Photos by Tequila Minsky
Jazz virtuoso David Amram spoke at the San Remo plaque dedication ceremony, as Andrew Berman, left, and Phil Hartman, right, listened.
BY TEQUILA MINSKY | From 1925 to 1967, the San Remo bar and restaurant ran the length of the building at the northwest corner of Bleecker and MacDougal Sts. and was a hangout for the most creative Village folks of the day, a who’s who of the Beat generation.
The San Remo’s heyday was from the 1940s to the early ’60s, when literary, musical and visual artists mingled with each other along with regular folk who found their way to this intellectual hub.
An Italian restaurant is now located where the restaurant part of San Remo was and a coffee shop today is where its cafe / bar used to be.
On Monday, a new plaque was unveiled on the MacDougal side, commemorating the venue’s significance to the Village and to its era.
It reads: “In its post-war heyday, the San Remo was a meeting place for an unparalleled array of figures from the Beat movement, the New York School of poets and painters, and The Living Theatre. Regulars included Allen Ginsberg, Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Miles Davis, Frank O’Hara, Judith Malina, Jackson Pollock, James Baldwin and Gore Vidal, several of whom first met there. Many of them immortalized the San Remo in their writings. These literary and artistic icons became the voices of their generation, and their impact still resonates today. The San Remo became a place for cross-pollination, where the artists — some meeting for the first time — influenced each other often leading to collaborations.”
The San Remo was opened by Italian immigrants the Santini family — and run by at least two generations of the family. It was a typical Italian restaurant: pressed-tin ceilings, black-and-white tile floors, wooden-bench booths, and they served expresso.
But it went way beyond that, added Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, who presided over the unveiling ceremony.
Unveiling the commemorative plaque.
“It was racially integrated,” he said. “Gay and straight people hung out there. It was a place where women could wear jeans,” he added to a few guffaws from the crowd of gray-haired former patrons and Village residents that overflowed from the sidewalk into MacDougal St.
World-renowned jazz musician and composer Dave Amram, a frequent patron of the joint, helped in the celebratory tribute and spoke in the most loving and poetic terms of what the San Remo meant to him. He recalled how extraordinary a place it was, where anybody could go. There were enormously influential figures, yet the San Remo was accessible to everybody.
“You could get a degree in hanging-out there,” he joked.
The place was memorialized in the 1952 Beat novel “Go” by John Clellon Holmes, and mentioned as the fictionalized “The Mask” in Jack Kerouac’s 1958 “The Subterraneans.”
Phil Hartman of Two Boots Pizza — whose foundation sponsored the plaque, its second, as part of a new G.V.S.H.P. program — read a piece by Delmore Schwartz, the poet and short-story writer.
Santini niece Joan Schechter, who grew up in the building and worked at the San Remo, shared family lore that theirs was “the first espresso machine” in New York.
John Tumminia, president of the board of the building, 93 MacDougal St., expressed how happy he was to be part of this remembrance.
Village resident Mark Sebastian, who co-wrote the lyrics for “Summer in the City” with his brother John, was spotted in the crowd. Also on hand were Soho residents poets Steve Dalachinsky and Yuko Otomo.
Dalachinsky mused how the San Remo, along with a slew of other MacDougal St. cafes and bars, were where “you hung out, wrote and had fun.”
This area of the South Village is under consideration by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission as a historic district, and Dalachinsky spoke to the significance of that designation.
“It’s very, very important that that part of history be preserved, unlike when they destroyed the Provincetown Theater, which N.Y.U. did,” he said. “The block should have been landmarked a long time ago.”
Dalachinsky noted that MacDougal between Bleecker and W. Third Sts. and Minetta Lane constituted “our higher-education institution.”
On this beautiful evening, Arlene Gottfried, a photographer who lives at Westbeth, wanted to be part of the moment for the historic plaque unveiling.
“I know that this was a hangout for the people who became known as the Beats,” she said.
After the dedication ceremony, those present noshed on some Two Boots pizza.