We get a little hashtag crazy on the tour sometimes. When we started 20 years ago, a hashtag was called a pound and it was of little use in the world. Sometimes it was useful after the transition from rotary phones to touch tone, but otherwise tit was just 4 lines. We’re slowly getting savvier with ours. When we started posting the #weresearch, it was partially in response to the March 29th NY Post article entitled “Everything You Know About the Village is Wrong.” In it they discussed much of the standard fare of legends in the village that have been covered by tours over the years, that are incorrect. We were 100% accurate. Maybe 99.9%, I might need to go back and look.
We’d actually also debunked several other myths in the Village over the years that the Post did not mention. #weresearch
To be fair, there’s a lot of misinformation out there in legitimate sources. Mistakes can easily happen. We usually say right off at the beginning that there’s as much legend as fact on the tour. Stories change over time. It’s been scientifically proved that our memories are unreliable. A bartender tells a customer, who goes back a year later and tells her cousin, she mentions something to a young writer for a guide book….with each retelling the story changes.
We started trying to find the root of the story. We started to dig, and thus the collection expanded. This isn’t even all of them. I’ve ordered several more since these pictures were taken.
You can see that 20 years of Greenwich Village history is 20 years of collecting books. What interests me is that many of these discuss the same stories in much the same way. Which has me wondering how many other legends still have mysterious roots? How many of these books reference each other that the actual story has been lost. Or never happened.
To quote one of the greatest TV shows ever made: The Truth is Out There.
(That was X-Files if you didn’t get the reference). We’ll still keep digging. We promise. If you come drinking, we’ll keep talking but we’ll also keep digging. One day you’ll have a drink with us and learn the truth. I relish that day. And I relish the process.
That’s the passion we bring. Please come #getlitiwithus. (That is a hashtag that says Get Lit With Us. [it’s a double entendre. It means both get literary, as well as to “get lit” as in to “tie one on,” “get buzzed,” “become inebriated” or “intoxicated.” You get it.])
I hope you enjoyed my use of brackets and parenthesis.
I need a new book case.
Journal Entry: March 3rd, 2018
I’m sitting in the White Horse Tavern right now waiting for our guests to arrive before Danielle and I lead yet another crawl around Greenwich Village. I’ve been coming here for about 14 years doing the tour and I always sit to the right of the door facing the bar. To the right of the bar as you walk in sit a group of regulars. I’ve actually been coming here so long I’ve seen a nearly total swap out of regulars! Although Bob the bartender has only missed a few days in the last decade and a half. He’s nearly as constant as the building itself. The beer here is never too fancy nor too basic. Definitely solid choices and the IPA has my name on it every time. That and a cheese burger and curly fries are how I fuel the next three hours walking around one of the most densely historic places in America.
The second bar we go to is the Kettle of Fish. A great bar. A Wisconsin bar that is too packed to enter when the Badgers or Green Bay is playing football. Terry the bartender has been the Saturday guy since I’ve been guiding tours and has spent his whole life in the village. Here is where I’ll have a Lil’ Wisco to bring into the back by the couches or next to the dart boards. A toast or two and we begin threading stories of three historic bars that have inhabited the spot hopefully in the time it takes everyone to finish their beer. There’s a cocoon-like quality inside that has a separation from the rest of the world and when we finally leave Kettle, it’s always too bright when you hit the sidewalk again.
Last bar we go to is Marie’s Crisis Cafe. Another bar below street level. I usually switch to gin and tonics here as the beer selection is a bit limited but then again, you don’t come here for the beer. Mike is the Saturday bartender and I love that I don’t have to say what I’m drinking anymore. It’s a nod and a thank you and I’m back to the group with two more toasts. My favorite story here is of Thomas Paine and...well...you just need to come on the tour because if I get started talking about him here, this blog will keep you up past your bedtime. It’s fun to stick around Marie’s after the tour ends for two reasons: One is the piano accompanied singing. Mostly show tunes sung by the regulars with the occasional famous film or stage star sighting. And two for a chat with Johnny. It’s always gonna be an interesting night when Johnny is in attendance.
Oh hey! I gotta go. People are starting to arrive for our tour and we gotta get situated in the back. Hope to see you here.
As we are approaching our 20th anniversary, it’s easy to start reflecting on all the ways we’ve grown, changed over the years, to wax nostalgic for the good old days (not sure why waxing has to be involved but I don’t make the rules).
