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The Wonderful World of the White Horse

West Village I: The Wonderful World of the White Horse
June 22, 1961

The younger man recent out of Dartmouth School left the $Eight-a-week room he’d simply moved into on Greenwich Road and ventured into the oppressively muggy late afternoon. Although a newcomer to the West Village in that summer time of 1951, he made tracks to the White Horse Tavern like an old-timer. Individuals at Dartmouth had informed him about the “The Horse.” Conventional watering-place for writers, longshoremen, Bohemians, pub crawlers, socialists, and just-plain-drunks, it was the type of scene he’d dreamed of.

“Dartmouth” appeared round at the West Village as he marched alongside, taking in the grimy streets, the weary brownstones, and tenements, the large brick warehouses. There was one thing backwaterish about the neighborhood, drained. Wanting on down 11th Road past the NY Central elevated line, then the elevated West Aspect Freeway, he spied the ramshackle docks. They appeared lifeless too. The entire scene reminded him of the arid, yellowish-brown desolation of a 1930s Melancholy portray. Nevertheless it was quiet. And quiet — plus cheaper rents — was why he’d chosen the neighborhood over the rest of the Village.

As a matter of reality, that quiet was symptomatic of what had happened to the West Village since its raucous, teeming Irish immigration days. By 1951, these dozen or so historic blocks extending from Hudson Road to the North River, and from Leroy as much as Gansevoort, have been a lot at ebb tide the city had lengthy earlier than marked them as a blighted area. Not that they really have been slums. But the metropolis makes strange distinctions, and although Dartmouth didn’t realize it, the redevelopment axe hung heavy over his new house as he walked alongside that day.

Summer time Commandoes

On the nook, the afternoon picked up. Three neighborhood Irish youngsters in ragged garments and 25-cent haircuts popped up like summer time commandoes from behind a line of rusty garbage cans. They took one take a look at Dartmouth’s Brooks jacket, his button-down shirt and rep tie, and squawked, “Hey, faggot, why don’cha go back to Ha’vard!”

Dartmouth winced. But he by no means seemed again as a shower of stones whistled demonically previous his ears.

And then he fronted the White Horse on Hudson and 11th. Multicolored with checkered trim, ship-shape sq., it emitted a low drone of speak from its open door. This was Dartmouth’s massive second. He was landing on Bohemia’s shores after 4 dry years in New Hampshire. Man!

Inside, the Horse was gloomy but cool. Dark was the ornate wood paneling, with saloon-Victorian lamps, adorned by tiny horse heads hanging down from the ceiling. An English pub, no less! The heavy, old style bar was crowded with males, most of them in sweaty work garments with ILA buttons on their caps. In the adjacent backroom a couple of other individuals, together with a man with a Smith Brothers beard, poked at chessboards.

A Navy Vet

The men have been making one hell of a noise. An elderly man they referred to as “Ernie,” with a fantastic white towel around his expansive midriff, shoved beer at them by the gallon. Timidly Dartmouth joined the males, feeling conspicuous in his Brooks garments. He was. A stocky, red-faced sort, with shirt sleeves rolled over his knotty, proletarian arms, frowned and muttered one thing as the younger man nudged by him. Dartmouth felt uneasy. However what the hell, 18 months in the Navy had put some muscle on him too (it was robust in Philly in ’46 mothballing these destroyers and inventorying three million bars of soap).

He ordered what the longshoremen have been consuming — half-light, half-dark beer — and drained his thick white mug. The frowning man was wanting him up and down. Only the frown had pulled right down to a scowl of gale drive 10. Dartmouth belted another ’alf and ’alf. Braveness, as it does sometimes to all males, came to him. The scowler tacked unsteadily alongside, his breath that of a hundred hop-fat breweries. “Hey,” he stated.

Dartmouth refused to acknowledge the battered face glowing there in Heinz-tomato ripeness.

“Hey. Hey you, necktie,” the sodden voice continued.

Slowly Dartmouth turned to his antagonist.

“You wanna know sumpin? Used to be guys like you never come in here. Now you’re on the joint like flies. You’re ruinin’ the place. Why don’t you go back uptown?”

Dartmouth was getting mad. Which was unlucky.

“Hey,” the scowler endured. “I’m the kinna guy belongs here. I belong in this part of Green-witch Village, not you.” Out of the blue his face beamed with delight. “You know why? I’m a sailor. A ship’s engineer.”

“A ship’s engineer,” Dartmouth grinned coldly. “Well, where’s your engine?”

Goodnight, Sweet Dartmouth. When flights of 6th Precinct cops have borne you to your relaxation at St. Vincent’s you may be glad to study the jaw was not broken — only badly bent.

No Outsiders

These have been the breaks in 1951. The West Village might still brawl occasionally, and the longshoremen, truck drivers, or white collar people (many of Irish descent) whose families had lived round there since the 1870s and ’80s, just didn’t take to outsiders. The ship’s engineer who clobbered Dartmouth was an excessive, of course, and his aggressive sort have been often stored in line by Ernie Wohlleben, the man who ran the Horse for almost five many years. However from time to time things did get out of hand.

