Wednesday, February 18, 2009

R.I.P. - Cedar Tavern

Word has it that the Cedar Tavern has closed for good. It's another sad loss for New York, another piece of the city's history that is being lost in the wave of real estate development. The Cedar played home over the years to many a writer and artist.

By the time friends and I decided to start up an informal Sunday writing workshop there, the luster and history were most of what was left. Sure, F. Murray Abraham drank at the bar. Sure, some of the old-timers and bartenders recalled the writers who drank their hours away there and the painters who took breaks from the studios. But by the time we were taking up a booth in back every Sunday evening, the neighborhood had already lost the bohemian character that drew the artists and writers there.

We chose the Cedar for our workshop for a couple reasons. First, of course, was the history. What better place to drink and talk about the stories we were trying to pound out every week than the place that had spawned more than a few writing talents in previous generations. Then there was the convenience factor. We were coming from Washington Heights, Williamsburg, Queens, Park Slope, and Manhattan and needed a spot that was near-enough to trains we could all use. Finally was the fact that we could always get a table. In fact, they began to hold a booth for us.

We'd tried Old Town for a couple of meetings. It had the right age, the right vibe, decent food, the massive old bar and inexpensive beer. It was perfect, except we couldn't get a reliable table, and more often than not, the noise overwhelmed our attempts to read work out loud. After a couple of other short-lived attempts at other joints, we landed at the Cedar. It had all the character we were looking for, and it had a more open space to diffuse the noise with relatively private booths to shield our literary forays from the rest of the restaurant.

It was easy to understand how previous generations of writers and artists had found homes there. In some sense, it was those ghosts that had drawn us there. In fact, New York's ghosts are what give the city much of its character—whether you're talking Lady Day at the Five Spot, Jackie Robinson at Ebbets Field, or Frank O'Hara at the Cedar—and with each passing year, it seems like another ghost is lost.


Addendum: I should add that my melancholy is increased by February and by the recent news that the owner of the Holiday Cocktail Lounge has passed away.