This Travel Writer’s Guide To New York City focuses on a guide to travel with the specific needs of a writer in mind. A traveling writer needs to know the history, where to find inspiration, a great place to write, and a great place to lay their head. That way all your energy can funnel into creating!
The Algonquin people were the first natives to New York however Europeans like Giovanni da Verrazzano started to explore the area in the 16th century. In 1624 the Dutch West India Company sent families to live and work on what is now Governors Island. It was named New Amsterdam. The governor then bought what is now Manhattan and it was inhabited by only a few hundred people but by 1760 it quickly grew into the second-largest city in the American colonies with a population of 202,589 people.
Today, New York City is inhabited by more than 8 million people. More than one-third of them were born outside the United States. Thanks to the city’s diversity and vibrant intellectual life, it remains the cultural capital of the United States.
New York City is brimming with amazing cafes, restaurants, museums, libraries, and more. It is no surprise that many artists and creative types have derived from and flock to the city. Here’s a list of rather unknown places that we find particularly inspiring for writers:
This blacksmith’s shop was turned into a speakeasy and was frequented by artists who shaped literature, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Eugene O’Neill, Orson Welles, John Steinbeck, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Folklore says that the term “86ed” came from this bar where a patron would be forcibly ejected from the bar’s secret door at 86 Bedford Street.
This dive-y bar originated in 1950 and was frequented by artists such as Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, and Hunter S. Thompson, among others.
3. KGB Bar
This dimly lit bar has become a New York literary institution since it first opened in 1992. KGB offers regular fiction readings on Sundays, poetry readings on Mondays, and open readings on most Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
Established in 1854, this bar is still standing today. With a cast-iron stove, old newspaper clippings, and vintage photographs, this bar retains much of very old New York. The bar was frequented by E. E. Cummings and inspired the poem “I Was Sitting in McSorely’s from 1923, and Joseph Mitchell who wrote “McSorely’s Wonderful Saloon” in 1943.
The interior of this tavern has been largely preserved since it was founded in 1937. Its black-and-white checkerboard floor, tin ceilings, wooden bar stools, red booths, and hanging chandeliers have remained unchanged since its patrons such as Ernest Hemingway, E. E. Cummings, Ezra Pound, Joe Gould, Eugene O’Neill, William Saroyan, and Dylan Thomas once enjoyed them.
This restaurant is still popular today and was the birthplace of the Tony Award. I was frequented by writers like Heywood Broun, Walter Winchell, Ward Morehouse, and Ring Lardner who met at the restaurant for the exclusive Sardi’s Cheese Club.
This tavern dates back all the way to 1864 and still has its original pressed-tin ceiling, carved rosewood bar, and giant booths. Along with having a history in the Prohibition, it is said that O. Henry wrote the story “The Gift of The Magi” at this very bar on the back of a menu in 1905. The tavern also inspired Ludwig Belmelman’s “Madeline”.
During the 1920s, this was the meeting place for the literary group “Round Table” which included Dorothy Parker, George S. Kauffman, Robert Benchley, Heywood Broun, and Harold Ross.
This bar was frequented by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, and John Ashbery. However, it is most known for the night in 1953 when Dylan Thomas drank 18 shots of whisky and had to be carried back to the Chelsea Hotel after collapsing outside. Soon after he was taken to the hospital where he passed away from pneumonia.
A great place to network with other writers and to take courses on writing. Classes are available in person or online through their website.
There are endless coffee shops and libraries all over Manhattan, however, these are our personal favorite for writers. Unfortunately, some great cafes and libraries have been closed down since the pandemic however these are still up and running!
One of the most epic places to spend time writing would have to be this flagship library that was founded in 1895. With ornately high painted ceilings, the library is seeping with history. It is the second-largest library in the United States and the fourth largest in the world.
Writers can come to The Writers Room at any time, any day of the week. It’s equipped with napping areas, kitchen, dining area, and even has complimentary snacks. The location has 45 partitioned working stations to help keep you focused on your writing.
Although this coffee shop is part of a chain, you would never know it. The decor is very eclectic and comfortable and the walls are lined with books. It is one of the best coffee shops to spend your time writing or relaxing.
4. Black Cat
A coffee and tea shop is often frequented by writers and study groups. There is a relaxed vibe and you will not feel rushed to leave. The location has free Wi-Fi, comfortable seats, and even a printer.
5. Ace Hotel
The Ace Hotel was designed with the idea that it would be a place for artists to gather. The place can become crowded during the evenings however during the day it will be a great place to focus on your writing.
This cafe is located in The High Line Hotel. There is seating indoors however if the weather is warm it is a great place to bring your work to the garden in the back where there is plenty of seating.
Where to stay: There are many neighborhoods to choose from when you’re staying in Manhattan. You will likely choose an area based on the vibe and the cost. For example, the Upper East Side is on the expensive end and you will not find as many creative types as you would in the Lower East Side which is much cheaper and brimming with quirky hangouts. The West Village has many quaint spots and lots of nightlife but will be more expensive and high-end than the Lower East Side. Alongside the West Village is Soho where you will also find some nightlife but more expensive shops and cute restaurants. In Midtown you can find cheaper hotels with more space however the area is very touristy and not as charming as the other neighborhoods. The Upper West Side is another option to consider which has nice character if you are near the park, however, if you are very close to the park then the price of the accommodation will surely increase.
Here’s a list of our favorite accommodations for writers in Manhattan:
The Soho Grand can be pricey and a regular room does not have a lot of space, however, it has one of the nicest hotel lounges you can find. It is normal to find guests and other customers taking up a large couch to themselves and their laptops. You will never feel rushed or even expected to buy anything more than a coffee. It is also located on a beautiful and central block in Soho.
The Sixty Soho is comparable to Soho Grand in price however the rooms here are a bit more spacious with a nicer place for writing in the room. Another great upside to this hotel is that its lobby is amazing for writing. There are many couches and other seats that are designated for just that. There is no food or drink served there like at Soho Grand however there is free coffee and water. They do also have a beautiful bar next to the lounge and a great indoor/outdoor restaurant downstairs.
Located in Midtown, you will definitely get a more spacious room however this is a more high-end and therefore expensive hotel. The hotel has a small lobby that you could use however not nearly as large as the other hotels mentioned. However, the rooms themselves have a beautiful place for working and the large windows make it much more enjoyable to spend time writing inside.
Getting around: Getting around New York City is very easy. It is a very walkable city, and most people choose to walk as long as it takes up to about 20 minutes unless it is very cold. Otherwise, there are always Uber, Lyft, yellow cabs, and now the new fleet of blue Teslas from Revel. If there is a lot of traffic or you aren’t interested in paying the high prices, the Subway is very easy to use.
When to go: New York City can be seen as a year-round travel destination. The best time to visit is in the spring when everyone is feeling happy and coming out of hibernation from the cold winter. Summer can be fun in the city as long as it is not too hot, as many rooftops and outdoor areas will be lively and enjoyable. Fall is also a great time as the weather is just starting to cool down. However, if you don’t mind the cold and you love crowds and Christmas decorations then winter is the time for you!