Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Rough Guide to Literary New York City

Shelf Awareness

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. In celebration of BEA, Rough Guides takes you to five spots where you can pay tribute to literary New York City.
The Algonquin Hotel (59 W. 44th St., near Sixth Ave.)

Re-create 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 his suite; Douglas Fairbanks and Orson Welles honeymooned here; and Angela Lansbury and Tallulah Bankhead both lived here in their teens. Gather your BEA friends and 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."

Washington Square Park (Park is bound by Fifth Ave., Waverly Pl., W. 4th St., and MacDougal St.)
These days, it can be hard to find traces of the West Village's bohemian history amid the swank shoe boutiques, million-dollar brownstones and cupcake shops. One way to track down the neighborhood's rich past is by visiting 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. Kerouac holed up in the landmarked building, once called the Marlton House, to write two novellas.

Invisible Man: A Memorial to Ralph Ellison (Riverside Park at 150th St.,
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 Ellison 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.

Pete's Tavern (129 E. 18th St., near Irving Pl.)
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.

The Half King (505 W. 23rd St., near Tenth Ave.)
Stage a book reading in a bar, generously pour beer, invite a crowd--and it's literary night at The 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, The Half King is at heart an unpretentious hangout, with an emphasis on good beer and better conversation.

Looking for more watering holes? Try The Great New York Historic Pub Crawl.

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