Literary Hot Spots: New York City

Want to know where all the literary hot spots are in The Big Apple? We've got you covered. This is part three of your essential guide to living the lit life in several U.S. destinations, including Boston, San Francisco, New York City, Miami, Seattle and more. by Sarah Walker
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New York is a writing city. At every coffee shop, café, bar and library you walk into, there’s someone typing on a laptop, writing in a notepad or scribbling on a napkin. Here are some great places in New York City to write, peruse, listen, read and drink, and you’ll most certainly be able to meet, mingle with or at least suspiciously eye other writers.

My favorite place to write, ’SNICE (45 8th Ave.), is in the West Village. There are lots of small tables and three big communal tables especially for writers. It’s most certainly a literary crowd with at least one famous writer regular. They have excellent taste in music, but know that the menu is vegetarian in case you were planning on ordering a roast pig.

Another favorite is THE HALF KING (505 W. 23rd St.), in Chelsea. It’s co-owned by Sebastian Junger, so it follows that it’s a very literary, adventurous and all-around dreamy place. There’s a reading every Monday. It’s basically a pub with great food and you could definitely sit and write there during the day. But go at night, when it fills up with a raucous literary crowd. Take friends and—over a pint or seven—loudly discuss the reading you just saw or broadcast your vast literary knowledge in general. Just don’t diss The Perfect Storm.

On a day when you’re feeling people-watchy, head to MCNALLY ROBINSON (52 Prince St.), in NoLita. This is an amazing independent bookstore that also has a café where writers go to write and check out the insanely hot people who, for some reason, always seem to gather here. If you can afford to live in this neighborhood you’re a lucky jerk who should be writing in your sun-drenched loft. However, if you need to escape your dank hole of an apartment next to a massage parlor, come here and act like it’s your home.

Everyone talks about how the East Village isn’t as cool as it used to be and maybe that’s true, but going to KGB BAR (87 E. 4th St.) is the closest you can get to the badass, East Village intellectual, slightly Communist scene of yesteryear. There are free readings almost every night, the writers who read don’t get paid, and you’re required to drink well vodka and toast your comrades. Readings are advertised like this, for example: “Drunken! Careening! Writers! Best of Lesbian Erotica 2008.” I’ll be sure to wear my finest beret for that one.

Conversely, if you walk into the HUNGARIAN PASTRY SHOP (1030 Amsterdam Ave.), on the Upper West Side, you automatically feel like one of those intellectuals from so many Woody Allen movies. In fact, Allen did shoot a scene from Husbands and Wives here. There are lots of small wooden tables, low lighting, delicious coffee, laptops galore and the energetic chatter of writers, students and student writers who are all idealistic and whatnot. If you’re feeling stuck and want to ask God about your writer’s block or why you’ve lost your idealism you can cross the street to The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine and sort it out there.

Oh, so you want to get some actual “work” done? Huh. OK, nerd, go to the MULBERRY STREET BRANCH OF THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY (10 Jersey St.). This is a cut above the other excellent branches of The New York Public Library because it’s been renovated but it still looks like the old candy factory it was in the 1880s. The writing room is simply rows of communal tables with outlets underneath. No frills, just books surrounding you, complete silence with free WiFi and communal computers—there’s no excuse why you wouldn’t have the most productive writing day of your life here.

But for a true literary experience you must check out Brooklyn. Take the F train to Dumbo, an adorably named waterfront neighborhood. A block from the subway you’ll find RETREAT (147 Front St.). There’s a tiny coffee shop at the base of stairs that lead up to a factory loft space full of antiques and occupied by people lazing about, chatting, writing and reading. If you stay on to write until cocktail hour, REBAR, the bar attached to Retreat, opens. Retreat hosts events from bands to conversations with authors. This is where the cool kids go, because cool kids live in Brooklyn, and because writers are inherently cool, a lot of them live in Brooklyn. My theory is that there’s better air quality in Brooklyn so it makes it easier to think. Oh, also it’s cheaper and, well, sometimes writers don’t make a lot of money.

In Brooklyn, you have to check out Williamsburg. Hop on the L and go to PETE’S CANDY STORE (709 Lorimer St.). At first glance Pete’s is a classic dive, but it’s so much more. Walking to the back, you enter a railway space whose tiny stage at the end is surrounded by light bulbs. There’s live music on an old-timey circus stage every night except for the nights when the store hosts a reading series. The series takes place every other Thursday and their “Big Poetry” reading series takes place every other Friday. Oh, and did I mention a Spelling Bee every other Monday? A-W-E-S-O-M-E.

Hit up all these spots in this specific order in 24 hours and I guarantee that you’ll make at least seven writer friends—and finish your novel.

Share Your Literary Hot Spot

We're building a directory for the hottest literary hot spots across the U.S. and we need your help. We don't care if you live in New York, San Francisco or Tupelo, Miss., we want to hear from you. Give us the dirt on the hot spot in your town or find one in your area. What we need is:

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