Once upon a time, there was a tavern. I lived around the corner from the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village. This iconic tavern was famous for the artistic and literary customers who frequented the White Horse in the 1950's for conversation and beer. This group was like the Algonquin Roundtable, but not. It claims a distinct difference. The literary and artistic White Horse regulars were bohemians, distancing themselves from the bourgeois crowd of literary and intellectual sophisticates the Algonquin Roundtable members fancied themselves as.
The tavern was known for its customers who preferred to live life on the edge. Dylan Thomas is said to have drank 18 shots of whiskey to the cheers of onlookers - including his last shot of whiskey - here one night. Sadly, he lapsed into a coma to be found dead a few days later of unknown causes.
The White Horse was frequented by literary figures like James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Anais Nin, and James Laughlin too. Beat writers and poets like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara were also regulars.
The original concept for the Village Voice was first discussed over drinks here.
Living around the corner, I strolled past it on Saturday nights when picking up the early edition of the NY Times. The Sunday Times and a cup of coffee run through a one-cup Melitta filter was my sacred Sunday morning ritual. I often looked in the reflective glass to those drinking inside. This scene was especially poignant on cold, winter nights. It seemed warm, inviting - as if getting a glimpse through a secret window of days gone by. It was rarely standing room only then. It's heyday had passed and I wondered if it would have a rebirth someday. It's classic, yet worn, interior didn't feel like it was done. There was a sense of abandonment to it through the windows. It felt as if something tragic remained stored in the wake of memories it held. Perhaps I was touching a haunt of this unique moment in time when an unlikely tribe found each other among the millions of New Yorkers lining this city's streets. This sense of connection coupled with the dawn of a new age when creative thinkers dared to explore and idealize beyond the status quo, is nostalgia worthy of haunting or grief - and a reminder of hope.
The quintessential sing-a-long bar song, Those Were The Days, is said to be about these days at the White Horse.
The West Village days were the best of days. The now widely known Halloween Parade began as a small group of NY theater people wearing the most extraordinary and whimsical costumes in a small, local parade that began on the small Greenwich village street where I lived. It has grown exponentially. The massive crowd can prevent you from catching a glimpse of the colorful and eccentric on parade as they march down 6th Avenue each year. It's still worth dropping everything for - even if you can't see the parade itself. The neighborhood, and the spectators are equally worthy of observation.
The White Horse Tavern's history brings back memories of a time when drinking was romanticized and revered. It calls forth imagery of the bohemian culture whose NY home is rooted in these Greenwich Village streets, as much a part of its identity as its cobblestone and street lamps.
For me, Greenwich Village anchored me to New York City in a way that growing up in Brooklyn never could. The village felt like an embrace that said I belonged to it. I fit like a hand in glove somewhere in this city whose lightning speed had left little room for solitude and contemplation - or a conscious awareness of my feet fully touching ground.
I felt the ground beneath my feet in the Village. It helped shape my dreams, and held me close as I discovered who I was and who I hoped to be.
When you feel this type of embrace from a sense of place, don't take it lightly. It's the rare feeling of home. The word 'home' is rarely plural. Remember what it teaches you, and carry it's lessons and spirit within you on your journey to the future, which are places unknown.