Larry Closs: Instagram Guest Post

26th January 2012

I am honored today to have Larry Closs, author of Beatitude, guest post, and it’s a fascinating one, full of pictures and great details about some famous and not-so-famous spots in NYC. Check it out, and leave any questions you might have for Larry, and I’ll do my best to get answers for you. Without further ado…

On the Town
An Instagram album of New York City scenes from Beatitude
Larry Closs

I’ve always loved books that blend fact and fiction to create a heightened, altered reality where stories are more epic, characters more archetypal, feelings more raw. I especially love when those books are set in New York—like Time and Again by Jack Finney, Forever by Pete Hamill and Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin—where the city itself becomes a character. My own novel, Beatitude, is set in the New York of 1995, where fictional characters occasionally interact with versions of real people in very real locations. Here are a few from my favorite iPhone app, Instagram:

1. New York Public Library
Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, NYC

We entered the beautiful Beaux Arts building through the main doors on Fifth Avenue, passing between Patience and Fortitude—the most famous pair of marble lions on the planet—and pausing just inside the magnificent vaulted entrance hall to inquire at an information desk how to get to room 316.
—Beatitude

The twin lions that flank the entrance of the New York Public Library’s magnificent marble headquarters are as symbolic of New York as the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia provided their nicknames in the 1930s, dubbing them Patience and Fortitude in honor of the qualities New Yorkers needed to navigate the Depression. In Beatitude, Harry and Jay visit the NYPL for a private viewing of Jack Kerouac’s legendary On the Road scroll, then on loan to the Library. Though the scroll is no longer in the Library’s holdings—it was sold at auction in 2001 by Christie’s in New York and won by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for a record-setting bid of $2.43 million—the NYPL has since acquired the Jack Kerouac Archive, open to scholarly research, which contains more than a thousand manuscripts, notebooks, journals, diaries, correspondence and publishing contracts. The lengthy evolution of On the Road can be traced through three notebooks and six drafts, starting with Ray Smith Novel of Fall 1948.

2. The On the Road House
454 W. 20th Street, NYC

“He wrote it up there,” she said, pointing to the window above the door. “In the second-floor front apartment.”
—Beatitude

In 1997, when I first visited the four-story red-brick row house at 454 W. 20th Street where Jack Kerouac wrote the 120-foot scroll version of On the Road, the shabby exterior sported a For Sale sign. Shortly after, the house was sold for $1 million. A very good investment, in retrospect. Though the neighborhood was decidedly blue-collar when Kerouac and his second wife, Joan Haverty, lived there in 1951, it’s now home to boutiques, bistros and the High Line, a spectacular park built on an abandoned elevated railway. The scroll house was sold again, in 1999, for $1.9 million and once more, in 2005—after a complete renovation—for $5.4 million. There’s no plaque noting the building’s literary significance though the real estate listing for the most recent sale did mention the Kerouac connection. Nearby, at the corner of W. 20th Street and Seventh Avenue, is where Sal and Dean say their final goodbye in On the Road: “Dean, ragged in a motheaten overcoat he bought specially for the freezing temperatures of the East, walked off alone, and the last I saw of him he rounded the corner of Seventh Avenue, eyes on the street ahead, and bent to it again.”

3. Rudy’s Bar & Grill
627 Ninth Avenue, NYC

“Do you feel like going someplace crazy?” he asked.
—Beatitude

To celebrate their viewing of the On the Road scroll at the New York Public Library, Harry and Jay spend a night downing pitchers at New York’s quintessential dive bar, Rudy’s. Even as the surrounding neighborhood—and the rest of Manhattan—has slowly lost nearly all sense of atmosphere, the infamous Hell’s Kitchen hole-in-the-wall has stubbornly held on to its Beat ambience. Every night at Rudy’s, an eclectic crowd of slackers, suits, sailors, hackers and hipsters consumes vast quantities of cheap beer and free hotdogs while vying for one of the red-vinyl booths. The only concession to changing tastes and times is the jukebox. Once named best in the city by Rolling Stone for its collection of classic bebop, the jukebox now also plays classic rock. Miles now mixes with Mick and Ella flirts with The Edge, but Rudy’s is still the best place to get lost in NYC.