From our humble roots as a small theatre company looking to fund our first NYC production of Romeo and Juliet…(wait I’m not sure humble works here. We had a ton of egos. Filled with them. Bravado, ego, high artistic ideals). But we were small….So our small roots as a small theatre company… (that’s not very eloquent). Modest roots? (nope)
Ok scratch that last paragraph altogether. We were a theatre company. The New Ensemble (TNE). One of thousands of small Off Off Broadway companies in NYC. (Off Off Broadway got it’s start in Greenwich Village, BTW). The first production of Romeo and Juliet applied some simple, creative and theatrical elements to make it a very accessible and compelling production. The vestiges of that show can still be seen in some of the future creative endeavors of that production team.
As the members of TNE moved on to different cities, careers, started families.. the tour joined up with Bakerloo Theatre Project, and their summer residency in upstate NY. Bakerloo had been around for a few years, and once again the tour funded some fantastic and creative storytelling for several years.
Both The New Ensemble and Bakerloo Theatre Project shared a similar theme: a passion for the text, the written word. For the poetry of Shakespeare, for promoting new playwrights, for small readings of great works of literature. The acting, the directing, the story telling were all top notch, but the focus on the text was primary.
As Bakerloo relocated to Pittsburgh, and many of it’s members moved on to new cities, careers and started families (a theme!) the Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl remained. And grew. There are still guides who were members of both The New Ensemble and Bakerloo Theatre Project.
And our passion for the text, the writers and those inspirations remain. Our guides stay involved because we love to recite the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Hart Crane, Dylan Thomas…we love turning people on to writers like Djuna Barnes and Dawn Powell. Hearing the rhythms of Kerouac’s prose in pubs he frequented helps bring his work to life- whether you love him or hate him the work resounds.
This passion is what has kept us in business. We’re not just another tour. This is not a job for people who are tired of waiting tables. Our guides have careers, they perform, they teach- they have their lives the lead, but they keep involved with us for the passion and the material.
It shows. It’s why we’re hear 20 years in, it’s why we are one of the most inspiring tours in the city. You’ll hear it in our performances, in our readings, as we bring this great literature alive in one of the greatest cities in the world.
And we’ll have a drink with you while we do it.
Hope to see you soon. Thanks for your support. See you on the tour! #getlitwithus
by Miranda Knutson
Recently on a Brooklyn Heights tour our group exclaimed excitedly when they saw a memorial plaque for the Walt Whitman Park down by Cadman Plaza. We explained the irony of how by clearing this area’s housing for the park, the city destroyed the building that housed the Rome brothers printing press where Walt Whitman first published his seminal work, “Leaves of Grass”.
Whitman was known for his bohemian lifestyle and his love of Brooklyn, so imagine my surprise when I pulled into a rest stop off the New Jersey Turnpike to go to the Walt Whitman Service Station. As you walk in, smelling the mix of fried chicken from Roy Rogers and pure liquid sugar from Cinnabon, you find on your left a faded picture of Walt Whitman. He is smiling sardonically and looking hip while across from him is a bright new photo of Chis Christie looking unsure and awkward.
Whitman’s photo is surrounded by a biography and two examples of his poetry. From this plaque, I learned why a small stop in New Jersey would be named after a person I inherently thought of as a Brooklynite. Whitman moved to New Jersey after the Civil War, first living with his brother, then purchasing a place in Camden. This is where he lived out the last years of his life, editing and re-publishing Leaves of Grass.
What would Whitman think of being memorialized in a large neon sign? Grandiose and colorful – well maybe he would love it. Fried food for the masses – not sure. This plaque (and we learn as tour guides to be wary of plaques) mentions how he called “Leaves of Grass” – “democratic literature commensurate with people,... simple and unconquerable.” I could see how Nathan’s Hot Dog stand could follow in the footsteps of that description.
“O you bedraggled neon signs,
O you golden arches,
With insidious oily saltiness, seeping into our pores.”
What do you think? What is the strangest, most commercial place you have seen memorializing a writer/artist?
Had a wonderful week with students from the Australian Catholic University this past January. We put together 6 tours through Greenwich Village, East Village, Times Square, Brooklyn, Central Park and Harlem to help bring their curriculum to life! To say the least they were wonderful guests and enthusiastic about the material.
I had the privilege of sitting in on several of their morning classes where they discussed the previous days adventures, discussing the literature they had read, the tours they'd taken, and the theater they had visited. Lively, thoughtful dialogues, these were very well read and intelligent students. Made me envious to not be a part of the university setting. The Australia Catholic University clearly has a great program going.
We've always prided ourselves in our ongoing research, and loved the challenging of building tours specifically for their classwork, as well as exposing them to some of the great American writers they were unfamiliar with, and for most getting their feet on the ground in this great city!
Can't wait to see them next year!