Literary types don't have to sit inside with their noggins down. Look up and around on this tour of the Village's best spots for writers and readers.
Thu Apr 30 2009
Photos: Jason Rodgers
Start: 802 Broadway at 10th St
End: 11 St. Marks Pl between Second and Third Aves
Time: 1.5 hours
Distance: 1.8 miles
1 It’s probably not a great idea to read while you walk (or vice versa). Might get hit by a bus or something. Pull your head out of Bleak House, put it inside Grace Church (802 Broadway at 10th St; 212-254-2000, gracechurchnyc.org) and behold where Newland Archer and May Welland tied the knot in Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel, The Age of Innocence: “...Archer had kissed her through her wedding veil before they went down to the motor which was to carry them to Grace Church—for in a world where all else had reeled on its foundations the 'Grace Church wedding’ remained an unchanged institution.” But not one, apparently, that guaranteed happiness. While you’re there, turn around to look at the building that was poet Frank O’Hara’s last New York address (791 Broadway between 10th and 11th Sts).
2 Head down University Place (you’ll pass the locale where the Beats used to get wasted at the old Cedar Tavern, which is, like so much of New York, no longer there) en route to the birth spot of the master himself, Henry James (21 Washington Pl at Greene St). Not much to look at; it’s easy to see why James became so enamored of life in Europe.
3 Next, amble along Great Jones Street, wondering which of the buildings was the fictional home of Bucky Wunderlick, the narrator of Don DeLillo’s 1973 novel titled after the short cobblestone lane (the cover of one edition pins the address at 31). Of course, not knowing which building he inhabited is sort of the point: Bucky, a Bob Dylan--caliber rock star, was artistically and mentally exhausted, and sought refuge here, though he didn’t quite find it.
4 Down the road a bit sits KGB Bar (85 E 4th St between Bowery and Second Ave; 212-505-3360, kgbbar.com), where you can down a large Baltika in the company of other literate souls and see writerly heroes like Ed Park, Heidi Julavits and Deb Olin Unferth recite passages from their newest works. On Sunday 3, Lynn Freed, Vestal McIntyre and Matthew Goodman read.
5 In Ayn Rand’s iconic libertarian treatise Atlas Shrugged, the world is brought to its knees when captains of industry refuse to do their jobs. Jerks. The closet-size Atlas Cafe (73 Second Ave between 4th and 5th Sts, 212-539-0966), on the other hand, seems pretty far removed from the current global shitstorm, and offers a solid cup of coffee to boot. On springy days, it’s a great spot to grab a sidewalk seat and flip pages.
6 St. Marks Place is a decent thoroughfare for ambulatory bibliophiles. First stop is the easy-to-miss East Village Books (99 St. Marks Pl between First Ave and Ave A, 212-477-8647). It’s larger inside than the tiny entranceway suggests, and you might make a revelatory find (like a Nathanael West omnibus for $10).
7 In 1953, English poet W.H. Auden and his partner, Chester Kallman, moved to a second-floor apartment in a tenement building at 77 St. Marks Place, which was Auden’s home until he returned to England in 1972, a year before his death. Hannah Arendt, who visited the place not long before he left, wrote afterward: “His slum apartment was so cold that the toilet no longer functioned and he had to use the toilet in the liquor store at the corner.” Hey, we’ve all been there.
8 The protagonist in Adam Rapp’s 2006 novel, The Year of Endless Sorrows, said fellow patrons of the Caf Orlin (41 St. Mark’s Pl between First and Second Aves, 212-777-1447) enjoyed “a kind of East Village private cafe camaraderie, something small and wordless and telepathically respectful.” And the place makes a mean goat-cheese sandwich ($10.75).
9 The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church (131 E 10th St at Second Ave; 212-674-0910, poetryproject.org) was for years an excellent place to read and study poetry, especially when it was frequented by the likes of Ted Berrigan, who lived around the corner at 101 St. Marks Place. It’s still a hub for poets both famous and unknown, hosting readings by John Ashbery, Eileen Myles and newcomer Ariana Reines.
10 All this reading has, by now, probably made your head hurt. Seek an easy out by snatching up less textually taxing books at St. Mark’s Comics (11 St. Marks Pl between Second and Third Aves; 212-598-9439, stmarkscomics.com). It’s the kind of place you imagine 40-year-old virgins hanging out in, what with the wall-to-wall action figures and epoch-spanning titles. We like Chester Brown, but if superheroes are your thing, brush up on some old Wolverines in time for the movie. We wouldn’t be surprised if, prior to his stint as Weapon X, Wolvie spent his downtime in the library, quietly reading.
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