4. Westway Diner
614 Ninth Avenue, NYC

The Westway Diner was nearly empty, save for the usual nighthawks who roosted at odd hours in twenty-four-hour eateries and dreamed of better lives over blue-plate specials and bottomless cups of questionable coffee.
—Beatitude

You can get just about anything you want, anytime you want it, at the Westway. Harry and Jay devour burgers and fries over a heart-to-heart at four in the morning, but their conversation follows another momentous one that occurred in the classic diner. The Westway is where, in 1988, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David first discussed the idea of creating the television show that became the television phenomenon Seinfeld. “The thing I remember most about that night at the Westway Diner,” Seinfeld once told New York Magazine, “is that I had two cups of coffee. And I don’t drink coffee. So I remember sitting there, having a second cup of coffee—and that was kind of an indication that we were onto something. Maybe that’s where the whole show came from—too much caffeine.”

5. Coffee Shop
28 Union Square West, NYC

“It’s where all the unemployed actors and models hang out,” cracked Jay.
—Beatitude

Jay sums up the clientele of the Coffee Shop as Harry heads off to a press party there for a new television series starring poets and poetry, but Jay’s observation about the Coffee Shop of 1995 is still true today. New York Magazine praises the inexpensive eats, sidewalk seats and “surprisingly good drinks,” but points out that visitors face “a high risk of poor service and unpleasant encounters with attitudinal (but often pretty) people.” In the same vein (vain?), the Village Voice named the Coffee Shop “Best Bar for Modelizers” in 2010. Be sure to bring your indifference.

6. Caffe Dante
79-81 Macdougal Street, NYC

“Let’s get a cup of coffee at Dante’s,” suggested Jay, leading the way to a nearby Old World-style café on MacDougal Street.
—Beatitude

Café Reggio was a favorite Beat haunt but Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs and company likely frequented Caffe Dante as well. With its wobbly chairs, worn linoleum and wooden pastry case filled with ricotta cheesecake, cannoli, biscotti and profiteroles, Dante is a slice of the Old Country in the West Village. In Beatitude, Dante is Jay and Zahra’s favorite café. Jay takes Harry there and the two reflect on sharing experiences as they enjoy tiramisu with cappuccinos and Kahlua beneath the faded photographic murals of Florence that cover the walls. In real life, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg and Jerry Seinfeld (he gets around!) have all done the same.

7. Chelsea Hotel
222 W. 23rd Street, NYC

I scanned the shelf in my office for the copy of Palimpsest I’d received, unrequested, a few weeks earlier. A check of the index revealed a whole chapter devoted to Kerouac, titled “Now You Owe Me a Dollar,” in which Vidal recounted the night they ended up together at the Chelsea Hotel.
—Beatitude

Besides Jack Kerouac and Gore Vidal, nearly everyone ended up at the Chelsea Hotel. Everyone who was anyone, anyway. Built as an apartment building in the 1880s, the 12-story Chelsea was the tallest structure in Manhattan at the time and soon welcomed visitors as well as residents. The Living with Legends blog maintained by tenants calls the Chelsea “The Last Outpost of Bohemia” but it was arguably also the first. In addition to a bunch of Beats—Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Herbert Huncke—the list of artists and outsiders who have wandered the Chelsea’s halls is literally endless, from Thomas Wolfe to Tom Waits, Bob Dylan to Dylan Thomas, Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix, Willem de Kooning to Tennessee Williams. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there, Madonna photographed her infamous Sex book there and Andy Warhol filmed Chelsea Girls there. Most recently, Patti Smith recounted the years she and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe spent there in her memoir Just Kids. Currently undergoing renovations, the Chelsea is closed to guests and new long-term residents, although 100 residents remain.

8. The Dakota
1 West 72nd Street, NYC

I’d caught a chill that I wasn’t able to shake and I shivered in my coat as I struggled up the icy sidewalk by the Dakota and the rest of the two-block walk to my apartment.
—Beatitude

When it was built in 1884, the gabled and fabled Dakota stood nearly alone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, so far from any populated area of the city that New Yorkers noted that it might as well have been in the Dakota Territory. So goes the most popular story of how the building got its name. Even so, all 65 apartments were rented before the Dakota opened. So much for location, location, location. Though the Dakota gained fame as the dwelling of the demonic cult in Rosemary’s Baby and as the scene of a time-travel experiment in Jack Finney’s cult classic Time and Again, it has unfortunately become best known as the place where John Lennon lived and died. In 1980, the former Beatle was killed in front of the building by a deranged fan. Located in the shadow of the Dakota, where Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono still lives, is Strawberry Fields, a quiet corner of Central Park dedicated to Lennon’s memory. Not a day goes by without impromptu performances of Lennon songs by fans who gather around the centerpiece mosaic that spells out his legacy: Imagine.

