Saturday, 13 December 2008


653, Broadway - where Bohemianism originated

Looks like just another Korean deli in an old broken-down 1800's building near the corner of Bleeker and Broadway. But in 1856, this was the site of Pfaff's, the city's first bohemian hangout - a basement bar which attracted writers and actors like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edwin Booth. Other habitues included Walt Whitman, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, George Arnold, and Henry Clapp who became first 'King of Bohemia.'

Walt Whitman socialising in Pfaff's basement beer hall

In 1856, when Charlie Pfaff opened his basement beer hall, a few doors south of the Winter garden, it was modeled on the German Rathskellers that were booming in Europe. His joint was a dim, smoked filled cave, as it were, and a gathering place for a bunch of like minded rebels, who were to become America's first bohemians. It didn't matter to them that Pfaff's was literally underground. Pfaff served the best coffees, the finest beers and cheeses, and the wine cellar was well stocked with fine wines from all over the world.

From a 1933 New York Times article: "Thackeray brought the word 'Bohemianism' into the English language and then as an organised group, with Walt Whitman as kind of an associate member, set up headquarters in Pfaff's beer cellar.

Meet the 19th Century Hipster Queen

That would be Ada Clare, a writer and actress who came to New York in the 1850's as a single mother espousing free love. One of the few female regulars at Pfaff's, she was known citywide as the 'Queen of Bohemia.' As well as acting she also wrote for the Saturday Press, an iconoclastic weekly magazine of the arts.

Clare suffered a dog bite in her theatrical agents office, and died from rabies in 1874.

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