HANGING OUT – GREENWICH VILLAGE MEMORIES

Garry and I watched a documentary on Netflix titled “Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation.” It was about Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Both Garry and I were there. He was already a working reporter, but young enough to enjoy the special culture of this corner of New York. I was still a teenager, in college. I was with my first boyfriend who was into the Village scene. I took to it like a proverbial duck to water.

From the Italian coffee shops that sold amazing coffee, and hot and cold chocolate, to the tiny, dark caverns where folk music was born, this was the Heart of Hip. And it was just a 15 cent subway ride from home. The world was mine. There’s a lot of good things to be said for growing up in the country, but it can’t compare with being young and having New York as ones playground.

The Figaro was the coolest of the cool cafes. Everyone talked in whispers. I knocked over a table one day and almost collapsed from the humiliation. Grace was never my forte.

The Figaro was the coolest of the cool cafes. Everyone talked in whispers. I knocked over a table one day and almost collapsed from the humiliation. Grace was never my forte.

Greenwich Village in the 1960s was the stuff dreams are made of. Everyone was there. Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton. Pete Seeger and Judy Collins. Joni Mitchell and Leon Bibb and Harry Belafonte. Everyone. The famous, soon to be famous and a few who would be infamous. All young, making music, and passing the basket.

I’d take the subway from Queens. Get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and still in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with lots of other people to make the rent and afford something to eat now and again.

All I needed was 30 cents for the round trip — and maybe, if I could scrounge it up, a dollar for a chocolate at Caffe Reggio. A dollar and a half would carry me a whole day into evening in the Village. Because hanging out was cheap.

“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.

“You bought a coffee or a chocolate and just sat. Read a book or a newspaper. Watched people coming and going on the street, hoping you’d see someone you knew or wanted to know.”

“That’s it? You just sat around?”

“Yup. Just sat around. That was the definition of hanging out. No one hurried you, or told you to buy something or leave.

This may be the only place I remember that's still (more or less) as I remember it. Cleaner, bigger, but recognizably Caffe Reggio -- the place where cappuccino (in America) was born.

This may be the only place I remember that’s still (more or less) as I remember it. Cleaner, bigger, but recognizably Caffe Reggio — the place where cappuccino (in America) was born. It’s now a protected landmark. Good thing, too.

You could sit with your coffee and book all day if you wanted to. No one would bother you. When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. Sometimes, you had no money. More to the point, you had exactly enough to buy a coffee and a couple of subway tokens. But that was okay. It was the 1960s. We were cool.”

No cell phones. A lot of people had no phone, period. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Car? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I didn’t. That was a dozen years in my future.

People were friendly, funny, and convinced we were going to change the world. Maybe we did. We certainly tried.

Out near Hofstra where I was going to school (and was a music major), my soon-to-be husband and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island and opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. They brought in the guys and gals who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.

What did I do there at the AbMaPHd? Hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Just hanging. No one was texting, computing or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the mikes). No beeping, dinging, or strange wailing noises of incoming calls. The noise was human. People talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating and drinking.

It was a wonderful time to be growing up and if I hadn’t been there, I’d envy me for having been a part of it.

31 thoughts on “HANGING OUT – GREENWICH VILLAGE MEMORIES

  1. Remember the “Holy Modal Rounders”.., they once appeared at the “AbMaPhd Cafe” a truly strange couple of musicians. I think I even filled in one night by playing some flamenco guitar favorites. But my special memory was of Sonya Hensler, who took money at the door and, I think, collected for any..uh.. food ordered there. Spaghetti, Hot chocolate, Coffee, Cider etc.? Of course there was Michael Motorcycle an odd character who rolled in from time to time.., “ahhh those were the days my friend, We thought they’d never end” la dee dahhh dee dah dee dah dee dah.

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    • Oh yes. I do. I used to actually have their record. I think they only made one, but I always liked “Come a little closer…” and sang it to Owen as a lullaby when he was a baby. I dated Michael Motorcycle. I didn’t meet him at the AbMaPHd. He was in one of my classes. His family was filthy rich and they owned a key off Florida. Unfortunately, he was not very interesting. But what a great motorcycle he had. It was a big BMW cruiser. I spend many happy hours on the back of that bike 🙂 Those WERE the days, my friend. That is also where I met YOU. You were Mr. Flamenco back then.

