old place.
Our last stop was Marie’s Crisis Café, located in the cellar of the building where Thomas Paine wrote his “Crisis Papers”. Playwright Eugene O’Neill was a regular here. It is now a mainly gay piano bar. A huge mirror behind the bar shows scenes from the French and American revolutions. Someone asked the bartender what he is writing. Eric said he had been telling him to write a children’s book about a squirrel, but somehow he didn’t really get along.
Drinking a beer is not so easy in this place. There is no draft at all and just Budweiser, Bud light and Stella Artois in bottles. I have to gain more knowledge about other bar drinks.
After almost four hours the group dissolved. I told Eric and Pamela that I will join the Brooklyn Literary Pub Crawl as well and Eric promised to make me a special price if I just send him an email. Good!
What I learned today: How to tip in bars.
When you are served at a table you tip like in a restaurant. When you get your drink at the bar, there is either a glass where you can put your tip in or you just leave it on the counter.