“As the hour grew late and working people around Tompkins Square Park began turning out the lights on Memorial Day 1967, police asked several hundred music lovers to turn down the volume of a guitar-and-bongo concert in the park,” reported the New York Daily News. “The crowd’s reply … was a barrage of bottles, bricks and fists that left seven officers injured.
Bartenders with beards and tattoos serve $15 cocktails to a sharply dressed, late-20s public at what is now the Up & Up. The menu instructs: “Gentlemen will please refrain from approaching ladies. Ladies are welcome to start a conversation or ask a bartender to introduce you.” What would Kerouac have thought of that? “Refrain” is not much of a Beat chorus.
It isn’t hard to imagine the place as it was. Strip away the 2016 fanciness, insert a small stage and there you are: the legendary subterranean Gaslight Café of half a century ago.
Okay, so you’re probably too cool, these days, to admit you were ever into Jack Kerouac (now you know him mostly as the grumpy old guy who slurred to William F. Buckley that he always voted Republican), but remember for a moment the first time you cracked On the Road and spent the next weeks telling all your peeps that the only ones for you are the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.