Posts Tagged ‘Cafe Lafayette’

Tracing a Village writer through her apartments

April 25, 2016

Dawnpowell1914Dawn Powell might be the most popular unknown writer to come out of Greenwich Village.

Born in Ohio, she moved to New York after college in 1918, hungry to make it in the literary world.

Dawnpowell106perrystcityrealtyHer output included more than a dozen novels as well as short stories and plays, plus countless magazine articles and book reviews.

Yet Powell (above, in 1914) never gained the kind of fame that friends like Edmund Wilson and Malcolm Cowley enjoyed.

Like her artistic crowd, though, she indulged in boozy evenings at haunts like Cafe Lafayette, did stints at writer’s colonies, and lived in a series of Village apartments that reflect the ups and downs of a struggling writer’s life.

She and her husband, Joe, an alcoholic ad exec, and their young son (who had an unnamed disorder, perhaps autism) lived at 106 Perry Street, above left, in 1930.

teakwoodhouseacrossstreetA year later they relocated to 9 East 10th Street (right), with its intricately carved teakwood facade.

“[I] love it passionately,” Powell wrote in her diary, published in 1995. “So quiet—calm, spacious, one’s soul breathes deep breaths in it and feels at rest.”

 Making the rent wasn’t easy, Powell noted. In 1942, the family moved to a duplex at 35 East 9th Street (below).

“[It is] considerably cheaper but much more deluxe looking in a sort of modern-improvement Central Park West way,” she wrote, later calling it “a dreary dump” except for her live-in maid’s room on the roof.


She lived here for 16 years before she and Joe were thrown out, with their belongings strewn on the sidewalk, for not paying rent—Joe had retired and had no income, she wrote.

In 1958, the couple moved from hotel to hotel, first at the Irving on Gramercy Park South and then to the Madison Square Hotel.

Of that hotel, she wrote, “The halls reek of old people—the elevator and lobby smell of brown envelopes (unemployment and social security checks)….”

In 1959 they put $250 down for a four-room place at 23 Bank Street. which she called “beyond belief perfect.”

Dawnpowell43fifthaveHer time there, however, didn’t last. By 1960, she and Joe moved to 43 Fifth Avenue (right).

She then took up in an office at 80 East 11th Street and back to an apartment again at 95 Christopher Street.

Christopher Street (below) appears to have been her last home.

Joe died of cancer in 1962. In the next few years, Powell’s diary lists her own many hospital visits.

On November 14, 1965, Powell died penniless at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Her final resting place isn’t in or near her beloved Greenwich Village but is on Hart Island—where she was interred in the city’s potter’s field.

Dawnpowell1952[Second photo: City Realty; fifth photo: Powell in the 1950s]

A Ninth Street cafe beloved by artists and writers

October 18, 2012

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]