We recently came across a video on YouTube of what looks almost like silent home movies of beat writers Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and several others gathering at an East Village bar, the Harmony Bar & Restaurant. This rare footage was shot in 1959 on 16mm film, and the others identified in the footage include Lucien Carr, his wife, and their three children, as well as artist Mary Frank and her children. It’s a fascinating watch — view it here.
Inspired by this recent find, we thought we’d take a closer look at this and a couple of other favorite hangouts in the East Village of Ginsberg’s, each one of which was very different, but nonetheless drew him and other writers, artists, and poets.
The Harmony Bar & Restaurant was located at the northwest corner of Third Avenue and East 9th Street, at no. 30 Third Avenue, now the site of ‘The St. Mark’ apartment house at 115 E. 9th Street, which was built in 1961 (the Harmony and the building in which it was located, along with several other buildings on that block, were demolished soon after the film was made to make way for the new building). The film shows an unassuming neighborhood bar, perhaps somewhat of a dive, with dark wood paneling and ‘cozy’ quarters.
The film of this gathering at the bar is mesmerizing to watch. On the surface, it shows just a group of friends hanging out at a local bar. But of course the group includes two of the more celebrated writers of the 20th century, and it’s fun to watch them in such a casual situation. While Ginsberg is generally reserved in front of the camera, Kerouac is a bit more interactive. At one point Kerouac appears to be arguing with Mary Frank; actually, it appears that Kerouac is only arguing and Mary Frank is nodding patiently (if only there was sound!). He also engages a bit with the children who are up on the barstools, and at the end of the film, Kerouac and Ginsberg seem to find amusement in and interact with a somewhat disheveled individual who is pushing an empty dilapidated baby carriage.
The Dom was another East Village hangout for Ginsberg, located in the former Polish National Home or Polski Dom Naroway at 19-25 St. Mark’s Place. The Dom was owned by Stanley Tolkin and hit its height of popularity in the mid-1960s with a dance club/performance space upstairs and a bar/restaurant downstairs. However, this popularity was short-lived when it was discovered by the bridge-and-tunnel crowd. A short time later in 1966 Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey rented the upstairs space to open a psychedelic performance venue known as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, with The Velvet Underground as the house band. Ginsberg and other East Village hipsters were known to frequent the Dom in its early days.
The Peace Eye Bookstore, formerly at 383 East 10th Street, was founded in 1964 in an old kosher butcher shop and became a center of counter-culture and a vital gathering spot for a community of writers, artists, musicians, poets, members of the alternative press, political activists, and outsiders in the East Village and Lower East Side neighborhood. The bookstore was owned by Tuli Kupferberg and Ed Sanders, members of the Fugs, an East Village folk-rock group known for their radical political views. In the winter of 1968, Sanders decided to move Peace Eye from its location on East 10th Street to the offices of the East Village Other at 147 Avenue A, between 9th and 10th. According to the Ed Sanders Archive/Granary Books, “Among the many activities percolating at Peace Eye were the founding of the Committee to Legalize Marijuana (LeMar) by Ed Sanders and Allen Ginsberg, the organizing of possibly America’s first demonstrations calling for the legalization of marijuana; and what is often considered the first underground comic art exhibition with work by Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, Kim Deitch, Art Spiegelman and others.”
A neighborhood bar, a club, and a bookstore, all East Village haunts of one of the leading literary figures of his time. Perhaps more film footage will surface one day and we will get a further glimpse into this world. Stay tuned!