Earlier this week, the world noted the passing of Gore Vidal, one of the great novelists, commentators, and agitators of the 20th century. Like almost every other figure to whom that description can be applied, Vidal had a Greenwich Village connection.
Vidal was one of the many literary and artistic figures known to have frequented the San Remo cafe. More a bar than cafe, located at 189 Bleecker Street/93 MacDougal Street, the San Remo was the premiere haunt for the literary set in the 1950’s.
“With its pressed-tin ceiling, black-and-white tile floors and dollar salads with all the bread and butter you could eat, the San Remo attracted a younger, hipper crowd more into experimenting with drugs than The White Horse’s habituées,” states a PBS bio of writer Delmore Schwartz and his favorite bars in Greenwich Village.
In addition to Vidal, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, James Agee, Frank O’Hara, Miles Davis, William Styron, Jackson Pollack, James Baldwin and Allen Ginsberg were known habitues of the San Remo. The San Remo is the site of conflicting accounts regarding Vidal and Kerouac’s relationship, some having said Vidal hit on him at the bar, while others (including Vidal) saying it was where a sexual encounter between the two began.
Regardless, the San Remo, which opened in 1925, the year of Vidal’s birth, and closed in 1967, was known to have been the start of more than one encounter of a literary or sexual nature. Like many sites in the South Village, it has a strong connection to an extraordinary array of the great literary, musical, and social movements and figures of the 20th century.
In 2009, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission promised to consider the entire South Village for landmark designation. However, in spite of this promise, they have thus far only considered 1/3 of it, while the remaining 2/3 is unprotected and endangered, with more historic sites endangered each day.