Excerpt: The Beat Generation in New York by Bill Morgan

from Columbia University

Allen Ginsberg

In October 1944, Allen Ginsberg moved into an old fraternity house at 627 W. 115th St. that had been turned into a dorm during the war. While living here Ginsberg was classified 4F by the Selective Service draft board for admitting that he had homosexual tendencies. In those days such a confession barred a person from military service.

Continue up 115th St. and turn right onto Broadway. Stop in front of the West End Bar at No. 2911 Broadway between 113th St. and 114th St.

West End Bar

Allen Ginsberg wrote in his Journal (1944) that “The West End was a university replica of a Greenwich Village dive. The cafe was divided by a partition into two sides; in the evenings. Otto, the chef, presided over the lunch room half. Otto was a nasty tempered and sharped tongued Dane who resented taking orders. Since he was a counterman he found much to resent. On the other side of the partition was a long, well attended bar. There was a cigarette machine as one entered the revolving door, a Jukebox, and a men’s room at the far end. Bill or Johnny usually tended the bar. Johnny was an Irish Catholic, a great shouldered man with a large nose and a strong sense of morals. He thought that all students were communists.”

Ginsberg first met Neal Cassady and his wife LuAnne at the West End, just after their arrival in New York City in 1946. Cassady described Ginsberg in his autobiography The First Third. Most of the New York characters whom Jack Kerouac used in The Town and the City were regulars here: Ginsberg, Lucien Carr and his girlfriend Celine Young, David Kammerer, and Allan Temko (later an architectural critic on The San Francisco Chronicle). One night Kerouac, defending Celine Young, got into a fight with two sailors, and Johnny the bartender had to break it up. Another night Carr rolled Kerouac down the street in a barrel.

Diana Trilling stigmatized the bar in a Partisan Review piece as “that dim waystation of undergraduate debauchery on Morningside Heights.”

Today no debauchery is to be found. It is now a bright and open restaurant and bar, more than double the size of the original, with huge windows. About the only thing that might be the same is the old tile floor, hollowly echoing with the footsteps of generations.

Go south on Broadway and stop at the corner of 113th St.

Yorkshire Residence Club

The Yorkshire Residence Club stood in the large eight-story yellow brick building at the corner of Broadway and W. 113th St. It is now Columbia’s McBain Hall with the entrance on the side street at 562 W. 113th St. “In the Yorkshire were a group of presumably simpatico young intellectuals with a generally socialist and psychological orientation,” wrote Carl Solomon of the residence hotel where he lived Just before being sent to Pilgrim State Hospital. Alien Ginsberg addressed his “Howl” to Solomon while he was in Pilgrim State (in the poem he calls it Rockland).

This month on the blog, in addition to our regular excerpts from recently released City Lights titles, we’re featuring excerpts from our backlist that orbit (near or far) around this theme of “journey,” observations from/about whatever worlds our authors have visited.

The Beat Generation in New York sets off on the eternal trail of the Beat experience in the city that inspired many of Jack Kerouac’s best-loved novels including On the Road, Vanity of Duluoz, The Town and the City, and Desolation Angels. This is the ultimate guide to Kerouac’s New York, packed with photos of the Beat Generation, and filed with undercover information and little known anecdotes.

 Eight easy-to-follow walking tours guide you to:

  • Greenwich Village bars and cafes where Kerouac and his friends Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, William Burroughs, Diane di Prima, Gregory Corso, Hettie and LeRoi Jones, John Clellon Holmes, Joyce Johnson, and others read poetry, drank, turned-on, and talked all night long.
  • The Chelsea-district apartment where Jack wrote On the Road
  • Mid-town clubs where Beat poets mingled with artists Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and listened to jazz and blues greats Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday.
  • Times Square, a magnet for Kerouac and the Beats. Columbia University, where the original Beats first met and began a revolution in American literature and culture.

Each tour includes a map of the neighborhood, subway and bus information, and an insider’s angle on Jack Kerouac’s life in New York. A must for Beat enthusiasts and critics.

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