Global Guides

Where Do You Go? A New York City Writer’s Most Inspiring Locations

By Frank Morgan October 18th, 2012

James Joyce had Northern Cross.  William Faulkner had the French Quarter.  Ernest Hemingway loved Paris, but he blew his brains out in Idaho (go figure). Then there’s New York City.  It’s hard to name a great American writer of the last century who didn’t live in this town —Langston Hughes; Willa Cather; Eugene O’Neil; even H. P. Lovecraft lived in Brooklyn (true story).  Throughout the five boroughs there’s no shortage of bars and cafes where aspiring authors crunch away at their macbooks.  It’s easy to get wifi.  But where do you go to get inspiration?

If your well runs dry and no amount of espresso and clicking will fill it, we suggest you shut your laptop, shoulder your bag, and take a quick legend trip to one of New York City’s most genius-inspiring locations.

1.  Brooklyn Heights Promenade

You’ll feel as if you could reach out and touch the whole Manhattan skyline from this stunning waterfront walk, where the Hudson meets the sea.  Everything is at arm’s length: City Hall, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Battery, the pier.  Vehicle traffic is shut off, college kids flirt and mingle, hip moms push Swedish designer strollers.  But beware: in winter the wind off the water will stop your heart.

Bronx-Queens Expressway & Montague street; Court Street N & R trains

2.  Hotel Chelsea a/k/a/ “The Chelsea”

This place literally drips ink.  Charles Bukowski and Bob Dylan lived here (no, they weren’t roomies).  Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin penned lyrics here.  So did Patti Smith and James N. Osterberg Jr. (but you know him as Iggy Pop).  Dylan Thomas died here of pneumonia, though we don’t think it had anything to do with the building.  Best of all, incredible Doughnut Plant is right next door.  If you’re feeling down, their crème brûlée pastry will restore your faith in humanity.

222 West 23rd Street; 23rd Street 1 train

3.  Stephen A. Schwarzman Building a/k/a/ “The Lion”, New York Public Library

After all these years it still blows our minds that you can just walk into a place this magnificent for free.  The third-floor reading room could serve as the Great Hall at Hogwarts, if it weren’t a bit too airy and cheerful. Vast windows, wood tables, beaux-arts ceiling murals, intricately-carved moldings, and you can simply wander in off the street and check out a book.  Practically any book that was ever written.  This is your go-to source for resource materials when fails.  Sadly, checkouts are for onsite reading only; you can’t take the books home with you.

476 5th Avenue; 42nd Street-Bryant Park B, D, F, & M trains

4.  Melville House bookstore & publishing co. (DUMBO)

Melville House is the book equivalent of a microbrewery and pub.  Tucked away on the quaintest brick-paved street in the quaintest brick-paved corner of Brooklyn, Melville brews indie books and pours indie books.  An unpretentious publisher with two(!) Nobel laureates on its list, Melville’s atmosphere imparts a strange new sensation to the freelance writer: Hope.

145 Plymouth Street; York Street F train

5.  The Cloisters (Morningside Heights/Fort Tryon Park)

I don’t care if you’ve never picked up an Umberto Eco novel.  I don’t care if you only read Wired.  Hell, I don’t care if you write for Field and Stream—no one who calls herself a writer can help but be touched by the monastic tranquility of The Cloisters.  Located in Fort Tryon Park at the northern tip of Manhattan, The Cloisters Museum & Gardens are a medieval sanctuary maintained by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and open to the public for the price of whatever you care to donate.  And best of all: they’re real!  The Cloisters are in fact a careful mosaic containing parts of several medieval European monasteries which were shipped to New York by robber-baron industrialists in the 1930s.

99 Margaret Corbin Drive; Dyckman Street A train

6.  St. Mark’s Bookshop (East Village)

Remember when you first moved to the city, how you dutifully trudged down to The Strand bookstore?  How you edged your way through the mob?  How you stood staring down the endless aisles, shoulder-to-shoulder with a crowd of cheerful, backpacking Dutchmen?  You’re a bit older now, a bit more cynical, and you prefer to hang out at St. Mark’s Bookshop, Astor Place.  It feels roomier, it’s a bit more local, the crowd’s a bit younger and a bit poorer, and they have some of those wonderful obscure titles that are generally listed as “Not In Stock” at the Barnes & Noble.

31 3rd Avenue; 8th Street-NYU R train, Astor Place 6 train

7.  Alice in Wonderland sculpture and Conservatory Water, Central Park

Lewis Carroll never quit his day job.  It’s hard to believe that a writer so sensitive and fanciful primarily made his living teaching undergraduate math.  But—and here’s the inspiring part—Lewis Carroll didn’t have to die before his genius was finally recognized (in fact, he apparently became too well-known for his own taste).  If your day job is draining your wit, consider a pilgrimage this statuary tribute to a brilliant mind that simply refused to grow up.  We think you’ll agree it’s “frabjous”.

East Side at 75th Street; 77th Street 6 train

8.  Barcade (Williamsburg)

Hemingway wrote about drinking in “a clean, well-lighted place.”  Barcade is neither well-lighted nor exceptionally clean, but we love it just the same.  This converted Williamsburg garage features a varied selection of microbrews on tap, and—get this! —more than 30 original arcade games, quarter slots and all.  They have Joust.  Not kidding.  Joust.  Zagat gives it a 25.  If this place doesn’t relieve a writer’s sturm und drang, nothing will.  Check out their all-time high score list.

388 Union Avenue; Metropolitan Avenue G train

9.  The High Line (Chelsea)

Yes, it’s driving up the already absurd cost of living in the Meatpacking District.  Yes, if you live on 10th Avenue you’re going to have tourists gaping through your bedroom window.  That being said, we still think the High Line embodies the sort of progressive public mindset that continues to draw great minds to New York City.  Standing for decades as a crumbling, abandoned elevated railway, the High Line was intermittently debated for demolition and for repair until 1999, when visionary M-District residents proposed that it be converted into a public park.  Today, well, you simply have to see it (if you haven’t already).  For a writer, a quiet stroll down this model of urban sustainability is better than Valium.  Plus, Chelsea Market is just around the corner.

10th Avenue at West 16th Street; 14th Street A, C, & E trains

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