Literary landmarks of New York City
It might not have London's literary legacy or Paris' Lost Generation history, but through the years, New York has been home to the crème de la crème of writers, including Mark Twain, Truman Capote, and Allen Ginsberg. While book buffs can pay homage to their favourite authors at the establishments they used to haunt — many of which still exist — the city boasts its own unique landmarks that are sure to thrill bibliophiles the world over. Here are just a few of the top literary spots in New York City.
The New York Public Library's Stephan A. Schwarzman Building
5th Avenue and 42nd Street
If books are religion, then the New York Public Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is its high church. You'd probably recognize the stunningly grand Beaux Art edifice from its film cameos — Breakfast at Tiffany's, Sex and the City — but its collections are what make it a literary landmark. Bibliophiles will delight in the Berg collection, which includes Virginia Woolf's manuscripts, Charles Dickens' desk chair and recent acquisitions from Jack Kerouac, as well as the Pforzheimer collection, which houses manuscripts diaries and other belongings from esoteric Romantics like Percy, Shelley and Wollstonecraft. There's ample space to sit and read — try the De Witte Wallace Periodical Room, home to over 200 newspapers and magazines, or the Map Division, which boasts the fifth largest map collection in the country — but if you need to work on your own novel, take a seat at the communal tables in the gargantuan Rose Reading Room. You may just find yourself face-to-face with a contemporary literary heavyweight — Orhan Pamuk worked on The Museum of Innocence here.
The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue
Spread across three historic buildings — former homes of the Morgan family — The Morgan Library & Museum is a real treat for book lovers, art aficionados and design mavens. Famed financier JP Morgan was an avid collector, and though much was sold after his death, the remaining books, manuscripts and art make for a compelling collection. The three-floor library, lined top to bottom with leather-bound tomes is awe-inspiring, while its display cases show off highlights from the collection. I spotted the original manuscript of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and original sheet music by Brahms, Schubert and Mozart. Across the foyer, JP Morgan's study features red silk damask wallpaper and an imposing desk, and you get the sense that the man himself could walk through any second, brandy and cigar in hand, ready to whisk you away from the 'secret' vault where his most precious acquisitions are kept.
An East Village institution, The Strand is the sole survivor of the 4th Avenue 'Book Row' which thrived in the 1880s. Split over four maze-like floors, bibliophiles will find all manner of books — 'new, used, rare and out-of-print,' as the branding says — and while the discount carts outside are worth a rummage, the real gem is on the top floor. Doubling as an event space — former Vogue director Grace Coddington popped in for a book signing — the Rare Books Room is the stuff of literary dreams. Whether you're after a $40 2nd edition Hemingway from 1937 or a $150,000 Shakespeare's Second Folio (the most expensive book ever sold here), you're bound to find a book that sits within your budget. Be sure to pick up a tote from The Strand merchandise corner — you can't call yourself a bookish New Yorker without one.
The Algonquin Round Table
59 W 44th Street
Between 1919 and 1929, the Algonquin Hotel's Round Table restaurant hosted the famed eponymous literary circle headed by poet and legendary wit Dorothy Parker, ably abetted by a who's who of the era, including George S. Kaufman, Noel Coward and Harpo Marx. The refurbished restaurant sports dark Edwardian woodwork and plush seating, and guests dine under the auspices of the oil painting which honors members of the notorious circle. Settle in and sample international takes on American cuisine in dishes the likes of Caribbean-style coconut shrimp, miso-marinated chicken salad, and teriyaki-laced beurre blanc sauce with grilled salmon.
The Library Hotel
299 Madison Avenue
Looking for a place to rest your head? The Library Hotel makes a handsome choice for literary buffs. Inspired by the Dewey Decimal System, each floor honors categories like literature, history or technology, while the 60 guest rooms explore topics ranging from dinosaurs to museums. The Booksmarks Lounge — known as The Writer's Den by day — mixes up clever literary cocktails like "Tequila Mockingbird" and "Tea S. Elliott", while the aptly-named Reading Room, which dishes up breakfast and a wine-and-cheese happy hour, boasts floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with books. True book lovers must opt for the Guilty Pleasures package. A US$217 add-on to any booking, the literary-minded package includes passes to The Morgan Library & Museum (just down the street), two cocktails, and 8 to 10 books curated by The Strand bookstore's "Books by the Foot" team.
About Gayatri Bhaumik
Always ready for her next adventure, Gayatri took her first flight at 10 days old and hasn't looked back since. After 12 years in Bangkok and seven in Melbourne, she's now based in Hong Kong when she isn't globetrotting. Besides serving as the Travel Columnist for Liv Magazine, she contributes travel and lifestyle stories to a range of publications, including Jetsetter, The Art of Business Travel, and The Loop. Most recently, she was the Deputy Editor at Hong Kong's Artemis Communications, working on titles such as Elite Traveler Asia, Explorer Magazine and Necessity.com. Follow her travels on her blog and Instagram.
An insider's guide to New York