Literary NYC

For the word crazy, the lit obsessed, the poets, scribes, and bookworms, there is no other city quite like New York. The literary scene, past and present, is legendary, the streets glitter with monuments to the written word, and ghosts of many of the world's greatest writers still haunt certain corners and park benches. As a word obsessed writer, reader, and book hoarder, I am lucky to live in a city teeming with literary influence and culture, libraries that verge on magical, and bookshops that inspire. Here are some indispensable stops for anyone of the book-loving persuasion.
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Strand Book Store

828 Broadway, New York, NY 10003

The Strand is an epic love story that takes the form of bookshelves, wooden floors, and miles and miles of new and used tomes. A NYC institution since 1927 and a Disneyland of sorts for word lovers, this East Village bookstore is one to get lost in for hours. Boasting three floors and a cumulative 18 miles of used, new, rare, and out-of-print books, this is one of the largest independent bookstores in the nation, and what remains of a piece of 4th Avenue that used to be called Book Row. The sidewalk stands of $2 books in front of the store are a treasure hunt, the art section on the second floor is bound to steal your time, and the now iconic Strand tote bags in an ever expanding selection of colors and designs are a purchase hard to resist. Grab a chai at The Bean across the street, and browse away the day at this booklover’s paradise.

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New York Public Library

476 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

From the white marble lions guarding the majestic stepped entrance, to the sprawling size of this National Historic Landmark, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and main branch of the New York Public Library is a sight to behold. The Beaux-Arts building is a temple of books in the heart of Manhattan, a slice of quiet, culture, history, and learning amongst some of New York City’s most iconic attractions- Bryant Park and 5th Avenue borders, and both Times Square and the Empire State Building are only steps away. Stepping inside is stepping into book-filled serenity and away from the bustle and stresses of the city, a respite where words reign and time delves back to a grander age of chandeliers and frescoed ceilings. The Rose Main Reading Room is the main attraction, a colossal study space lit by massive windows and giant chandeliers, lined in books, adorned with a gilded ceiling, and filled with long oak tables and brass lamps perfect for penning novels or sonnets at.

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White Horse Tavern

567 Hudson St, New York City, NY 10014

Legend states that Dylan Thomas drank his last whiskey (or a record-breaking 18 shots) here at the White Horse Tavern, collapsed outside, fell into a coma back at the Chelsea Hotel, and died the next day. The bar remains a bit of a shrine to the poet, with his portraits covering the walls and a plaque commemorating his last visit hanging over the bar. This Hudson Street institution has been a favorite of the literary set since the 50s and notable patrons have included Hunter S. Thompson, James Baldwin, Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouc, Allen Ginsberg, Anais Nin, John Ashbery, and Frank O’Hara.

Chelsea Hotel

222 W 23rd St, New York City, NY 10011

The wealth of artistic material that the Chelsea Hotel has inspired through the years is boundless. Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning,” Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2,” Andy Warhol’s “Chelsea Girls.” Jack Kerouc penned his classic “On the Road” here; Sir Arthur C. Clarke wrote “2001: A Space Oddyssey;” William Burroughs wrote “The Third Man.” Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Arthur Miller, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, and Charles Bukowski, among countless other writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and luminaries, have all called the Chelsea their home. The brick-faced, balconied, towering palace of a structure on 23rd street was once more of an artist’s colony than a hotel, a hotbed for the Bohemian set, a legend of a place where legends transpired. Currently closed for renovation, it is planned to reopen in 2015.

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Minetta Tavern

113 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012

This Greenwich Village tavern was once hangout for such literary luminaries as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, e.e. cummings, Joe Gould, the Beats, and Dylan Thomas. The place has gone though many transformations through the years and its current reincarnation under Keith McNally’s ownership has preserved much of the charm and traces of the past. The black and white checkerboard floors and chandeliers remain, as do the caricatures of Village characters filling the walls of the MacDougal Street restaurant. Go for the lit history, stay for the epic (and expensive) burger.

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Housing Works Bookstore Cafe

126 Crosby St, New York, NY 10012

A cozy sanctuary along a cobblestone street in Soho, this bookstore and café offers bargain priced used books, Intelligentsia coffee, and plenty of tables to read and write at for hours. Think mahogany, spiral staircases, high ceilings, gentle whirring of the espresso machine and sweet smells of cappuccinos….a little haven of a place on Crosby street. The bookstore hosts many special literary events, including talks, readings, book release parties, and story slams that are definitely worth checking out. The place is staffed by volunteers and all proceeds go to Housing Works, a nonprofit charity fighting AIDS and homelessness.

