The San Remo Cafe
Lit Nerd Wednesday!
Greenwich Village during the 1950’s was a magical time in post-WWII bohemia where painters, writers and poets mingled in bars and cafes in what was then part of Little Italy. MacDougal Street was the center of that universe and one such hot spot was The San Remo Café. Located at 93 MacDougal Street, the restaurant took up two storefronts with the café/bar portion on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal in what is now the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
The “Remo”, as it was affectionately called, was part of the trifecta of the hippest bars in Greenwich Village that included the Kettle of Fish and Minetta Tavern down the street – places with legendary customers and stories of their own. Unlike the White Horse Tavern whose clientele consisted mainly of the radicals of the 1930s and 40s, the San Remo catered more to this new disaffected generation of artists and writers reacting to the sterile atmosphere of Eisenhower-era America. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin, Frank O’Hara and Gore Vidal were just a handful of this new crop making the San Remo their headquarters to shake things up. It was here that Ginsberg first met Dylan Thomas and in the early 1950s Judith Malina and Julian Beck’s Living Theatre often met and partied here while the troupe was housed nearby at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
The bar was immortalized in two books of the era – Go by John Clellon Holmes and in Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, in which it was known as the Black Mask with a crowd described as “hip without being slick, intelligent without being corny”. On one occasion Kerouac was badly beaten up by three men outside for his increasingly usual drunken habit of saying the wrong things at the wrong times.
The mob-owned restaurant and bar’s golden age was from the end of World War II until the early 60s. By then it had become primarily a gay bar and was frequented by Andy Warhol who recruited a lot of the early Factory characters from here. Today 93 MacDougal Street houses the Pasta Bistro Grill, and recently received a plaque from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, an event attended by a few of the surviving regulars.
What: The San Remo Café
Who: Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Frank O’Hara, Dylan Thomas
Where: 93 MacDougal Street and the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal