You might think of them as solitary creatures, furiously scribbling or typing alone, but as long as there have been writers in New York City, they have socialized together in an assortment of bars, restaurants, apartments and clubs.
The Times began writing about these places in its very first issues. In 1910, it published an article lamenting “the passing of the literary haunts of New York,” noting that many once-famous gathering spots were being razed as the city grew and modernized. “Number 19 West 24th is gone,” the piece began. “At least the old 19 is gone, and … no account has been made of the fact that it at one time housed the Author’s Club, and that its rakish stairs were somewhat worn away by the feet of Matthew Arnold, Whittier, Lowell and Field.” The article went on to list more than a dozen locations that were no more, including Pfaff’s beer cellar, where Walt Whitman liked to drink, an unnamed restaurant at 5 Barclay Street where Edgar Allan Poe ate with fellow writers and The Den, where James Fenimore Cooper and friends gathered.
Pfaff’s, The Den and the rest may be long gone, but over the decades, dozens, if not hundreds, of other establishments popped up to take their places. Here, we celebrate a few of the most memorable ones.
The turreted red brick Victorian building that looms gracefully over West 23rd Street between 7th and 8th is one of New York’s most famous literary locales, immortalized in music, movies and literature. In her history of the hotel, “Inside the Dream Palace,” Sherill Tippins described it as “a veritable Ellis Island of the avant-garde.”
In 1978, The Times sent a reporter to explore this “roof for creative heads.” The hotel’s manager told him that “writers come here to work,” lured by the cheap rent and the rosewood-beamed rooms, many of which had three-foot-thick walls.
In her National Book Award-winning memoir, “Just Kids,” Patti Smith described the Chelsea as “an energetic, desperate haven for scores of gifted hustling children from every rung of the ladder.”
William S. Burroughs finished “Naked Lunch” when he lived at the Chelsea. Thomas Wolfe, who holed up in Room 829 in the last years of his life, wrote several books there, including “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
The playwright Arthur Miller moved in after he separated from Marilyn Monroe. “Thank God the Chelsea has never been respectable,” he told The Times, “and with the present management it never will be.”