A Ninth Street cafe beloved by artists and writers

The cafe in the Hotel Lafayette—three townhouses patched together on Ninth Street and University Place in the 1880s—must have been wonderful.

Why else would so many customers write about it or depict it in their art?

“In the café of the Lafayette, the regulars sit and talk,” wrote E.B. White in 1949 in Here Is New York. “It is busy yet peaceful. Nursing a drink, I stare through the west windows at the Manufacturers Trust and Company and at the red brick fronts on the north side of Ninth Street, watching the red turn slowly purple as the light dwindles.

“The café is a sanctuary. The waiters are ageless and they change not. Nothing has been modernized. . . . The coffee is strong and full of chicory, and good.”

Lovely, right? Here’s what painter and Village resident John Sloan had to say about the cafe, which he memorialized in this 1927 work:

“To the passersby not looking for modern glitter, it has always had a look of cheer and comfort, particularly on a wet evening as this.”

Novelist and playwright Dawn Powell (below) was also a fan. In the 1930s and 1940s she lived across the street and reportedly told a friend that she “could look out the window and watch her own checks bouncing there.”

What Dawn liked about the Lafayette, wrote Ross Wetzsteon in Republic of Dreams, “were the coffee cups in which the management discreetly served wine to regulars during Prohibition and a telephone girl who could always be counted on to call her away whenever the company proved dull.”

“Dawn rarely had to avail herself of this latter service, however, for with the regulars at her corner table including John Cheever, A.J. Leibling, Joseph Mitchell, Stuart Davis, and Reginald Marsh, the conversation rarely foundered.”

On August 24, 1953, Dawn wrote in her diary, “Lafayette is down.” That was the day the hotel was demolished, and an apartment building (called The Lafayette, of course!) put up in its place.

[Top photo by Berenice Abbott; bottom via Streeteasy]

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5 Responses to “A Ninth Street cafe beloved by artists and writers”

  1. The Day | Virgins Too Loud For Neighbors - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com Says:

    [...] Ephemeral recalls a cafe at Ninth Street and University Place that was beloved by customers such as E.B. White, who wrote, “It is busy yet peaceful. Nursing a drink, I stare through the west windows at the Manufacturers Trust and Company and at the red brick fronts on the north side of Ninth Street, watching the red turn slowly purple as the light dwindles.” [...]

  2. EV Grieve Etc.: Mourning Edition « NYC Real Estate News Says:

    [...] Remembering the Hotel Lafayette on East Ninth Street (Ephemeral New York) [...]

  3. deborah symonds Says:

    My Mom, who wanted to write but never published, used to take the train from Springfield MA to NYC, and sit in the lobby at the Algonquin and at Cafe Lafayette. She’d just gotten out of high school.

  4. Real Estate News NYC via Tigho | EV Grieve Etc.: Mourning Edition - Real Estate News NYC via Tigho Says:

    […] Remembering the Hotel Lafayette on East Ninth Street (Ephemeral New York) […]

  5. Paul Oliverio Says:

    I love the John Sloan reference…And so did Dawn Powell…

    In her 1948 novel, THE WICKED PAVILION, the Lafayette Cafe becomes the Cafe Julien. One of the central characters is named…
    Dalzell SLOANE…

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