New York

Top 10 Literary Haunts in NYC

by Anne McCarthy  |  Published October 3, 2023

New York has a rich literary heritage, with many writers having used the city’s urban landscape as inspiration for their work down the years.

The opulent interior of The Algonquin Hotel (Photo: The Algonquin Hotel)

The Big Apple is a great many things; it’s a capital of culture and commerce, fashion and art, and musical theatre. But it’s also where countless writers have called “home” and penned some of their greatest works. Here are ten spots across the city where writers have lived or frequented – and that can be visited by members of the public keen to pay homage to their literary legacy.

The Algonquin Hotel (Dorothy Parker)

The Algonquin Hotel hosted one of the most famous lunch clubs of all time, “The Vicious Circle,” as they called themselves. They were also known as “The Algonquin Round Table,” and the group was comprised of New York writers and artists who met daily for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel from 1919 to 1929. Their meetings led to artistic collaborations, new ideas, and even a jointly penned revue called No Sirree!. Members of this famed group included writer Dorothy Parker, journalist Alexander Woollcott, and, on occasion, playwright Noël Coward. They convened in the hotel’s Pergola Room, and later moved to the Rose Room as the lunch club’s attendees grew in number. Here, they not only dined and exchanged ideas, but loved to indulge in games like poker and cribbage.

59 W. 44th Street

Tompkins Square Park (Allen Ginsberg)

Tompkins Square in Spring (Photo: Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Tompkins Square Park is just shy of 11 acres, and sits in the East Village in Manhattan – home to writers for many years, thanks to its lower cost of living in the past. One of those writers was the poet Allen Ginsberg, a leader of the Beat generation. His works include Howl, America, and more. Ginsberg was a student at Columbia University during the 1940s, and after graduation he moved to the East Village and lived there for nearly 50 years. Ginsberg lived with William S. Burroughs – another prominent Beat generation figure – at 206 East Seventh Street. Later, he lived with his partner at 437 East 12th Street. All the while, Ginsberg enjoyed the local park, Tompkins Square Park, where he reportedly used to chant among the trees. Ginsberg spent time in the park with friends, as it was a frequent gathering spot for other ‘Beats’, as well as the site for regular political and social events.

10th Street (Park entrance is at East 7th and Avenue A)

Harlem (Langston Hughes)

Writer Langston Hughes was – and is – an American treasure. The multi-hyphenate (poet-activist-novelist-playwright) was born in Missouri but went on to settle in New York City in Harlem. He’s considered a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural revival among the Black community in Harlem in Manhattan, during the 1920s and 1930s. Hughes wrote of that period, saying “when Harlem was in vogue.” Hughes was a student at Columbia University but later dropped out, but not without making his mark and gaining the attention of publishers. Visit the streets of Harlem in upper Manhattan to experience the stomping grounds of writers like Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, and more.

20 E. 127th Street

Flatiron District (Edith Wharton)

The Flatiron District’s most famous view (Photo: Bernard Spragg. NZ via Flickr / CC0 1.0)

Writer Edith Wharton was a trailblazer; she found success in a field that was then dominated by men and became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel, The Age of Innocence. She went on to write other works like Summer, The House of Mirth, and more. Wharton was born in NYC in the Flatiron District in 1863. She was upper class and born into a wealthy family, and was fortunate to travel throughout Europe as a child. These early influences are said to have fostered a talent for language as well as an appreciation for art and literature. At age 10, the family returned to their 23rd Street four-story brownstone. Wharton later spent time in Paris, and eventually settled in France, where she passed away in 1937. Wharton married her husband Teddy Wharton in New York City, at Trinity Chapel, and the couple later lived on Park Avenue. Take a stroll on West 23rd Street to see where it all began for this ground-breaking woman.

14 W. 23rd Street

White Horse Tavern (James Baldwin)

The White Horse Tavern is the second-oldest bar in New York City. This storied, circa-1880 watering hole in the West Village began as a longshoreman’s bar, catering to men who worked on the piers at the Hudson River. In the 1950s, it surged in popularity among writers like Dylan Thomas. Beat poets and writers, including Jack Kerouac, gathered here as well. And Giovanni’s Room author, acclaimed writer James Baldwin, also frequented the White Horse Tavern, along with writers Anaïs Nin, Norman Mailer, and Hunter S. Thompson.

