Let Hg2 take you on a tour of some of the city’s most high-brow literary landmarks. Find the homes and hangouts of your favourite writers as we list some literary attractions in New York City.
Edgar Allan Poe Cottage
Edgar Allan Poe spent his last years at this Bronx tourist attraction, the only house left from the nineteenth-century village of Fordham. The author/poet moved to the unassuming wooden farmhouse now known as Poe Cottage in 1846, hoping that the fresh air of what was then – hard to believe as it may be today – an oasis of bucolic countryside would improve the health of his wife Virginia. Though Virginia succumbed to tuberculosis the following year, Poe stayed on and wrote some of his greatest masterpieces, like Annabel Lee and The Bells here. Today, Poe Cottage is run by the Bronx County Historical Society and open to NYC visitors. There are three period rooms on display, some of which contain Poe’s original furnishings, Be sure to check out Poe’s personal rocking chair, as well as the bed where Virginia died.
Round Table Room at Algonquin
In the 1920s Midtown Manhattan’s Algonquin was the place to see and be seen for the city’s literary elite. The historic hotel – opened in 1902 – was home to the Algonquin Round Table (or, as members coined their own group, the Vicious Circle), a group of NYC literati who exchanged biting witticisms during near-daily lunches in the main dining room from 1919 to 1929. The Round Table’s membership roster boasted such luminaries as Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley – luminaries whose footsteps you can retrace today with breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the hotel’s Round Table Restaurant. Prices are expensive, but where else can you order up this level of literary history along with your grilled rib-eye?
Washington Square Park
The Greenwich Village neighbourhood surrounding Washington Square Park was a favourite of the city’s rich elites in the days of Henry James. Now, the park celebrated in Washington Square attracts a decidedly wider array of visitors. It is a popular hangout with chess players, dog-owners, and New York University students alike. James – born just around the corner on Washington Place – would hardly recognise the place today. Though it went through a grimy phase in the mid-20th century, 2004 and 2009 renovations have restored Washington Square Park to its former glory, with a restoration of the iconic marble arch as a highlight. James wasn’t the only writer to be inspired here: The park went on to serve as an important hangout for beatniks like Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan.
If visiting Washington Square Park has whetted your appetite for the Beat-era, head uptown to Columbia University’s Morningside Heights campus. Manhattan’s resident member of the elite Ivy League is noteworthy for having brought leading Beats Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg together. The duo met in 1944, when both were studying literature. Kerouac, who enrolled on a football scholarship, dropped out after an injury – and frequent disputes with his coach – ended his football career. Ginsberg, however, managed to graduate in 1948 despite several suspensions. Enjoy neoclassical architecture and verdant quads while soaking up literary history, and be sure to walk by Hartley Hall on the main quad. The structure, which still functions as a dorm today, housed both Ginsberg and Kerouac in their undergrad days.
White Horse Tavern
White Horse Tavern in the West Village was a Bohemian hotspot in the heady days of the 1950s and 60s. Popular with Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, James Baldwin and Norman Mailer – not to mention regular Dylan Thomas. The welsh poet’s portrait graces the tavern’s middle room – this pub-like watering hole now attracts locals and tourists on literary pilgrimage alike. Food and drinks are serviceable – there’s a classic pub menu and decent beer selection – but this is decidedly a place to visit for history and ambience. The 1880-established bar is one of Manhattan’s oldest, and the space doesn’t disappoint: It’s dark and atmospheric, complete with the requisite wood paneling. Go easy on the alcohol, though: Dylan Thomas drank himself to death here in 1953 after eighteen shots of whiskey proved to be several too many.