9. Deanna Kirk
Performing Thursdays at Queen Vic, NYC

“Yooouuuuu…” she began, softly, slightly, sadly caressing the simple elegance of the jazz standard “You Go to My Head” and somehow managing to simultaneously express the pleasure and pain of being so much in love you can’t even think straight.
—Beatitude

In Beatitude, Jay takes Harry to see his favorite singer, Deanna Kirk, perform at the Bitter End on Bleecker Street. Harry is overwhelmed by Kirk’s voice and vulnerability; I was equally awed the first time I saw her. Kirk is famed as the owner of the vibrant East Village jazz club Deanna’s, where jazz greats like Eartha Kitt, Cecil Taylor and Roy Hargrove mixed it up with up-and-comers and Kirk recorded her first CD, “Live at Deanna’s.” A fire destroyed the club just as Kirk’s recording career took off and she released three acclaimed collections of original folk-inflected jazz and pop before taking time off to be a mom. Back on the scene with a new CD of jazz standards (Lost in Languid Love Songs), weekly performances at Queen Vic and guest vocals for New York Electric Piano, Kirk is as luminous and transcendent as ever, equal parts tender and playful—the unexpected effect, perhaps, of raising a son.

Original Gotham Book Mart photo courtesy of Chris Silver Smith.

10. Gotham Book Mart
41 W. 47th Street, NYC

Beneath the store’s famous cast-iron sign (“Wise Men Fish Here”), Jay and I paused to study a display of rare James Joyce volumes in the window. A moment later, we proceeded down the three steps to the entrance and went inside, where we were welcomed by the wonderful musty smell of old books and the comforting creak of the polished wood floor.
—Beatitude

The Gotham Book Mart was the best bookshop in the world, a Manhattan marvel where lovers of great literature, like Harry and Jay, could get lost for hours. To a visitor’s eye, it wasn’t well organized but that only added to its charm, lending a sense of serendipity to any search of its shelves. If you really wanted to know whether a certain book was in stock, however, you had only to ask. The knowledgeable staff could seemingly conjure any title from thin air, or, actually, from the basement catacombs, which contained as many books as the shop itself. Opened in 1920, Gotham was the Chelsea Hotel of bookshops, a magnet for the literati and glitterati, where Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Miller, Katherine Hepburn, Truman Capote, Woody Allen and Gertrude Stein all prowled the narrow aisles. Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones) and Tennessee Williams all worked as clerks there, although Williams lasted less than a day. Famed for first and rare editions as well as small press publications and poetry, Gotham was also home to the James Joyce Society and all things Edward Gorey. Gotham closed in 2007, three years after moving a few blocks from its storied location in the middle of Diamond Row, a victim of Manhattan real estate values and competition from online booksellers. The store’s estimated $3 million inventory was donated to the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library the following year. No word on whether that included the famous sign. Maybe Harry and Jay will have to find out.

Larry Closs is the author of Beatitude, a novel, and a New Yorker who often wanders far from home. Follow him on his website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram (larrycloss).

Thanks so much, Larry! If you enjoyed today’s post, make sure to check out Erica of BookedinChico tomorrow for another great post by Larry Closs.

 

  • I really enjoyed this. Makes me want to buy a plane ticket. Who’s with me? I love Texas, but NYC is so much cooler. And, holy shit, I would sell a limb to live at the Chelsea Hotel.

    • Yes and yes. Tickets are at about $278 right now. Unfortunately, I have about $.78. 🙂

      And yes, the Chelsea Hotel. I want to live there. Actually, I want to live anywhere in NYC. Ok, not anywhere….but a lot of places.

    • pickygirl

      Yes and yes. Tickets are at about $278 right now. Unfortunately, I have about $.78. 🙂

      And yes, the Chelsea Hotel. I want to live there. Actually, I want to live anywhere in NYC. Ok, not anywhere….but a lot of places.

  • TNBBC

    This was really lovely. Probably my favorite post of the blog tour thus far!!!! Thanks so much for participating and props to Larry for all of the effort to pull the photos and information together like this for you!

    • Isn’t it? I think these photos are a beautiful and as someone who loves photography, I love the black and white. Gorgeous. Plus, I like the way Larry gives an explanation and ties each to the book. So glad he had such a creative idea.

  • Anonymous

    Awesome post!

  • This is such a great and unique post! I’ve seen Coffee and a Book Chick’s Walk Around Town series and this reminds me of that. Love the gritty look at NYC.

    • I jumped at the chance when Lori at TNBBC said Larry wanted to do this. I love this sort of thing because it’s exactly the kind of thing I would do. I’m big on photography (though short on skill), and I love having pics to remind me of special places.