567 Hudson Street

Old Town Bar (Frank McCourt, Seamus Heaney)

The Irish have a reputation for enjoying a drink, and that is proven true by the next bar on our list, Old Town Bar near Union Square. It was a favoured drinking spot among Irish literary legends Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt, Dublin-born writer Dermot McEvoy, and Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney. If you have an eagle eye, you may be able to spot their signatures on the walls at Old Town Bar. The bar was founded in 1892 and is among the oldest in New York City.

45 E. 18th Street

Hotel Chelsea (Patti Smith)

A plush guest room at Hotel Chelsea (Photo: Hotel Chelsea)

Songwriter and poet Patti Smith is a Chicago native who made her mark on New York City. Her debut album, Horses, put out in 1975, was a punk rock piece of work showcasing Smith’s uniqueness. Smith lived in a small room at the Hotel Chelsea along with Robert Mapplethorpe in 1969. In her 2010 memoir, Just Kids, Smith chronicles this experience. Other literary elites who spent time in this hotel include the likes of Tennessee Williams, Jean-Paul Sartre, Thomas Wolfe, Arthur Miller, Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, and many more. Even singer Bob Dylan spent time at Hotel Chelsea.

222 W. 23rd Street

Chumley’s (Jack Kerouac, Simone de Beauvoir)

While Chumley’s is now closed, it’s still worth swinging by the former Greenwich Village bar and speakeasy which boasts a literary history and also a reputation for resisting prohibition laws. The establishment was founded in the early 20th century by activist Leland Stanford Chumley. It was a preferred drinking spot of Beat authors like Kerouac, Ginsberg, and even French feminist writer and thinker, Simone de Beauvoir. William Falkner enjoyed a tipple or two at Chumley’s. Present in popular culture, Chumley’s was referenced in an episode of the hit TV show Mad Men during season one as the after-work drinking spot for colleagues. The famed bar closed permanently in 2020, because of the effects of lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic.

86 Bedford Street

Pete’s Tavern (O. Henry, Hunter S. Thompson)

Pete’s Tavern, New York’s oldest bar (Photo: Jazz Guy via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

William Sydney Porter – better known as “O. Henry” – was a writer known for his short stories, like The Gift of the Magi, as well as his booth in Pete’s Tavern, a historic watering hole since 1864. (It’s rumoured that O. Henry wrote The Gift of the Magi inside the bar.) At Pete’s Tavern, the North Carolina native drank with other patrons, waxing philosophic about culture and ideas. He frequented the bar because he lived just down the street. He resided at 55 Irving Place from 1903 to 1907. Today, the Gramercy Park institution is famous for its wooden cash register and well-known customers like O. Henry, Hunter S. Thompson, and Ludwig Bemelmans, author of the children’s book Madeline. Reportedly, Bemelmans wrote Madeline at Pete’s Tavern on – of all things! – the back of a bar menu. The bar still retains some of its original décor. It was formerly known as Healy’s, named for Tom and John Healy, who bought the establishment in 1899. It has appeared in countless films and television shows, including Law & Order, Seinfeld, Spin City, and The Blacklist.

129 E. 18th Street

The Odeon (Jay McInerney)

“Here you are again. All messed up and no place to go,” wrote Jay McInerney in his seminal 1984 book Bright Lights, Big City. It’s a novel about 1980s New York and the ups and downs found in the Big Apple. McInerney incorporated Tribeca’s The Odeon restaurant into his famous novel. In fact, it was so much a part of the story that the book had a picture of the Odeon on the cover. Scenes from the novel were set in the eatery, too. Speaking of the restaurant, McInerney told The New York Times that, at the time he wrote his book, the place was “an oasis in the desert. There wasn’t much down there… at night they were very dark streets.” The Lucky Ones screenwriter Dirk Wittenborn regularly visited The Odeon with his friend and Saturday Night Live star John Belushi. Recalling that period when The Odeon would remain open to patrons until 6 a.m., the screenwriter said simply, “No place was open that late.”

145 W. Broadway