Literary Landmarks: White Horse Tavern

Cincopa video hosting solution for your website. Another great product from Cincopa Send Files.

5476952805_de0db1e0f2_zLiterary Landmarks is a series that invites YPGers to visit a place of literary significance in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, or San Francisco.

Although we tend to canonize beloved writers as gods and saints, oftentimes we forget they were a lot like us: young and a little naive, trying out new material on friends, and hanging out at bars. Drinking has always been a noteworthy sidekick of famous writers’ material and continues to give a quality of leisure to the often painful act of sitting down and writing. Literary critics, professors, and journalists have all paid attention to how writers’ drinking habits influence their writing styles, and countless movies have enhanced the glamour and drama of washing down fiction with whiskey and wine. Like Hemingway drunkenly yelling, “Who wants to fight??” in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

Located at 567 Hudson Street in Greenwich Village, the White Horse Tavern is the place where the literary celebrities of the 1950’s came to party. Nestled on a charming street corner, White Horse Tavern’s outdoor seating area begs for a dark beer and a crisp newspaper on a cool fall day. Instead I sat inside and soaked up the classic wooden atmosphere. Under the white horse head’s vigilant stare, I turned and nodded my head in approval at the roomy size of the bar. Clearly this place is prepared for a crowd.

When I walked up to the cozy wooden bar and ordered a beer and a dirty martini, the bartender asked me where I was sitting and said, “Table service,” motioning for me to return to my table. The hostess waved her arm, mumbling, “Sit wherever” as my friend and I sat on stools near the window and watched the fancy West Village passersby.

Although White Horse Tavern opened in 1880 as a longshoreman’s refuge, it transformed into a second home for the poets and writers of the Bohemian scene in New York. But these weren’t the Inklings, who pensively smoked pipes as they sipped their beers. Legend has it that Jack Kerouac visited this bar so often that they put up a sign that said, “Go home Jack!” in the bathroom. Its most famous and loyal patron, Dylan Thomas, died after binge drinking here and returning to the Chelsea Hotel. Allegedly he did eighteen shots before passing out on the sidewalk.

New York is full to the brim with this kind of whiskey-and gin-soaked literary history. These days, overwhelmed with the pressure of work and the subway’s weekend route changes, oftentimes we forget to just sit down and write. Maybe we won’t write the next world-changing poem, but we can participate in trying to describe the pentameter of the sidewalk’s heartbeat. While so many pubs in the West Village (and the city in general) come and go, something about White Horse Tavern has kept it alive through the rapid construction and raising rents. Yes, if you go on Yelp you’ll see mixed reviews, but instead of focusing on the service or even the drinks, just enjoy your seat in a small piece of history.

Dylan Thomas said, “Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Translated into the 21st century: “Let’s get turned up!” The first time I read that quote was not in a book, but rather scribbled on a chalkboard out in front of a bar. White Horse Tavern likewise generously allows its patrons to always combine poetry with a mixer.

GRADES (on a 1 – 5 scale):

Fun: 3. Depending on what your idea of fun on a Saturday night happens to be, this is a perfect spot for getting rowdy with your friends, but in a comfortable and interesting space. Also an ideal first date spot (impress your date with your newly learned literary history— hint, hint).

Cool: 4. This crowd may not be sporting Warby Parkers or tailored overalls, but they are relaxed and ready to drink. The White Horse is a perfect blend of a lively American bar and more subdued British- styled pub, so you feel at ease but still in for a good time.

Affordability: 3. There aren’t too many “deals” at this place, but the prices won’t scare you away either. Also, it’s cash only. Knowing that on the front end will make the experience far more enjoyable and less sweaty, helping you avoid bolting to the nearest ATM while cursing New York and your dwindling bank account. 

NYC Experience: 5. This place is exactly what a literary enthusiast would want it to be. Moody without being oppressive, it works for a big social group while still maintaining a kind of intimacy for a solo beer and writing session.

Total Points: 15. If you love literature and a cold pint, definitely add this spot to your list. No, the service isn’t wonderful and, yes, it is cash only. But the opportunity to immerse yourself in a place that served New York for so long by just providing a place for writers to sit, drink, and write is hard to pass up. 

This article was contributed by YPG member Lauren Rogers. For more information, check out our Contributing Writers page.

Post photo credit: Sean Davis (on Flickr)

Post to Twitter

Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.