Thought you all might want to come along with me on another lunch time walk around my work neighborhood, Greenwich Village.
1. You might remember from our last walk that we stopped by the Huxtables’ residence. Today we are passing the apartment building where “Friends” Monica, Rachel, Chandler and Joey live. (Well, they didn’t really live there, but don’t tell all the tourists standing behind us on a special tour.)
2. Next, let’s make a couple of literary stops. First on the list is the White Horse Tavern, made famous by poet Dylan Thomas. Built in 1880, it’s one of the few wood-frame buildings left in Manhattan. The tavern was popular as a hang-out for longshoremen because of the location near the Hudson River. For some reason the literati started coming in the 1950s and the Welsh poet Thomas made this place his home away from home. His boozy carousing was legendary. Unfortunately he didn’t rage against the dying of the light hard enough because it was here that he died at age 39 when he collapsed on the sidewalk. Thomas wasn’t the only famous writer who frequented the White Horse. James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, Anais Nin were among the long list who knocked back a few at the bar.
3. Well, that was a bit depressing about Thomas so let’s move along to a house that has two claims to fame. At only 9-1/2 feet wide, it’s the narrowest townhouse in the Village. And it was the home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay in 1923-24, and it’s been said that “Cary Grant Slept Here.” (Not sure if that was at the same time as Millay, but that would make for a much more interesting history.)
What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, I have forgotten, and what arms have lain Under my head till morning; but the rain Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh Upon the glass and listen for reply, And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain For unremembered lads that not again Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. Thus in winter stands the lonely tree, Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: I cannot say what loves have come and gone, I only know that summer sang in me A little while, that in me sings no more.
4. Just around the corner from the townhouse on a tiny winding street is the Cherry Lane Theater, which Millay and her friend helped to found. It’s a dynamic, indie playhouse which has featured actors and directors from Tony Curtis to John Malkovich to Barbra Streisand. But it’s wonderful little theaters like this one that give playwrights and theater artists a chance.
5. A few blocks from the Cherry Lane Theater and we’re at another bar (I see a pattern here). But this isn’t just any bar. This is Chumley’s. What? I know what you’re thinking: It looks like a creepy, back-alley, wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-there hovel.
Then you’d be missing out on one of the coolest little places in Greenwich Village. The building was a blacksmith shop when Mr. Chumley turned it into a prohibition-era speakeasy and gambling parlor. There are secret passages behind bookcases, peepholes and back entrances. In fact it’s said that the common phrase “to eighty-six” (to leave or get rid of) something originated here in reference to Chumley’s address. When a police raid was imminent, patrons were told to “86” it out the garden door. Outside it is nondescript, but inside…
Look closely near the rafters and you’ll see the covers and playbills from the works of illustrious writers such as Willa Cather, e.e. Cummings, Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Ring Lardner, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O’Neill, John Dos Passos and John Steinbeck who were all regulars in their day.
A few years ago, Chumley’s had to temporarily close because the fireplace had collapsed, but the owners say they’ll reopen by the end of 2011.
I hope you enjoyed this lunch time tour around the Village. Time to get back to work. Have a nice weekend!