Photos: Beatitude in New York

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Larry Closs_Beatitude_beatitudetour_Caffe Dante_New York

6. Caffe Dante

79-81 Macdougal Street, NYC


“Let’s get a cup of coffee at Dante’s,” suggested Jay, leading the way to a nearby Old World-style café on MacDougal Street.


Café Reggio was a favorite Beat haunt but Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs and company likely frequented Caffe Dante as well. With its wobbly chairs, worn linoleum and wooden pastry case filled with ricotta cheesecake, cannoli, biscotti and profiteroles, Dante is a slice of the Old Country in the West Village. In Beatitude, Dante is Jay and Zahra’s favorite café. Jay takes Harry there and the two reflect on sharing experiences as they enjoy tiramisu with cappuccinos and Kahlua beneath the faded photographic murals of Florence that cover the walls. In real life, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg and Jerry Seinfeld (he gets around!) have all done the same.


Larry Closs_Beatitude_beatitudetour_Chelsea Hotel_New York

7. Chelsea Hotel

222 W. 23rd Street, NYC


I scanned the shelf in my office for the copy of Palimpsest I’d received, unrequested, a few weeks earlier. A check of the index revealed a whole chapter devoted to Kerouac, titled “Now You Owe Me a Dollar,” in which Vidal recounted the night they ended up together at the Chelsea Hotel.


Besides Jack Kerouac and Gore Vidal, nearly everyone ended up at the Chelsea Hotel. Everyone who was anyone, anyway. Built as an apartment building in the 1880s, the 12-story Chelsea was the tallest structure in Manhattan at the time and soon welcomed visitors as well as residents. The Living with Legends blog maintained by tenants calls the Chelsea “The Last Outpost of Bohemia” but it was arguably also the first. In addition to a bunch of Beats—Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Herbert Huncke—the list of artists and outsiders who have wandered the Chelsea’s halls is literally endless, from Thomas Wolfe to Tom Waits, Bob Dylan to Dylan Thomas, Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix, Willem de Kooning to Tennessee Williams. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there, Madonna photographed her infamous Sex book there and Andy Warhol filmed Chelsea Girls there. Most recently, Patti Smith recounted the years she and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe spent there in her memoir Just Kids. Currently undergoing renovations, the Chelsea is closed to guests and new long-term residents, although 100 residents remain.


Larry-Closs_Beatitude_beatitudetour_Dakota_New York 

8. The Dakota

1 West 72nd Street, NYC


I’d caught a chill that I wasn’t able to shake and I shivered in my coat as I struggled up the icy sidewalk by the Dakota and the rest of the two-block walk to my apartment.


When it was built in 1884, the gabled and fabled Dakota stood nearly alone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, so far from any populated area of the city that New Yorkers noted that it might as well have been in the Dakota Territory. So goes the most popular story of how the building got its name. Even so, all 65 apartments were rented before the Dakota opened. So much for location, location, location. Though the Dakota gained fame as the dwelling of the demonic cult in Rosemary’s Baby and as the scene of a time-travel experiment in Jack Finney’s cult classic Time and Again, it has unfortunately become best known as the place where John Lennon lived and died. In 1980, the former Beatle was killed in front of the building by a deranged fan. Located in the shadow of the Dakota, where Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono still lives, is Strawberry Fields, a quiet corner of Central Park dedicated to Lennon’s memory. Not a day goes by without impromptu performances of Lennon songs by fans who gather around the centerpiece mosaic that spells out his legacy: Imagine.


Larry Closs_Beatitude_beatitudetour_Deanna Kirk_New York

9. Deanna Kirk

Performing Thursdays at Queen Vic, NYC


“Yooouuuuu…” she began, softly, slightly, sadly caressing the simple elegance of the jazz standard “You Go to My Head” and somehow managing to simultaneously express the pleasure and pain of being so much in love you can’t even think straight.


In Beatitude, Jay takes Harry to see his favorite singer, Deanna Kirk, perform at the Bitter End on Bleecker Street. Harry is overwhelmed by Kirk’s voice and vulnerability; I was equally awed the first time I saw her. Kirk is famed as the owner of the vibrant East Village jazz club Deanna’s, where jazz greats like Eartha Kitt, Cecil Taylor and Roy Hargrove mixed it up with up-and-comers and Kirk recorded her first CD, “Live at Deanna’s.” A fire destroyed the club just as Kirk’s recording career took off and she released three acclaimed collections of original folk-inflected jazz and pop before taking time off to be a mom. Back on the scene with a new CD of jazz standards (Lost in Languid Love Songs), weekly performances at Queen Vic and guest vocals for New York Electric Piano, Kirk is as luminous and transcendent as ever, equal parts tender and playful—the unexpected effect, perhaps, of raising a son.


Larry Closs_Beatitude_beatitudetour_Gotham Book Mart_New York

10. Gotham Book Mart

41 W. 47th Street, NYC


Beneath the store’s famous cast-iron sign (“Wise Men Fish Here”), Jay and I paused to study a display of rare James Joyce volumes in the window. A moment later, we proceeded down the three steps to the entrance and went inside, where we were welcomed by the wonderful musty smell of old books and the comforting creak of the polished wood floor.


The Gotham Book Mart was the best bookshop in the world, a Manhattan marvel where lovers of great literature, like Harry and Jay, could get lost for hours. To a visitor’s eye, it wasn’t well organized but that only added its charm, lending a sense of serendipity to any search of its shelves. If you really wanted to know whether a certain book was in stock, however, you had only to ask. The knowledgeable staff could seemingly conjure any title from thin air, or, actually, from the basement catacombs, which contained as many books as the shop itself. Opened in 1920, Gotham was the Chelsea Hotel of bookshops, a magnet for the literati and glitterati, where Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Miller, Katherine Hepburn, Truman Capote, Woody Allen and Gertrude Stein all prowled the narrow aisles. Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones) and Tennessee Williams all worked as clerks there, although Williams lasted less than a day. Famed for first and rare editions as well as small press publications and poetry, Gotham was also home to the James Joyce Society and all things Edward Gorey. Gotham closed in 2007, three years after moving a few blocks from its storied location in the middle of Diamond Row, a victim of Manhattan real estate values and competition from online booksellers. The store’s estimated $3 million inventory was donated to the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library the following year. No word on whether that included the famous sign. Maybe Harry and Jay will have to find out.


Original Gotham Book Mart photo courtesy of Chris Silver Smith.

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