The Changes We've Seen
Greenwich Village is not the same Village from when we started. Certainly not a new dilemma, and change is not new to the city. But, perhaps because we are biased, we feel the changes much more deeply now.
When we began in 1998, the village was edgy. It was still possible to find affordable apartments. It was in transition, but it was still a vibrant community that was in touch with it’s roots: art, sub culture, music, creativity, writing, theatre.
There are still hints, but it’s tucked away as the Village rapidly evolved into a high end, homes of the Hollywood East Coast, corporate elite, reality stars….
Classic case in point, it went from being the neighborhood you moved to Because of Chumley’s, and now it’s the neighborhood that aggressively fought the re-opening of Chumley’s.
From 2000-2001 we watched as every week another mom and pop, local store on Bleecker Street was closed down, sat empty for awhile, and re-opened as a high end boutique. We watched as restaurants closed down and remained empty for years- all due to the tax benefit gained by staying empty and demanding higher rents, rather then renting at potential market value.
As one Village resident wrote: The Times They are A’Changing.
And yet through it all the Village maintains its magic. Much of this is due to the re-zoning as an historic neighborhood, and the constant vigil of groups like the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. It’s kept it’s magic via the few bars, restaurants and clubs that almost stubbornly persist- generally by being fortune enough to own the buildings they reside in rather than pay rent.
And we’d like to think it’s kept alive by the work we do. We’re not just churning out legends and story highlights that populate all too numerous neighborhood guide books. We’re constantly digging deeper. But more importantly; We want you to be inspired. Inspired to read, inspired by their innovation and spirit, we want you to feel that spirit and energy. We want you to hear the words alive. We want you to read the books, listen to the albums, support the artists. We want one of you to revolutionize literature as we know it.
We want to spend a little time together as we all share the spirit, energy and artistic magic that shaped so much of the neighborhood, city and nation.
And thus, we stubbornly persist as well. And we hope you’ll come see why, or come see why again. #getlitwithus
Typical Justin tour..
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.
Professional Pub Crawl Guide Regime
Like any great athlete or artist, as a Literary Pub Crawl Guide there is a lot of prep, practice and training to get yourself into the ideal shape to lead a crowd of history buffs, literary lovers, and cultural explorers who like to enjoy a well-crafted beverage.
Every guide has their own routine, but here’s what I have perfected as the perfect Literary Pub Crawl Guide Experience
Remember, your guides are trained professional drinkers and talkers. They’ve sculpted their own multi course experience, but as an attendee you need to trust your own judgement.
Guides have been known to get smarter, sexier and more charming the more you drink, this could be both amazing and dangerous. Use caution.
REFLECTIONS ON TURNING 20
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