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June 6, 2017

Book Notes - Delia Cabe "Storied Bars of New York"

Storied Bars of New York

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Delia Cabe's Storied Bars of New York is a wonderful resource for fans of literature, New York City, and cocktails. Compellingly written, the book lists the city's famed literary bars and includes a signature cocktail recipe for each.

Cool Hunting wrote of the book:

"Two features take Cabe's book to an even more thoughtful level. Cabe procures the recipe for each bar or tavern's signature drink—helpful for those far from the Big Apple. Further, using quotes from the authors who frequented the venues, as well as magazine excerpts from their time of prominence, Cabe captures the cultural scene of times long since past. This is a book that will appeal to cocktail lovers, literary aficionados, New Yorkers, and anyone looking for a drinking spot with ghosts in its closet."

In her own words, here is Delia Cabe's Book Notes music playlist for her book Storied Bars of New York:

There are so many songs that I listened to and thought of while writing my book. New York City gets a shoutout in great songs. Choosing just a few for my playlist was a delicious challenge. I left out many favorites. Here are a few:

"Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z & Alicia Keys

This song and the video, a lyrical montage of New York City, capturing the essence of my hometown. While writing Storied Bars of New York, I kept thinking how I would depict what I love about New York City—its ever-changing self while staying true to its history, its neighborhoods, its people. "Empire State of Mind" gets at its grittiness, while Alicia Keys' chorus ups the romance of it all. I listened to this song often during my research to set the mood.

"Every Stop on the F Train" sung by the Young People's Chorus of New York City

The F train, my neighborhood subway throughout my childhood, was the only subway line close to my apartment building on the Lower East Side. By close, I mean, a walk of about a dozen city blocks to the East Broadway station, a rusted, smelly, damp cave. The F train gave me access to the rest of Manhattan and all the adventures it had to offer. The F train was also how I traveled to grade school in Greenwich Village (on the same street as one of the bars in my book) and to high school on West 79th Street (a few blocks from another bar in my book), a journey that required three train lines. Because of my long rides, I read numerous books to while away the time. Absorbed in a book, I'd sometimes miss my home stop, the last one in Manhattan, and end up in Brooklyn. The only reason I'd notice was that the rhythm of the train had changed. The distance between stops lengthened because we were under the East River. If I wanted to, but didn't, I could stay on until the last stop, Coney Island, itself a marvel, with its rides, beach, and the ocean. Instead, I switched to the Manhattan-bound train in Brooklyn. To this day, I associate the F train with my literary journeys—in books and in the blocks of the city itself. This song puts me back on that train.

"I'll Be Seeing You" by Billie Holiday

This sentimental ballad by Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain in 1938 gets me verklempt every time I hear it. Every. Single. Time. The song, popular during World War II, speaks of seeing one's lover in "all the familiar places" while the person's away on the front and asks, "Who knows if we shall meet again?" One evening over gimlets at Bemelmans, a gorgeous bar with murals by the author of "Madeline," the children's books, my sly husband asked the pianist to play this song for me. He knew what would happen. I cried. And when I wrote about the bar's history in my book, I cried again. In my acknowledgments, I thank my husband for his support and end with "I'll be seeing you. Always."

"Life During Wartime" by the Talking Heads

My book features bars, historic and new, that attract a literary crowd. However, I included two that no longer exist: Pfaff's, the birthplace of American Bohemia where Walt Whitman and other writers hung out and quaffed a few drinks, and the San Remo Café, home to the Beats. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in those two watering holes in their heyday. Every time I hear the line, "This ain't no Mudd Club, or CBGB," I lament that I never got to go to CBGB, located in the East Village, either. I also wish that I could have included it in my book. Alas, the club, which was known for its vibrant, edgy music scene, not for cocktails, is closed. Patti Smith, who had performed there many times, sang there on its last night. I tell her story of coming to Manhattan, hanging at the bar at the Hotel Chelsea, and working at a bookstore in the Chelsea chapter of Storied Bars of New York.

"In the Flesh" by Blondie

A song that name-checks the Lower East Side, my childhood neighborhood, and is by Blondie? Sold. Blondie's music always felt like one of New York City's soundtracks. Perhaps Debbie Harry's days in New York City before the band emerged formed its musical beat. Blondie was also among the denizens of CBGB as well as Max's Kansas City, another hallowed ground for artists, musicians and the literati. The Lower East Side and East Village, which melt into each other at Houston Street, were home to the Beats, other writers, musicians and artists. The Nuyorican Poets Café and the KGB Bar celebrate all things literary here. I loved diving into the area's history and its current scene for my book.

"Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin

This song first debuted in a New York City concert hall in 1924 during the Jazz Age and Prohibition. This jazz piece is rich, sultry, smoky. It also has lush moments, that almost seem celebratory. An article in the New York Tribune inspired Gershwin to compose this piece. Gershwin told a biographer, "I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness." "Rhapsody in Blue" played in my head during epic walks in New York City to research this book last summer. I heard "Rhapsody in Blue's" rhythms in the traffic, the throngs on the sidewalk, the rush of the trains, the barges gliding on the river, and the buildings lit at night. No wonder Woody Allen used it in the opening scene of his movie Manhattan.

"The 59th Street Bridge Song" by Simon and Garfunkel

"The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge"—the official name of the 59th Street Bridge until 2010—"is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world," F. Scott Fitzgerald writes in The Great Gatsby. The bridge, a metal beast that roars and vibrates as vehicles travel on it, spans the East River, from Manhattan's East Side to Queens, depositing you first into Long Island City. Traveling from Queens, you behold Manhattan's skyline. In the other direction, you are greeted by the landmark Silvercup Bakery (now Silvercup Studios) sign and other factories dating from the 1920s. When the bakery was in operation, the pleasant yeasty smell of bread wafted across the bridge, causing car passengers to roll down their windows to breathe in deeply. Long Island City is home to the century-old LIC Bar, where Catherine LaSota hosts a robust reading series, in the shadow of that bridge. As for the song and its lighthearted, trippy "feeling groovy," Paul Simon thought of the song while crossing the bridge around 6 a.m. one day and feeling the world was just right. (He and Art Garfunkel hail from Queens.) Decades after the song's debut in the mid Sixties, LIC has become a home for artists, writers and others who've taken over the factories, with glassy office and apartment buildings looming over them.

"52nd Street" by Billy Joel

During Prohibition, 52nd Street was lined with numerous speakeasies, including the "21" Club, whose colorful history and regulars from Dorothy Parker to Ernest Hemingway to Julia Child is detailed in my book. The other speakeasies are gone, but 21 remains. Its staying power could be attributed to its owners wish to stay classy, not devolving into a dive. It survived Prohibition by paying the feds and local cops to look the other way. In this song, Billy Joel pays tributes to 52nd Street's other past as a center for jazz and music studios. A Rolling Stone writer reviewing the album 52nd Street notes that it "evokes the carnivalesque neon glare of nighttime Manhattan, using painterly strokes of jazz here and there to terrific effect." I picture listening to this song in a bar on an old jukebox somewhere in the recesses of Manhattan, perhaps Kettle of Fish.

"Shattered" by the Rolling Stones

"Life's just a cocktail party on the street/Big Apple…" Mick Jagger got it, though no native New Yorker would ever call their city the Big Apple. Hearing Jagger talk about the shmatta district aka the Garment District is a kick. (My Puerto Rican grandmother took a job as a seamstress at a lingerie factory to earn a living.) During writing breaks, I played this song loud to re-energize me and dance around my house to get the blood flowing.

"The Schuyler Sisters" from the musical Hamilton

I've not seen Hamilton, but have listened to the album and have seen some of the show's numbers performed on TV. That a successful Broadway play celebrates a part of New York City history is wonderful. I've read books on New York City's history ever since I had a library card at Seward Park Library on the Lower East Side. Yes, I bought the 1400-plus page tome, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, dip into it every so often, and wonder when the sequel will come out. "History is happening in Manhattan," the sisters sing, and they're right, even now. Writing my book gave me an excuse to immerse myself in New York City history—as if I even needed an excuse.

"How About You?" by Frank Sinatra

I've always loved this jazz standard, first sung by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Because my book's release date is June 6, I found myself humming this song frequently because of the lines "I like New York in June, how about you?" and "I'm mad about books, can't get my fill." I'm excited about my book events in the city. Seems like a perfect ending to my playlist.

Delia Cabe and Storied Bars of New York links:

the author's website

Cool Hunting review

amNewYork bar crawl inspired by the book
BroadwayWorld interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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