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White Horse Tavern

Delmore

Lit Nerd Wednesday!

With any mention of the White Horse Tavern it’s guaranteed you’ll get the Dylan Thomas story and how he  spent his last night here proclaiming that he just broke the record of drinking 18 whiskey sours in a row, then dropping dead. Although he may have downed those, he actually died of pneumonia at the Chelsea Hotel hours after leaving the bar — but tourists love the former tale.

With Lou Reed’s passing a few years ago, there was mention of another regular, someone who slipped between the cracks of that tavern lore — Delmore Schwartz. Reed met him in Syracuse as a student in the early 1960s when Schwartz was then a professor of English literature at the exhausted end of a writing career and, a few years later, a life.

He was born in Brooklyn in 1913 and spent time at Columbia University, the University of Wisconsin before finally graduating from New York University in 1935. In 1938 his collections of poems and short stories, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, was published catching the eye of the literary world. He spent the next 9 years as a traveling professor before returning to New York City in 1947, living for a time at the Marlton on West 8th Street, then a seedy hotel.

As most writers at the time he spent a lot of his days in the bars of the village in places like the San Remo Cafe but it was at the White Horse Tavern where he held court. There in the back room he would dutifully recite passages of Finnegan’s Wake to the young wide-eyed bohemians looking to soak up the village. It’s almost as if Dylan Thomas and Schwartz were in a sort of literary bar relay race because as soon as Thomas died, Schwartz was their to pick up the baton. By 1966 he was a broken man, burnt out, alcoholic and living in isolation when he died of a heart attack at 52.

What: White Horse Tavern

Who: Delmore Schwartz

Where: 567 Hudson Street

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