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85 E 4th St, New York, NY 10003, United States

On an East Village street, up a staircase and on the second floor of a nondescript building lies a red hued bar where your IPA is served with a heavy side of lit. KGB Bar is all about books and booze (with a dose of Soviet paraphernalia) and the literary events hosted by the bar are some of the city’s greatest. Regular readings, book launches, poetry nights, emerging writer series- nights are filled with literature in a speakeasy setting. Imbibe in some vodka from the bar’s vast selection as you listen to some prose and mix and mingle with the literati. A night at KGB is bound to be a stimulating one.

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The Center For Book Arts

28 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001, United States

For anyone of the word-loving persuasion, obsessed with things like paper grain and fonts, the Center for Book Arts is worthy of a visit. This Chelsea studio devoted to the art of bookmaking features regular exhibitions and a calendar full of special events, including lectures, readings, artists’ talks, and round table discussions with book artists. The main event, however, is the wealth of workshops, seminars, and classes for beginners and professionals in letterpress printing, bookbinding, and papermaking. From typography to typesetting, pop-up books to paper marbling, the options are extensive and varied and a great way to get your hands dirty and geek out over typefaces and paper folds.

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Library Hotel

299 Madison Ave., at 41st St., Entrance on 41st Street, New York City, NY 10017

Only steps away from the majestic main branch of the New York Public Library and located on “Library Way,” the Library Hotel is a great choice of accommodation for the bookworm and word obsessed. Home to 6000 books, the hotel conveniently features several cozy fireplaces to curl up in front of and delve into the pages of another world. Rooms are inspired by the Dewey Decimal System, with each of the ten floors of the hotel pertaining to a different category- Languages, History, Social Sciences- and each room exploring a specific topic- Law, Astronomy, Dinosaurs, Slavic Language, etc. Literary details lurk all around, down to the bed pillows embroidered with “Book lovers never go to bed alone.” The hotel features a Reading Room, Writer’s Den, Poetry Garden, and Bookmark’s Lounge offering literary cocktails- imbibe in the Great Gatsby or the Capote while overlooking the skyline.

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Morgan Library & Museum

225 Madison Avenue, New York, NY, United States

Magnificent painted ceilings, wrap around bookcases, and priceless tapestries are just the stunning backdrops to the main event at the Morgan Library and Museum: books, thousands of them, rare and precious tomes and artifacts of some of the greatest writers, artists, and composers. The impressive home of financier J.P. Morgan is a treasure chest of prized items, most notable of which are three Gutenberg bibles, as well as a wealth of first editions, authors’ original manuscripts, various priceless prints and drawings, all bound to make your heart skip a beat. You can view George Washington’s letters, a handwritten Abraham Lincoln speech, William Blake’s original drawings for his first edition of the “Book of Job,” a Charles Dickens manuscript of “A Christmas Carol,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s concept drawings for “The Little Prince,” Thoreau’s journal, and a collection of autographed and annotated scores from Beethoven, Chopin, and Mozart, among many other invaluable treasures.

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The Algonquin Hotel Times Square, Autograph Collection

59 W 44th St, Between Fifth & Sixth Ave, New York City, NY 10036

Another New York Historic Landmark, the Algonquin is best known for its illustrious literary history in the form of daily meetings of the Algonquin Round Table. The group of wisecracking writers, journalists, and critics who regularly met for lunch and discussions at the Rose Room included Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Robert E. Sherwood, George S. Kaufman, Alexander Woollcott, and many Vanity Fair writers. They referred to themselves as “The Vicious Circle” and inspired the literary style of their time, influencing such notable writers as Hemingway and Fitzgerald. The New Yorker was founded here by Algonquin Round Table member Harold Ross, and guests of the hotel still receive complimentary issues of the magazine today. The legendary round table itself unfortunately no longer exists, but the Rose Room of the past has been renamed the Round Table Room and still attracts a coterie of artistic and creative minds.

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Cherry Lane Theatre

38 Commerce Street, New York City, New York State

At the end of a charming West Village street stands legendary Cherry Lane Theatre. Founded by poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and friends, the theater has played a vital part in the literary and artistic scene of the Village through the years. Some notable names whose works were introduced to the world on the stage of this small theater include Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Auden, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Beckett, and David Mamet. The theater continues to thrive today with a mission that includes “to cultivate an urban artist colony.” It is the longest continuously running Off-Broadway theater.

Patchin Place

Off 10th Street & Avenues of the Americas, New York, NY 10011

Blink and you’ll miss it. This picturesque cul-de-sac off 10th street in Greenwich Village across from the Jefferson Market Library is an enchanting little stretch of ten brick row houses. It has been home to many notable writers, including Theodore Dreiser, Djuna Barnes, and e.e. cummings, who wrote of his home here at Patchin Place as “Safety & Peace & the truth of Dreaming & the bliss of Work". Quirky fact: at the end of the alley stands one of only two 19th century gas street lamps that survive in the city.

Last updated at Feb 19, 2016