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
Iâ€™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 Yorkâ€”like Time and Again by Jack Finney, Forever by Pete Hamill and Winterâ€™s Tale by Mark Helprinâ€”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 Fortitudeâ€”the most famous pair of marble lions on the planetâ€”and pausing just inside the magnificent vaulted entrance hall to inquire at an information desk how to get to room 316.
The twin lions that flank the entrance of the New York Public Libraryâ€™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 Kerouacâ€™s legendary On the Road scroll, then on loan to the Library. Though the scroll is no longer in the Libraryâ€™s holdingsâ€”it was sold at auction in 2001 by Christieâ€™s in New York and won by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for a record-setting bid of $2.43 millionâ€”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
â€œHe wrote it up there,â€ she said, pointing to the window above the door. â€œIn the second-floor front apartment.â€
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, itâ€™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 2005â€”after a complete renovationâ€”for $5.4 million. Thereâ€™s no plaque noting the buildingâ€™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: â€œDean, 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.â€
3. Rudyâ€™s Bar & Grill
627 Ninth Avenue, NYC
â€œDo you feel like going someplace crazy?â€ he asked.
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 Yorkâ€™s quintessential dive bar, Rudyâ€™s. Even as the surrounding neighborhoodâ€”and the rest of Manhattanâ€”has slowly lost nearly all sense of atmosphere, the infamous Hellâ€™s Kitchen hole-in-the-wall has stubbornly held on to its Beat ambience. Every night at Rudyâ€™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.
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. â€œThe thing I remember most about that night at the Westway Diner,â€ Seinfeld once told New York Magazine, â€œis that I had two cups of coffee. And I donâ€™t drink coffee. So I remember sitting there, having a second cup of coffeeâ€”and that was kind of an indication that we were onto something. Maybe thatâ€™s where the whole show came fromâ€”too much caffeine.â€
5. Coffee Shop
28 Union Square West, NYC
â€œItâ€™s where all the unemployed actors and models hang out,â€ cracked Jay.
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 Jayâ€™s observation about the Coffee Shop of 1995 is still true today. New York Magazine praises the inexpensive eats, sidewalk seats and â€œsurprisingly good drinks,â€ but points out that visitors face â€œa high risk of poor service and unpleasant encounters with attitudinal (but often pretty) people.â€ In the same vein (vain?), the Village Voice named the Coffee Shop â€œBest Bar for Modelizersâ€ in 2010. Be sure to bring your indifference.
6. Caffe Dante
79-81 Macdougal Street, NYC
â€œLetâ€™s get a cup of coffee at Danteâ€™s,â€ suggested Jay, leading the way to a nearby Old World-style cafÃ© on MacDougal Street.
CafÃ© 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 Zahraâ€™s favorite cafÃ©. 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 Iâ€™d received, unrequested, a few weeks earlier. A check of the index revealed a whole chapter devoted to Kerouac, titled â€œNow You Owe Me a Dollar,â€ in which Vidal recounted the night they ended up together at the Chelsea Hotel.
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 â€œThe Last Outpost of Bohemiaâ€ but it was arguably also the first. In addition to a bunch of Beatsâ€”Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Herbert Hunckeâ€”the list of artists and outsiders who have wandered the Chelseaâ€™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
Iâ€™d caught a chill that I wasnâ€™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.
When it was built in 1884, the gabled and fabled Dakota stood nearly alone on Manhattanâ€™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 Rosemaryâ€™s Baby and as the scene of a time-travel experiment in Jack Finneyâ€™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 Lennonâ€™s widow Yoko Ono still lives, is Strawberry Fields, a quiet corner of Central Park dedicated to Lennonâ€™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
â€œYooouuuuuâ€¦â€ she began, softly, slightly, sadly caressing the simple elegance of the jazz standard â€œYou Go to My Headâ€ and somehow managing to simultaneously express the pleasure and pain of being so much in love you canâ€™t even think straight.
In Beatitude, Jay takes Harry to see his favorite singer, Deanna Kirk, perform at the Bitter End on Bleecker Street. Harry is overwhelmed by Kirkâ€™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 Deannaâ€™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, â€œLive at Deannaâ€™s.â€ A fire destroyed the club just as Kirkâ€™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 playfulâ€”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 storeâ€™s famous cast-iron sign (â€œWise Men Fish Hereâ€), 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.
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 visitorâ€™s eye, it wasnâ€™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 storeâ€™s estimated $3 million inventory was donated to the University of Pennsylvaniaâ€™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,Â 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.