The corner of Bleecker and MacDougal Streets in New York City’s historic Greenwich Village is the current base of operations for the Flying North blog. While now the corner space is a chain coffee shop, in years past this location also served as the base of operations for many other writers as they spent time at the now infamous San Remo Café.
According to Dylan Foley and the “Last Bohemians” blog, “The San Remo Café at 189 Bleecker St. was located on the northwest corner of MacDougal and Bleecker, occupying two storefronts. The mob-owned bar was taken over by writers and artists. Though the Italian owners and locals were hostile to gays and outsiders, they begrudgingly tolerated their business. Allen Ginsberg drank at the Remo before and after his stint at the New York Psychiatric Institute. Hanging out at the bar were writers from the Partisan Review like Clement Greenberg and Delmore Schwartz hung out there, as did the poets Frank O’Hara and W.H. Auden (on opposite sides of the bar). The bar’s literary heyday went from the end of World War II to the late 1950s.
During the early 1950s, Judith Malina and Julian Beck’s theater company The Living Theatre made the Remo their de facto headquarters and the center of their parties when they were renting the nearby Cherry Lane Theatre and doing such iconoclastic shows as Genet‘s “The Maids.” The novelist Gore Vidal proudly boasts that he picked up Beat legend Jack Kerouac, took him back to the Chelsea Hotel and screwed him.
The bartenders and bouncers at the San Remo, considered to be “minor Mafia” by the hipster patrons, were a bit too liberal with the baseball bat kept under the bar. Frank O’Hara immortalized the incipient violence of the staff of the Remo in one of his poems, “The penalty of the Big Town/ is the Big Stick.”
By 1960, the Remo had become primarily a gay bar, stocked with hustlers that hung out at Washington Square Park, and the “A-men,” gay men on amphetamines. Andy Warhol loved the Remo, and stocked his early Factory with men he found at the bar. One of his infatuations was the dancer Freddy Herko, who starred in Rosalyn Drexler’s “Home Movies” at nearby Judson Poets Theatre. Herko’s career was cut short when under the influence, he danced out of a six-story window.”
Last night I was fortunate to be asked to speak at the unveiling of an historical plaque commemorating the San Remo. The plaque reads as follows:
Site of the San Remo Café [1925-1967]
In its post-war heyday, the San Remo was a meeting place for an unparalleled array of figures from the Beat movement, the New York School of poets and painters, and the Living Theater.
Regulars included Allen Ginsberg, Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Miles Davis, Frank O’Hara, Judith Malina, Jackson Pollock, James Baldwin, and Gore Vidal, several of whom first met here. Many of them immortalized the San Remo in their writings. These literary and artistic icons became the voices of their generation, and their impact still resonates today.
Placed by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation with the generous support of the Two Boots Foundation.
*photo by Ryan Patrick Bias