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Bob Dylan’s South Village

Bob Dylan in Sheridan Square

The South Village has many reasons to be celebrated these days. Of course, the (hopefully) impending designation of the Sullivan Thompson Historic District is a big story for GVSHP. Our 13-year quest to protect all of the areas of the South Village is finally coming to fruition with the potential designation of the 3rd and final phase of that area. And importantly, as many of you know, the South Village was also the neighborhood of one of the most celebrated South Village residents: Nobel Prize winner, Bob Dylan.

The South Village in the ‘60s was a hotbed of creativity and activism. Where the West Village might be known as the heart of the neighborhood, the area south could be called its soul. Sullivan Street, Thompson Street, MacDougal Street, Washington Square, the surrounding areas were the epicenter of the creative intelligentsia at that time. The streets teemed with coffee houses that overflowed with activists and artists alike. The music venues were abundant and bursting with new and inspired genres of sound.

MacDougal street

All photos © Estate of Fred W. McDarrah.

Dylan and his contemporaries were born of this fertile ground of creativity. Heading east and away from a very conventional, conservative background in Minnesota, Dylan arrived in the New York in January 1961 on a very cold winter’s day. Dylan was later to perfectly capture the zeitgeist of the moment in a prose poem he wrote for the album jacket of the Peter, Paul and Mary In the Wind LP:

Snow was piled up the stairs an onto the street
that first winter when I laid around New York City
It was a different street then-
It was a different village-
Nobody had nothing-
There was nothing t get-
Instead a bein drawn for money you were drawn
for other people-
Everybody used t hang around a heat pipe poundin
subterranean coffeehouse called the Gaslight-
It was at that time buried beneath the middle a
MacDougal Street

Everybody that hung out at the Gaslight was close-
Yuh had t be-
In order t keep from going insane an in order t
An it can’t be denied-
It was a hangout-
But not like the street corner-
Down there we weren’t standin lookin out at the world
Watchin girls-an findin out how they walk-
We was lookin at each other….and findin out about

Gaslight Cafe where finger snapping became a form of appreciation.
Dylan at Gerde’s Folk City, 1961.


Gerde’s Folk City, no longer in existence today, was located at 11 West 4th Street and was the spot of Dylan’s first paid gig in the city. Formerly a sleepy saloon, Folk City became a thriving cabaret space during the folk revolution. Dylan, Baez, Dave Van Ronk, Jack Elliot, along with Woody Guthrie and all the great poets and musicians of the day oscillated between Gerde’s, the Gaslight Café, the Commons, the Folklore Center, the Kettle of Fish, and the Whitehorse Tavern by night and Café Borgia, Café Cino, and Caffe Reggio, the first coffeehouse in the Village and the owner of the very first espresso machine, by day.

Whitehorse Tavern, a spot frequented by Dylan Thomas. Bob Dylan (formerly Robert Alan Zimmerman) derived his name from the Welsh poet
View of the exterior of the Kettle of Fish bar (114 MacDougal Street), May 10, 1959. Among those pictured is American poet Brigid Murnaghan who holds her infant daughter Annie, in the doorway as she talks to an unidentified woman. (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images)
Kettle of Fish
Cafe Wha?
Nighttime view of pedestrians in front of Cafe Borgia, at the intersection of MacDougal and Bleeker streets, in Greenwich Village, New York, New York, May 22, 1966. (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images)
Caffe Borgia

The estate of Fred W. McDarrah,the photographer of all the photos in this post of Dylan’s Village, has graciously offered prints of the photographs.  All proceeds from the sales of the prints go directly to Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.   To purchase the prints, please click here.

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