Friday Five

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.)

Monica, are you home?

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.

Notice the address: 86

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! 

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22 comments

  1. Jackie, what a wonderful tour! I miss NYC especially when I am reminded of its history and all the creative energy that has flowed in and out of its buildings and still does to this day! Olive says she’d be impressed if Reggie joined you on this walk–her days of block-after-wonderful-block are long gone 😦

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    1. It’s humbling when I think about all of the greats who have walked these streets. Literally following in their footsteps.
      Reggie has joined me but he has an ulterior motive – search and destroy any napkins on the sidewalk. He sends a woof to Olive and says that on our next tour of the neighborhood, he will walk in her honor.

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    1. It certainly is! I enjoy the energy of the city but I also love the wide open spaces and closeness to nature I get when I visit my mom in Tennessee!

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    1. I am a bit fascinated by it, Lisa. It’s certainly not as old culturally speaking as other parts of the world, but it’s still interesting to learn these little tidbits.

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  2. Such a long history of culture! And that is so sad about DylanThomas. I didn’t know he ended there, like that.
    Love the skinny townhouse. The rooms must be so funny inside.
    Thanks for sharing Millay’s poignant poem. It’s wonderful.

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    1. I imagine it must be very hard to get furniture in that townhouse! 🙂
      I’m glad you liked the poem. That one is a personal favorite of mine.

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  3. I loved that tour! Interesting about Cary Grant and Millay’s house! And I Ioved seeing the Cherry Lane Theater, very cool how small theaters give theater artists a chance — we have a very close (young) friend in NYC right now pursuing an acting career — we hear lots of great stories about theaters like that!

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    1. There are some wonderful productions happening off Broadway in little theaters like this one. Everyone – from the actors and directors to the stage crew – is so talented. Good luck to your friend!

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    1. Thanks, Lenore! I’m glad you came along on this little tour. 🙂
      I didn’t take the photo inside Chumley’s because it’s been closed for renovations. But I took all of the others.
      The outside of Chumley’s is pretty plain and there are no signs, so you have to know what you’re looking for. But I guess that was the point during Prohibition.

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    1. I found that to be so interesting, too. The way these terms sneak into our vernacular have a whole history all their own. Thanks for coming along!

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  4. That was a lot of fun – I loved all the ‘insider info’!
    And I really liked that photo of the White Horse Tavern, too – nicely done! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to find a fountain to splash around in…
    🙂

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    1. It’s pretty neat to have a drink and think about people doing the same during the speakeasy days. But check in on their website. They’ve been closed for repair and plan to reopen at the end of 2011.

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