The Horse had already gone via entire phases of West Village historical past — even by 1951. And because it was such a sturdy pub, it reflected those modifications about as readily as any common neighborhood bar does. A longshore hangout since the ’80s, it survived the roughest days of what was often known as the American Ward, when the Hudson Dusters gang used to select fights with its clients and infrequently break the home windows. One other indication of how strong an element of the group the Horse was by the finish of World Conflict I used to be the impact Prohibition had on it — that’s, rattling little impact!

In the late ’30s, the Horse once more reflected altering occasions, however entertaining left-wingers in its backroom. Singing of radical songs turned a nightly procedure again then, and although Ernie was a patient man, when the lyrics obtained round to bomb-tossing and unfettering of chains he obtained irritated. “Listen,” he stated to the radicals one night time, “can’t you sing those songs as much as possible in some foreign language?”

Literature Strikes In

After the Second World Struggle, the Horse said going literary. And it was Dylan Thomas, of course, who gave the joint such poetic class. Thomas used to cease whereas on U.S. lecture tours, bringing an entire coterie of admirers with him. It is typically stated he took his final drink there, before dying in late 1953. However the Horse was still no intellectual spa. A day or so after Thomas died, any person handed the hat for his widow.

“Thomas. Who’s he?” a longshoreman needed to know.

“Some drunk who used to ball it up in here,” his companion enlightened him.

Round the similar time, a collection of Sunday afternoon literary-political discussions began in the backroom. Norman Mailer, Calder Willingham, Oscar Williams, Vance Bourjaily — these have been a number of who held forth, typically by the hour. However the discussion tended to wander, the afternoons to get longer, and eventually the entire factor fizzled out. “We wanted to transplant ideas, but we picked the wrong hothouse,” a participant stated later.

So the White Horse changed. As increasingly more individuals like Dartmouth found the West Village, so the stability of population shifted from the Gaelic. The area was removed from the slum map in 1954 and renovations started. Lease went up. Dartmouth, by the means, had made it right into a $110-a-month two-room backyard job by 1955. However there have been certain old-time parts in those blocks who resented this invasion. Some had good purpose too, for they have been dropping their flats to renovators. When property started getting scarce, a longshoreman incomes $5,000 a yr is tough put to compete for area with a copywriter flattening $8,000.

McCarthy Evenings

Politics reared its ghoulish head too. That was during the McCarthy hearings. Some patriotic West Villagers who accepted of “good old Joe” determined the individuals who congregated at the White Horse have to be Communists, atheists, or fags. They have been totally different, weren’t they? So fights started in the streets. Then one night time a bunch of these stalwarts invaded the Horse smashing beer mugs over peoples heads and kicking in the front home windows. Minor variations of this happened all via that point. Diplomatic Ernie tried smoothing issues over, but solely when the draft grabbed the McCarthyites and directed their hostility towards North Koreans did the tensions ease off.

Other Voices, Other Bars

To return to pal Dartmouth. By the late ’50s, he was an enormous man in the Horse. Everyone referred to as him by his first identify, and the house owners let him hold a tab. However ingrate that he was, he took to wandering to other pubs for selection. Up to El Faro on Greenwich and Horatio, he drank and performed Lola Florez data on the jukebox. Again down on Greenwich and Perry, it was the poetry readings at the Worldwide Bar that caught his consideration for awhile. Sitting alongside longshoremen, writers, and anyone else who drifted in, he listened to Bridget Murnaghan and the others by the hour. The International, too, had its hour of poetry earlier than lapsing into somnolence.

Typically Dartmouth missed sitting and having a drink with the Irish. They’d been vanishing slowly from the Horse (some of them from the West Village altogether). He discovered them nonetheless, in the Cathedral Bar on Christopher, or in the waterfront Foc’s’cle with its sailors from Norway, truckers from Tulsa, and its star character, Popeye. Popeye, who loves the hop, gets so full of it he takes to directing visitors on West Road. He has three whistles for his work — an enormous blaster for vans, and average tweeter for automobiles, and a tiny peeper for jeeps and scooters. “I’m a federal traffic expert,” Popeye hollers as a truck driver in a 10-ton semi glares down at him. “President Kennedy just gave me sleeping privileges in the Red Ball trucks.”

‘Horse’ Right now

And what of Dartmouth’s Horse in the present day? Although many of the longshoremen have gone, writers, painters, editors still gravitate there. The poet in residence is Delmore Schwarz. But school youngsters actually pack the place on weekends, and its almost inconceivable to find a place to take a seat down. In the backroom, Socialists, like Mike Harrington, talk about the world but don’t reduce unfastened with the radical songs anymore. They folksinging crowd which had are available over the the past few years makes all the racket now. The indomitable Clancy Brothers, Logan English, and others sing of their ethnic backgrounds till the little room rocks. They’ve displaced politics.

Dartmouth can’t stand the singing. He can’t stand the outsiders either, or the weekend crowds. “It isn’t the same,” you’ll be able to hear him griping, “you should have seen it 10 years ago. Real people then!” And he’s turn out to be a loyal West Villager too. With the individuals as soon as once more considering of redeveloping the neighborhood (it has improved tremendously in 10 years), he’s able to man the barricades towards the Planning Fee. Just ask him the subsequent time you’re in the Horse. He’ll seize you by the shirt, back you towards the previous grandfather clock, and inform you what a fantastic place his neighborhood is by the hour.