      This just brought back a real flood of memories. I met you at the ABMAPHd. I also met Jeff there — and Bob and Sonja. Because I met Jeff, I started working at the radio station … and I met Garry. And eventually married Jeffrey and then there was Owen. Of course the radio station was where I met Tom and started writing … and got serious about writing, discovering I had an actual talent … and was really, the end of my plans to be a musician. I was a much better writer than a pianist.

      I had already met your sister Anne. She was in a couple of my music classes, but I didn’t realize that you and she were related until she grabbed me after class one day and said “You know my brother.”

      Then, there was the Kantro Hilton. What a fert5ile seed bed of life that time was. Everything started there. We started being the people we became for our entire lives. I was only 16. Hard to remember really being that young. You owned that old Peugeot with the sunroof, remember?

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      • Talk about a rush of memories. Some of those memories shared. I still don’t remember how I met Leon Bibb. However, he became a friend and gave me entree to the Village. There’s the wonderful night Leon Bibb took me along to the Village Gate. He introduced me to his pals — Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier and Diahann Carroll. I’ve told the story too many times, I know. But, golly, those were the days!!

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      • The Kantro Hilton, WOW! and my Peugeot 403.., Holy shit I loved that car but managed to destroy the engine by cleaning it off with a hose. Hot engines don’t like cold water, especially the aluminum ones.., it cracked lost compression and just was never the same after that. It was the same model that Columbo drives except he has the convertible model. The sheet metal was also aluminum, very soft and would actually tear if it caught on something sharp, and how do I know this…? In the KH, I had the basement room under Jane’s and was alway privy to a show when she had a particular visitor. Most times I just had to leave until it was over. I think that’s where the term TMI came from. You gotta admit life was good then and the experiences did exist in flood form, so now the memories, eh?

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  2. Pingback: HANGING OUT – GREENWICH VILLAGE MEMORIES — SERENDIPITY | My little simple thought

  3. We spent most evenings in Greenwich village when we were a week in New York, but that was in the 90’s. Mr. Swiss being a jazzer, we mainly ended up in the Village Gate, the Vanguard was always full up. He told me that the Gate no longer exists. They had a few well-known jazz names playing there at the time. I remember in the late evening the streets were packed with people and with police. I asked one of the police offiers why they were there and he replied that anything could happen with so many people. At the time it was the main place to be in the evening, something always happening.

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    • The Village was always an “anything can happen” kind of place. In the late 90s, a lot of it was bulldozed to make way for more upscale housing, but a few undaunted spirits fought to save what they could and a few places, like Caffe Reggio, have survived. It’s not what it was, of course. That only lives in old photos and memory. But what a time it was!

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  4. I wasn’t there and I certainly envy you. I loved that documentary — I learned a lot from it and — for a short time — even listened to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell (it was the 2000s, by the way). Many of the kids from my “time” wished we’d been born 5 or 10 years earlier — and many of my friends act and dress as if they were (I don’t). It’s stories like yours (which I heard as a young woman) that made Denver chafe against my restless heels. I taught students who came out to the University of Denver from NYC who expected to see cattle on the streets of downtown Denver. As it turns out, I’ve been in NYC twice, and once without glasses. 🙂

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    • It was a grand time to grow up in New York. And I was a real New Yorker back then. I cut school to go to the library and the museums. I knew ever inch of the Museum of Modern Art and The Cloisters. And I loved the Village. The music, the ambiance, the people. Everything. It didn’t last very long, at least not for me. Once I was living on Long Island and going to college, it was a lot harder to get into the city. The subway doesn’t go there and the Long Island RR was expensive and often very slow. You had to plan more and you needed more money to do anything. Gradually, over a period of a few years, I recentered my life to be more local.

      But the years from the early to mid 1960s were great.

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  5. Hi, we loved reading this account of your village memories. We shared it to our Greenwich Village NYC Facebook and Twitter feeds for others to enjoy. Thanks for the memories!! The Village Alliance.

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    • Thank you folks for helping to keep the Village alive! Although we live in rural Massachusetts now, our memories of the Village are alive and well. It was quite probably the most fun we ever had. We were young, the Village was the center of the Cool, Hip … and Creative. It’s where we made the friends that we still call friends so many years later. I’m also very glad you were able to preserve at least some of the original structures. New York is a real hard case about preservation. Up here, if it’s older than 75 years, we preserve it, but New York has been busily knocking everything down since I was a kid growing up in Queens. Saving Coney Island was one of my causes not many years back and I was thrilled that it actually was more or less saved … especially after Sandy did so much damage to the boardwalk.

