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Being a writer is hard; being a writer in NYC is harder. Writing is solitary, and quiet, more often than not, is a necessity. For some, working at home in their pajamas is a daily option, but for the majority of us, it’s not. There’s building construction, or you don’t live alone, or it’s too distracting, or you have cabin fever, or your upstairs neighbor is too loud, or you saw a roach and now don’t ever want to be at home ever again. There are many reasons one can’t, or doesn’t, want to write at home, so what’s a writer to do? In New York City, usually, it means you head to a café, a library, or other public space that will welcome you.
Often, the perks outweigh the cons. The change of atmosphere and the energy of the people around you are so plentiful you keep returning. Being with others reminds us that we are not alone, even if you want to be left alone. And if you go to the same place enough, before long you’ll have a community, and that’s exactly what NYC is all about.
I asked some contemporary writers to share the places they love (or used to love) to write in Greenwich Village. Some of these writers can be found working there right now, while others are long gone, forced to leave Manhattan for Brooklyn where writers are now legally required to live. May this list introduce you to new cafes, and landmarks, but also new writers.
Joe, the Original, 141 Waverly Place
Shelly Oria, author of New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 comes in from Brooklyn to write here. Outside of the perfect coffee, the waitstaff is friendly, and the shop feels like it’s not in NYC (which is a perk when you’re writing.) Go here enough and you’ll know the staff and feel like a part of the family. The people watching is particularly excellent from the bench on their makeshift porch.
Morandi, 211 Waverly Pl and Jack's, 138 W 10th
Greenwich Village has been home to Italian Cafes since the 1920s, and they have become a part of the culture. So, despite the fact that Morandi is an Italian Trattoria, it feels very old-school New York. Joanna Cantor, author of Alternative Remedies for Loss loves Morandi for its atmosphere, which helps writers to lose their sense of time and place—a win. Jack’s is a small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it coffee shop on W. 10th Street, with a handful of tables and a great assortment of baked goods. If you get there early, you’ll get a good seat for writing.
The Writers Room, 740 Broadway at Astor Place
The Writers Room is an NYC institution, and it’s the only place on this list that you can’t just walk in. You need to apply and become a member, but it’s where a lot of amazing writers work, so it must be included. It’s the original co-working space before co-working spaces were a thing. A place where quiet and solitude is respected and where writers can build a community while making amazing work. Lara Tupper who wrote there from 2007 to 2010, lives in the Berkshires and misses it dearly. She says perks of The Writers Room include “Free peanut M & M's in a vat in the communal kitchen space. And festive holiday parties. I recall a giant cake iced with images of our book covers. I joined the year my novel A Thousand and One Nights came out. I wrote book reviews for The Believer and drafted my second novel Off Island there. I appreciated the sign in log. This made it feel like a job. And the chance to speak to encouraging humans during the day was also a bonus.”
Jennifer Belle, author of The Seven Year Bitch is also a member. She likes The Writers room because “You can take off your shoes and cry.” Other members include A.M. Homes, author of Days of Awe; Jill Dearman author of The Great Bravura; Anne Landsman author of The Rowing Lesson; Charles Graeber author of The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder; and Alan Cumming author of Not My Father’s Son.
The Garden of St. Luke in the Fields Church
In 1996 when her first child was a baby Anne Korkeakivi lived across the street from St. Luke’s Church and wrote in their gorgeous and tranquil garden. These private gardens are open to the public and serve as an urban oasis for people, birds, and plants. It’s the perfect place to work on your novel, break up with someone, or fall in love. You can’t go wrong. Her latest novel is Shining Sea.
The White Horse Tavern 567 Hudson Street
On every literary tour, the White Horse Tavern is a natural stop. In the 50s and 60s, this was THE spot. Dylan Thomas, James Baldwin, Jane Jacobs, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, Richard Farina and Jim Morrison (among many others) gathered here regularly. Susan Shapiro used to write here in the summer outside on the picnic tables in the 80s. In the winter she wrote sitting at a corner table at the famed Corner Bistro 331 West 4th Street, where Ethan Hawke could often be found. In the 90's she wrote in the back room of the Art Bar, 52 Eighth Avenue next door to her Horatio Street apartment. Her forthcoming book is The Byline Bible.
Cafe Minerva 302 West 4th—Now closed
This beloved gem found a loyal patron in Will Schwalbe who used to write here all the time and misses it to this day. His most recent work is Books for Living but he believes he’s better known for The End of Your Life Book Club.
The Playground at Bank and Bleecker
Like Anne Korkeakivi, Michelle Herman also chooses to write outside (although in bad weather, she’ll go to the Jefferson Market Library). Being outside lends a writer the sense of expansiveness, an openness to anything, like your brain is the sky and you’re allowed to reach for anything you want. Michelle Herman is the author of Like A Song, an essay collection, 2016.
Reggio Caffe, 119 MacDougal Street
The Reggio opened in 1927, making it the oldest café in Greenwich Village. Outside of its history (and famous green exterior), it’s known for its amazing Italian cappuccino. The renaissance-inspired interior has made it a natural setting for films like Serpico and Inside Llewyn Davis. Both Laurie Gwen Shapiro author of The Stowaway and Brooks Hansen, author of Beastie, used to write here.
The Monster at 80 Grove Street
Mike Albo used to go to this bar/club during the week for early happy hour (2 for 1! and bar food!) and perch himself on a stool in the back corner. He found it “Great for editing among gay energy.”
Jefferson Market Library at 425 6th Ave
This former courthouse, which holds the time high in the air for all of the village to see, was home to the trial of Stanford White. The history of the building is incredible, and the library itself has inspired, and continues to inspire, some of our best minds. Pitchaya Sudbanthad, whose forthcoming book is Bangkok Wakes to Rain, is a regular.
The Marlton, 5 West 8th Street
Built in 1900, this hotel has a true Beat history. Jack Kerouac, Valerie Solanas, and Lenny Bruce all stayed here at one point. Recently renovated, the F. Scott Fitzgerald-inspired post-war Paris atmosphere has invigorated some of our greatest living writers. A.M. Homes wrote some of the stories in her newest collection Days of Awe at the Marlton Hotel. Before the hotel opened, she wrote Country of Mothers in what was Dean and de Luca on University and 12th St and overheard the line that gave her The End of Alice there, "'I definitely don't think he (Humbert Humbert) slept with her (Lolita).” She wrote some of Safety of Objects drinking iced mochas at Cafe Sha Sha (now gone) on Hudson St between Christopher and 10th.
Housing Works 126 Crosby Street, Think Coffee 248 Mercer, La Colombe 270 Lafayette, and McNally Jackson 52 Prince
Jess Row, author of Your Face in Mine has worked the circuit, writing in Housing Works on Crosby Street, a wonderful bookstore whose mission is to fight AIDS and homelessness. Its spacious loft-like layout makes it a perfect venue for writers toiling away on manuscripts, and authors who have completed their books to host celebrations. Think Coffee has a few locations, and there is ample space for writers to hunker down. La Colombe has 8 locations in NYC and each one has the same fancy cafeteria feel. Sit down at a communal table, and you will feel right at home. And finally, McNally Jackson, on Prince Street is a fantastic independent bookstore, where you can write and browse, and then meander downstairs to hear that night’s author reading.
Amanda Stern is the founder of the Happy Ending Music and Literary Series, a long-running and beloved event that ran from 2003-2018. Her latest book is a memoir called Little Panic: Dispatches of an Anxious Life. She grew up on MacDougal Street, in Greenwich Village, facing the Café Dante, where she used to write.