The city of such women, I am mad to be with them! I will return after death to be with them!
The city of such young men, I swear I cannot live happy, without I often go talk, walk, eat, drink, sleep, with them!
—from Walt Whitman's Mannahatta (1900) New York City Nightclub
New York City party people and poetry have been going together like "roses are red" and "violets are blue" for at least a century. And, while lots of people are perfectly content seeking out crowds of sweaty beauties grinding to DJs, there are many others who like the drinks and the company, but would rather wind their words than their bodies.
From The Beat Generation to hip hop, a huge chunk of modern poetry evolved on the streets of New York City, and the vibrant art form is still electrifies bars all over the city. For those who need to buss a rhyme or just speak from the heart (while still getting your drink on), here are some of the hottest poetry events happening around town:
New York City Bar KGB Bar hosts a litany of literary events, ranging from short-form paragraphs to book readings, while verse-lovers should attend their legendary Monday night poetry events. If the Soviet-era name and bookworming sound alarmingly leftist, you are correct–the Romans here are all soulful bleeding hearts. With free admission and cheap drinks at the ready (including Russian beer!), New York City Bar KGB offers a literary introduction to the beatnik-inflected lifestyle.
And for all you poetry-whores, the natural party for play would be ever-traveling Poetry Brothel. And before you inspect our PC badge, know that the "whore" term is actually used by The Poetry Brothel in its search for those who would like to professionally drop an emphatic and sexy soliloquy. If you would like to serve up some poetry while delivering your piece in an intimate setting, you can apply for a paying poet gig. But if you're more interested in just receiving the flow, guests (naturally referred to as the "johns") get a chance to catch numerous acts, and can enjoy tarot card readings, artwork, live painting and music, as well as a full bar ready to lubricate. Just remember: the Brothel has no permanent home, so check their website for the next location.
Then again, perhaps you long for the true bohemian rhapsody, best heard at the Bowery Poetry Club. Across the street from where CBGB used to be, this very veggie-like hangout can get pretty nuts: on any given night, roll up to the Bowery Poetry Club and you’ll catch hippie-chicks and hipsters jamming outside strumming guitars on the sidewalk. NYU students and latter-day Bowery kids sip organic coffee in the “Vox Pop Cafe” section, while the stanza fans really get things cooking during the numerous word slams and freestyle events. In addition, there are tons of readings, musical performances and comedy nights – but the specials at the bar like “The Allen Gini-sberg”, the “Leaves of Grasshopper” and the “Naked Lunch Punch” testify to the BPC’s longstanding commitment to verse.
For a more mature night on the scene, there’s no question The Cornelia Street Cafe is as classic an experience as can be found. Providing performance space to artists of all sorts since 1977, you can have breakfast, lunch or dinner (and dessert), but be sure to be here on Fridays for the “Pink Pony” reading series—going on 9 years—as well as regular poetry parties on Mondays. Expect an older and mellow crowd, but the art here is 100% real.
However, those only partially into prose can secure some clever word-ology at many other locations while enjoying a basic bar-night experience: notables include the “louderMONDAYS” open-mike affair with 2fers at Bar 13 and the Sunday afternoon open at The Back Fence from 3-5 p.m. Beyond that, there are a multitude of more serious poetry sessions going down – but many are held in tiny venues, are often alcohol-free and very, very serious gatherings—so unless you are really into the scene, you may want to stick to the bigger gigs full of booze to grease your mental wheels.