New York Songlines: Gay Street

This street, originally a stable alley, was probably named for an early landowner, not for the sexuality of any denizens. Nor is it likely, as is sometimes claimed, that its namesake was Sidney Howard Gay, editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard; he would have been 19 when the street was christened in 1833. (The mistaken association with an abolitionist may be because the street's residents were mainly black, many of them servants of the wealthy white families on Washington Square.) Later it became noted as an address for black musicians, giving the street a bohemian reputation.

<===           CHRISTOPHER STREET           ===>


12: Built 1827. Mayor Jimmy Walker ran a speakeasy called The Pirate's Den here, and set up his mistress, showgirl Betty Compton, in an apartment c. 1926. After his resignation in 1932, he got a divorce and married Compton. Later Frank Parris, creator of Howdy Doody, lived here, where he worked on the puppet in the basement. Writer Ellen Raskin was another resident -- she based 12 Cobble Lane in her book The Tattooed Potato on this house -- as was Walter Gibson, creator of The Shadow.

14: In the basement apartment here, writer Ruth McKenney lived in 1935 with her beautiful sister Eileen. Ruth wrote about the peeping Toms at the window, the fungus on the ceiling and the blasting of the 7the Avenue subway in short stories for The New Yorker, which were collected in the book My Sister Eileen, which became a play and then the brilliant musical Wonderful Town.

Eileen married writer Nathanael West in 1940, but both were killed in a car accident on December 22 that year, just four days before My Sister Eileen opened on Broadway; a distraught Ruth never saw it.

The house was built in 1827 as one of the original row houses on the street. On December 25, 2003, a fire in the basement killed long-time resident David Ryan, who was fighting to protect the neighborhood from PATH train expansion.

18: Writer Mary McCarthy lived in this tiny studio in 1936 after divorcing her first husband. Here, according to biographer Carol Brightman, she had a "succession of one-night stands that allowed her to compare the sexual equipment of an astonishing variety of men."




Corner: There was a gay speakeasy called the Flower Pot at the corner of Gay and Christopher-- though perhaps not this corner.

17: Penelope Ann Miller's apartment in Carlito's Way. Al Pacino gets arrested up the street from here.

13: This was the law office of William Kunstler, who represented clients ranging from the Chicago Seven, Leonard Peltier, Jack Ruby and the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. Ron Kuby, his protogee who is now a radio personality, also worked here.

Corner (141 Waverly): The espresso bar Joe has New York's best coffee, says Time Out-- plus Daniel Day-Lewis is said to be a regular.

<===           WAVERLY PLACE           ===>

Is your favorite Gay Street spot missing? Write to Jim Naureckas and tell him about it.

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