Your Bookstagram is going to love this.
“I love New York, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because I belong to it.” — Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
I have always been a bit of a princess about my birthday. Okay, a bitch, I am a Birthday Bitch. A name lovingly bestowed upon me by my circle of close friends.
My husband knows what it means when I say “let’s just skip it this year — I am easy.” I am not easy, I am the opposite of easy. For my 28th birthday, a traditional skip-year of insignificant proportions for most, he truly delivered with a well-researched literary day in NYC.
As a book-lover, this will forever be one of my most treasured birthday tricks.
To pay it forward, I’m going to share our list of stops that can be accomplished in a single day in New York City, all of which can be experienced on foot with the help of the Subway. I’ve provided a clear guide and optimized the route, so you don’t get waste time doubling back like we did.
- First stop, Central Park Literary Walk
You can’t visit New York without a stroll through Central Park. I would recommend grabbing a cup of coffee at Birch Coffee and walking through Central Park to your first stop.
When you hit 65th street to the center of the park, you will find where Holden Caulfield watched his sister, Phoebe, ride the Central Park Carousel in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. A stylized version of a single handmade painted horse book dons the iconic cover art, a fact that has evaded me my entire literary life.
“Then the carousel started, and I watched her go round and round…All the kids tried to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she’s fall off the goddamn horse, but I didn’t say or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it is bad to say anything to them.”
— The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
The slouching American Elms will envelope you into the Literary Walk. It was our first visit to New York, so I will warn that bouts of déjà vu will likely clout your first impression of this space if it’s your first time. I blame Sex and the City, personally.
From 66th Street to 72nd Street you will find several literary heroes, namely poets: Fitz-Greene Halleck, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and William Shakespeare. Yes, they are all men. Christopher Columbus seems misfiled near the Literary Walk, my vote is a simple rip and replace with Audre Lorde as a first step.
If you happen to be taking your tour between mid-late May and early-mid August, you can plan to see Shakespeare in the Park by the Public Theater. Plan ahead, get tickets by lining up at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park on a first-come, first-serve basis at 12PM the day of the show or you can try your luck with the mobile lottery with through TodayTix.
2. Strand Bookstore
The trek from Central Park to the Strand Bookstore requires the help of the Subway, or if you are fancy you can grab a Taxi.
For those of us who don’t get the same thrill of delight when we get the “this book has been delivered to your Kindle Fire” notification as holding the weight of a bound beauty — you can’t miss this canonical independent bookstore.
Patti Smith worked there in the 1970s, closely following a job slinging books at Scribners, which sadly closed it’s Fifth Avenue doors in the late 1980s. The fact that the Strand still exists is a testament to its literary value in NYC.
With the motto boasting “18-miles of books” newer approximations put it at around 23-miles of books in it’s multi-story home base on 12th and Broadway. There are also kiosks in Times Square and Central Park for a more brief stop, weather permitting.
3. Greenwich Village
“Greenwich Village was not only a place, a mood, a way of life: like all bohemias, it was also a doctrine.”
— Malcolm Cowley, Exile’s Return
From Strand Books, you can walk or take your preferred mode of transportation the 1-mile to your next stops.
Greenwich Village isn’t the low-rent, high-art breeding ground it once was. A studio today can cost you upwards of $3,000. But it’s still good for a visit to the place that birthed the defining inhabitants of the Beats; Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg to name a few.
At this point in your tour, you are likely ready for a bite to eat. If you are willing to pay $25 for a burger, check out the Minetta Tavern — the food, and particularly the Black Label Burger, are rumored to be worth the noise. This upscale Parisian x NYC tavern was once a legendary artists hub, with regulars like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. My guess is there are no present-day artists drinking their way to the next great American novel with these prices, but it still holds charm.
Trending towards more upscale, you stop by the re-imagined Chumley’s. The once Prohibition-era speakeasy is now a restaurant decorated with literary artifacts and cocktails like the This Side of Paradise. If you want to experience Chumley’s as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald once did, you’ll want to head back here for dinner at the end of your day with reservations.
If you are looking for cheap eats, a non-literary but worthwhile option is Artichoke Pizza. I find myself waking up months after this trip thinking about the white-sauce pizza that will forever be engrained as my favorite slice of pizza to-date. And I eat a lot of pizza.
Washington Square Park, the hangout for Greenwich Village writers from it’s early beginnings from Mark Twain through the anti-Vietnam war activism of the Beat writers in the 1960s.
“She preferred imaginary heroes to real ones, because when tired of them, the former could be shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter were less manageable.”
— Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Louisa May Alcott House, for all lovers of Little Women this is rumored to be the place Alcott finished the novel and inspired Jo’s attempted move to big city. This is now part of NYU law school, but the home still stands at 130–132 MacDougal St., near the corner of West 3rd Street.
Don’t get sucked too deep into Greenwich Village, it’s time to get back up to mid-town by subway or taxi for the remainder of your day.
4. New York Public Library
There are limitless possibilities behind the doors of the NYPL. Access to this library gave literary greats resources required to complete their greatest works — Betty Friedan wrote the Feminine Mystique in the Library’s Frederick Lewis Allen Memorial Room and Frank McCourt credits his informal education to the library in his memoir ‘Tis.
The massive marble building was the largest of it’s kind when it was built in 1911. It boasts 125 miles of shelving in total. To say that you can feel the history when you walk in is an understatement. What struck me beyond the limitless resources was taking some time to sit in the Rose Main Reading Room. I could not concentrate on my book just watching people interact with the tangible world of books.
If you get off on relics of your favorite authors, you can find Truman Capote’s cigarette case and Jack Kerouac’s crutches in the collections.
5. The Morgan Library & Museum
The Morgan Library is a beautiful place for a bibliophile. Quiet, immaculate and full of books. The only drawback is that everything is admired from a short distance, turned to a curated page without room for curious and destructive thumbing.
If a banker is going to buy up some of the most prized literary gems of American Literature, thank the lord that it is to be shared with the public.
In the center of the rooms is the Rotunda where Pierpont Morgan houses his collection of American including letters from Lincoln and early manuscripts including Thoreau, Hawthorne, Poe and Emerson.
I spent a lot of quiet time sitting in the East Room of Mr. Morgan’s Library, which is home to his rare collections. Taking in the 30-foot floor to ceiling bookcases is enough, I suggest sitting on the various benches and taking it in from all angles. The collection is never disappointing but does rotate. The 1455 Gutenberg Bible is always on display.
6. Dinner at the Round Table, Algonquin Hotel
“All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal or fattening.”
— Alexander Woollcott, Algonquin Round Table
The Round Table at Algonquin Hotel is an “old New York” haunt of writers, critics and actors who spent daily luncheons engaging in a round table of wit and wordplay throughout the 1920s. Founding member, Alexander Woollcott, the New York Times drama critic initiated the tradition when he was roasted by his friends — his artistic peers one fateful day at the Algonquin Hotel in 1919.
For ten years, the clique added members including Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber before fading into the distance of the Great Depression.
Other notable authors spent time at the Algonquin including William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein and Sinclair Lewis.
Sip on the Vicious Wit, made with NY Distilling Co. Dorothy Parker Round Table Reserve Gin, Lo-fi Dry Vermouth, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and garnished with a fresh grapefruit peel.
When the day is done, extend your evening in a room at the Algonquin with a good reading lamp. Ask for Matilda, the resident cat, if you get lonely.