Herman Melville. Henry James. Edith Wharton. Washington Irving. Bernard Malamud. All these writers were born in New York City, and numerous others have adopted the city as home. Here are five spots where you can pay tribute to literary greats in New York City.
The Algonquin Hotel
Recreate the famous literary Algonquin Round Table – where Dorothy Parker, George F. Kauffman and other writers and artists traded witticisms in the 1920s – at the historic Algonquin Hotel. The Algonquin’s history reads like a who’s who of the past century: William Faulkner wrote his 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech in one suite; Douglas Fairbanks and Orson Welles honeymooned here; and Angela Lansbury and Tallulah Bankhead both lived here in their teens. Dine on traditional American dishes like New York strip steak and crab cakes at the Round Table Restaurant, followed by a night out at the Blue Bar, where you can sip cocktails and spout Dorothy Parker bon mots like “I shall stay the way I am… because I do not give a damn.”
Invisible Man: A Memorial to Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man managed to do the opposite of its title – catapulting Ellison, the grandson of slaves, to the height of visibility. Invisible Man won the National Book Award in 1953 and he used his new platform to promote the power of the written word, highlighting the importance of books as moral compass. Pay tribute to Ellison in Riverside Park, where a mighty 15-foot-high, 10-foot-wide bronze monolith, titled Invisible Man: A Memorial to Ralph Ellison, rises at 150th Street; Ellison lived right nearby. Created by artist Elizabeth Catlett, the sculpture features a carved-out silhouette of a striding man, through which you can see the park’s springtime blossoms.
Washington Square Park
The West Village may be famous for its bohemian history, but these days, it can sometimes be hard to find any trace of it amid the swanky shoe boutiques, million-dollar brownstones and cupcake shops. One way to track down the neighbourhood’s rich past is by visiting its literary landmarks, like the stately Washington Square Park. Over the past century, writers and poets have flocked here, from Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain in the late 1800s to the Beat poets, including Kerouac and Ginsberg, who hung out on the breezy benches in 1950s and 60s, holding forth on the issues of the day. You can further follow in Kerouac’s footsteps by staying at the new boutique hotel the Marlton, which opened in 2013. Housed in a landmarked building – once called the Marlton House, dating back to 1900 – Kerouac holed up here to write two novellas.
New York is peppered with old bars, but only Pete’s Tavern in Gramercy Park, which opened its doors in 1864, can claim to be the longest continuously operating bar in the city. Pete’s even managed to stay open through the Prohibition by cannily disguising itself as a flower shop. If the dark-wood interior looks familiar, that’s because it has starred in many TV shows, from Seinfeld to Law & Order. But its literary claim to fame goes back a century, to the early 1900s, when the writer O. Henry, who lived down the street, came here to sip ale and write. Legend has it that he penned The Gift of the Magi here, comfortably ensconced in one of the weathered booths near the door. Order the house special, Pete’s 1864 Ale and wait for the literary mood to strike.
Stage a book reading in a bar, generously pour beer, invite a crowd – and it’s literary night at Half King in Chelsea. The inviting Half King, owned by author Sebastian Jung (The Perfect Storm), hosts a weekly Monday night reading series – past guests have included Bret Easton Ellis, Philip Gourevitch and A.M. Homes. The Half King also features photography exhibits and a regular Magazine Night that brings together magazine editors and writers. But even with all the arty types warming the bar stools, Half King is at heart an unpretentious hangout, with an emphasis on good beer and better conversation. You could say a night out here is the perfect storm.