By Robert Heide and John Gilman
*lyric from the song Bleecker Street from Simon/Garfunkel album Wednesday Morning, 3 AM – 1964
Recently, in virtual quarantine during these pandemic times, heeding the constant reminders to stay home and only when it was essential to go out, to wear our masks, we became nostalgic for better times, i.e., the good old days. First thing we did was pull off the bookshelf our co-authored book, Greenwich Village—A Primo Guide to Shopping, Eating, and Making Merry in True Bohemia which was published by St. Martin’s Press 25 years ago, in 1995. Just by peeking inside we found that in Greenwich Village in 1895, the Washington Square Arch was christened in gala pageantry attended by President Grover Cleveland and later, in 1916, was seized by Village Bohemians like artist Marcel Duchamp, writer John Reed, and others, who refused to leave until their demands for independence for Village residents were met by the Mayor. They also insisted on, and got delivered to their hideout atop the arch, jugs of red wine. Our book, a reminiscence as well as a guide, went on to describe the exploits of many who lived and worked in the most famous neighborhood in the world including Maxwell My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village Bodenheim, Joe ‘Professor Seagull’ Gould, Ruth My Sister Eileen McKenney (who lived at 14 Gay Street), Edna St. Vincent Millay (named after the Village Hospital), who founded the Cherry Lane Theater, Eleanor Roosevelt, who established the Little Red Schoolhouse and lived with Fala the Scotty dog on the northwest corner of Washington Square after her husband, FDR, passed away while serving his 4th consecutive term as President, where Barbra Streisand sang (and was discovered—it was the Bon Soir on 8th Street), legendary actor and playwright Sam Shepard, Edward (Virginia Woolf?) Albee, the ‘three J’s’ all of whom died at the age of 27, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin, Lou Reed, Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol, Bette Midler, and many, many more. The book also describes and recommends shops, restaurants, bars, and places of commerce and entertainment, many of which we knew sadly no longer existed. What old or new still did exist? We decided it was time to mask up, go out and take a walk with a pencil and a pad in hand.
First thing we saw, something new, and actually open, a barbershop named Haar & Co. at 45 Christopher Street, down from Christopher Park and the now National Historic Landmark, the Stonewall Inn and just across from Edgar Allen Poe’s old clinic, the Northern Dispensary, sporting a sparkling clean but distinctly and charmingly retro look inside and out. In the window are two French busts of 1920s men sporting neat hairstyles, displayed about them old barbershop accoutrements like ivory handled straight razors, vintage talcum tins, shaving tins, mirrors, brushes and combs. Inside the gleaming barber chairs and mirrors suggest the high style of Art Deco. All of this fit our nostalgic mood to a T and we went in to meet the handsome proprietor, Michael Haar who had opened his establishment over two years ago, but had just re-opened after being closed, like every other place, for several months. He told us business was good but that he was operating under cautious health guidelines, which include wearing masks, and using only 50 percent capacity of his shop to maintain safe distancing. Shaving services were temporarily suspended, and reservations with Michael or one of his highly qualified barbers were strongly suggested to get one of his super styled individualistic haircuts—women’s glamour Pixie cuts are also offered by the congenial, mustachioed young host, Michael. Yes, there are barbers galore in Greenwich Village, but this one is obviously the best, and we made our appointments right away at Haar & Co., a distinctly pleasant spot on Christopher Street in historic Greenwich Village. Heaven knows, after how many months without, we very much needed a haircut. Michael offers a great selection of grooming products, which include Proraso, Tenax and Marvis. Haar & Co.’s hours are 11 to 8 weekdays, and 10 to 7 weekends. His telephone number is (212) 204-8617.
We realized that the really good times in the Village, for us, were the 1960s and 1970s. It was definitely a turbulent and transitional time. The US was in the middle of the Vietnam War, hotly contested in the Village; students were killed protesting it in 1970 at Kent State in Ohio. The Hippies had replaced the Beats. The disco era was upon us, led by Donna Summer. The first moon landing was in 1969. We were doing original plays at the Caffe Cino on Cornelia Street, including The Bed, Moon and At War With the Mongols. The Cino has now been designated a cultural historical landmark, but of course, it is long gone. The Stonewall riots occurred in 1969 also, and there were many more changes afoot. We thought about odd pairings, Marlon Brando and Wally Cox (Mr. Peepers) on Waverly Place, Tiny Tim roommates with Bob Dylan, a West 4th Street, MacDougal Street stalwart, now the recipient of a Nobel Prize. Some of our favorite places then and in the years following are still with us now, and have actually survived the business shutdowns. They include the Minetta Tavern, the wonderful Reggio Café, Chez Claude’s fabulous bakery, John’s Pizza, Joe’s on Carmine (best slices), and the brand new sparkling Two Boots, which moved from Greenwich Avenue to Sheridan Square to the former location of Mother Hubbard’s which nobody remembers, but we do, where you could get a Mother’s Big Three, a hamburger, a cup of coffee, and apple pie for $1.65 and then which became the Duchess, the first Lesbian bar in the neighborhood. We noted tables out front at Two Boots, which has slices and pies to go, and inside features almost a dozen images of the John Waters’s great star Divine, who at one time was a Village regular. Other on the street dining is buzzing on Hudson—our favorite, Cowgirl and the White Horse (which closed with the Pandemic, then re-opened, served too many drinks to too many people, too close together, and then closed again), with new places on West 4th Street, Bleecker, Christopher and Grove Streets seeming to thrive, particularly on weekends.
The list goes on and on: places and people in memory only, and places new and old (and just a few masked people) still there. There are lots of great Village dogs having their walks. The Parks are blooming. Each new day brings changes, good and bad, and Greenwich Village still thrums on. The good old days are gone, the memory lingers on, and the future stands as a big question mark. We can only send love and good cheer and yes, ‘We Must Persevere.’ We are thinking of World War II in this global pandemic and Vera Lynn, the great songstress who helped Great Britain win the war and who just passed away at age 104 on June 18, singing “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”
In addition to Greenwich Village, Robert Heide and John Gilman are the authors of over a dozen books including O’New Jersey, Home Front America—Popular Culture of the World War II Era, Popular Art Deco, Box-Office Buckaroos, Disneyana, and Mickey Mouse, the Evolution, the Legend, the Phenomena. They are regular contributors to Westview News and Mr. Heide’s collection, Robert Heide 25 Plays, recently published by Fast Books, is available, as are all of the co-authors’ other books, on Amazon.