      Thank you for following me. Writing that opened up a floodgate of memories. Wow, knocked me right off my feed. My surviving friends too … What a time it was!

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      • Thanks, Marilyn! We work hard to keep the spirit of the Village Alive. Essentially our mission is – “The Village Alliance has been a leading advocate for the Village community for over twenty years. As a Business Improvement District, the Alliance works with area residents, businesses, cultural and academic institutions to ensure the district continues to grow and succeed. Our mission is to enhance the neighborhood’s quality-of-life by creating a cleaner, safer and more enjoyable environment”. We also work closely with a number of local partners and city agencies to make sure this happens!

        You may or may not be aware of the wonderful people at the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation who we work closely with. Importantly they work very hard to address exactly the kind of issues you describe doing a lot of work on zoning and land marking. There website is http://www.gvshp.org/_gvshp/index.htm

        Thanks again for sharing your very personal memories in such a beautifully written piece. It is certainly proving popular on our Facebook page, 25 people have liked it, 2 have shared it and 29 people have clicked on the article to read it. No doubt that number will start increasing quickly as we go into the evening hours.

        With best wishes, Will, the Village Alliance.

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        • Thank YOU 🙂 These are really some of my fondest memories and I miss it. Most of my family that lived in New York has passed on and the remainder have spread around the globe. But those few of us who were there and are still in touch remember. If I got to go back to a time and place, that would be the time and the place. I may write a bit more, or my friends will. For most of us, it was a turning point in our lives, the place where we discovered who we wanted to be for the rest of our lives. I will check out the link … and thank you again for enjoying my writing.

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          • Thanks, Marilyn. Happy memories. I think for many it was a turning point, very significant cultural changes and events happened in these streets. I’m happy report that Macdougal Street and several others remain vibrant, bright, loud and happy streets well into the early hours of every morning! Please do let us know if you and your friends write more. We always love and appreciate great writing and sharing peoples memories. Best, Will

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  6. What a great write up of the times. I was born and raised in Queens (in 1969). As a teenager, I hung out in the Village and the caffe’s on the four corners. I was a product of the New Wave of the 1980s which just doesn’t seem so cool in retrospect. One thing that is truly NYC, I believe, is hanging out on the stoop. Most people don’t even know what a stoop is. I have fond memories of quiet, un-rushed, hopeful days sitting on stoops with friends and family.

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    • Ah, yes. The stoop. It’s one of the remnants of the original Dutch settlers. The word was originally Dutch.

      In the 1980s, I was hanging out in Jerusalem and by the time I got back, it was becoming the 1990s and everything was changing again.

      I hear (grapevine) that the Village is coming back, a bit. A lot of it was bulldozed, but some was saved. But I don’t know how you can bring back the spirit of the place after all the people who gave it that spirit are no longer around. Bet YOU know about “stoop ball.”

      I was raised in Holliswood and went to Jamaica H.S., so I am a real Queens kid too 🙂

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      • Yes, I used to play stoop ball as a kid. I wasn’t very good at it. The Village may be a happening place again, but you are right is can never come back to what it was. And it does seem like everything changed in the 90s and that decade seemed to soar by so fast!
        My best friend in H.S. lived in Holliswood or was it Hollis Hills? Anyway, yea Queens! So you do understand how bad Trump really is.

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  7. Wonderful memories, Marilyn. Thank you for sharing them with us. I used to live in Forest Hills, Long Island when I was a teenager during WW11, and I remember so well taking the subway and meeting friends in Manhattan for ice skating or the movies or watching and listening to the new rave…Frank Sinatra. My family and I would go the Broadway shows. Sometimes, my uncle would be acting in one of them. Your days and mine there will always be magical memories.

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    • New York was a wonderful place to grow up. People always talk about it being so dangerous, but i never remember feeling endangered. I remember the Village and the museums and the hot chestnut vendors in front of the library lions. I discovered ballet at the New York ballet and theater on Broadway. Concerts at Carnegie Hall. It spoils you for other cities 🙂

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