Bob Dylan Greenwich Village Walking Tour
This post is a self-guided tour of Bob Dylan’s Greenwich Village with videos for most stops.
If there is one place on earth that pops into the mind with the mention of Bob Dylan is Greenwich Village. This neighborhod in the lower part of Manhattan has a fascinating past, most notably during the bohemian and beatnik era of the late 1950s and 1960s.
This post however is solely dedicated only to Bob Dylan and the Greenwich Village that he knew and where his unique style of music developed.
If you are in NYC, you might want to check out our Alternative New York Tour.
This could be called the epi-center of the bohemian scene and hippie movement of the 1960s. To this day, this park in the heart and soul of Greenwich Village. Street performers, musicians, and artists frequent the park in all kinds of weather. Bob Dylan was known to listen to the groups enjoying their daylight hours strumming guitars or banjos and singing — often for tips, or just for the sheer fun of it. For a detailed history of the park, check out our blog post on Washington Square Park.
(B) The Bitter End 147 Bleecker Street.
This small and intimate nightclub, coffeehouse and folk music venue opened in 1961. Every Tuesday night, the club hosted “hootenannies” where newbie folk artists took the stage, many of whom went on to become legends. (Click here to see the incredibly long list of musicians and comedians who performed here over the past 5 decades). In the mid 1970s, the club was the birthplace of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, which featured such musicians as Roger McGuinn, founder of the Byrds and solo folk music superstar Joni Mitchell. Dylan hung out here in 1975 when he was recording his album Desire.
(C) Village Gate 158 Bleecker Street.
Now renamed the Village Theater, this nightclub was opened in 1958 and hosted some of the most controversial (and talented) names in jazz, theater, comedy,and folk music. In 1962, Dylan was staying with his friend Chip Monck, who lived in the basement of the this building. It was here that Dylan wrote 1962’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. Monck too went on to fame. Incidentally, Monck also went on to fame and success. HE started his career as a stage lighter at the Village Gate. He went on to light to Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock in 1969 where he was also the master of ceremonies.
(D) 94 MacDougal Street
Dylan purchased this townhouse in 1969 when he returned from a long hiatus in Woodstock with his wide and children. This was a surprising choice of a home location given that Dylan was now world-famous and here he was living on a street filled to the brim with music venues, tourists, and locals who would happily stop in front if the townhouse to get a sight of the folk legend whose career started just across the street. A neighbor by the name of A.J. Weberman made the Dylans’ lives miserable by invading their privacy by picking through their trash garbage and bringing loads of people to the townhouse. After asking Weberman to stop over and over again, Dylan lost it one day and ended up beating up Weberman on the street. Dylan shortly thereafter moved to Malibu in California.
(E) Cafe Wha? 115 MacDougal Street,
Cafe Wha? was a coffee house well-known in its day for being a platform for new music, poetry, and comedy. When Robert Zimmerman arrived in New York City, in his quest to meet Woodie Guthrie, he sang at Café Wha? on his first night in town. He did a short set of Woodie Guthrie songs. Check out our post for an in-depth history about he other famous musicians and comedians who performed at Cafe Wha?
(F) The Folklore Center 110 MacDougal Street
This book and music shop owned by Izzy Young became the center of the folk music scene in Greenwich Village. The young Bob Dylan would sit in the back and listen to the records. Here, Dylan says, is where he met Dave Van Ronk, whose introduced him into the Greenwich Village music scene. Izzy Young booked Dylan’s first concert in New York City at the Carnegie Chapter Hall in 1961. In tribute, Dylan wrote “Talking Folklore Center.”
(G) Gaslight Cafe (formerly Kettle of Fish) 116 MacDougal Street
Located in what was the coal cellar of the Kettle of Fish (now on Christopher Street). The basement was not deep enough, so the owner shoveled it deeper himself. In doing so, he exposed the airshafts in the building. As a coffee house, they were allowed to be open to 4:30 in the morning. When the audience enjoyed a performer, such as Dylan who performed here often in the early days, they would clap heartily. The noise echoed up the airshafts into the apartments above. The tenants often called the police to complain about the noise from below. This ushered in the tradition of snapping your fingers instead of clapping when you wanted to show appreciation. The album Live at The Gaslight 1962, released in 2005, is a collection of 10 Dylan performances recorded on reel-to-reel tapes in his early days in the Village.
(H) Former site of The Commons 105 MacDougal Street
This location was once the Commons, a cafe opened in 1958. It had poetry readings, folk music and jazz performances and that classic Village bohemian ambiance. Today it is a mediocre but popular restaurant, Panchitos. You would never know by looking at it that this was where Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
(I) Jones Street – between West 4th and Bleecker streets
Dylan fans will no doubt immediately recognize this intersection as the spot where the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was shot. Dylan is hunched against the cold weather with then girlfriend Suze Rotolo hanging on his arm trudging through the snow-covered street. At that time Dylan and Rotolo lived at 161 West 4th Street off of Sixth Avenue.
(J) One Sheridan Square
Dylan lived here briefly on the 4th floor, staying with “folk scene den mother” Miki Isaacson whose living room was a permanent crash pad for folk singers. Suze Rotolo’s mother lived in the apartment one floor below. Dylan and Suze crossed paths here and began dating, and she made her appearance on the album cover pictured above. A year after that album cover was shot, Dylan swiftly rose to fame and he broke up with Suze. Hi did write a song inspired by her however, “Tomorrow Is a Long Time”.
(K) Hotel Earle (now Washington Square Park Hotel) 103 Waverly Place
When a young Bob Dylan (nee Robert Zimmerman) arrived in New York in the winter of 1961, he stayed for a short while in room 305. Back then it was a residential hotel for down-and-outers. His friend Joan Baez made reference to the Earle in her bittersweet love song about Dylan, Diamonds and Rust, in the lyric “that crummy hotel over Washington Square.” Today the hotel is Washington Square Hotel and, ironically, this former flophouse is one of our picks for an affordable hotel in the Greenwich Village area.
(L) Theatre de Lys (now the Lucille Lortel Theater) 121 Christopher Street
It was here in 1963 that Dylan saw a performance of Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera and heard the song “Pirate Jenny.” Dylan wrote in his book “Chronicles: Volume One,” that he was “totally influenced by ‘Pirate Jenny,’ that he began experimenting with his own songwriting. The results were stunning masterpieces like “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”.
(M) The Whitehorse Tavern 567 Hudson Street
Dylan and girlfriend Rotolo would sit in the bar and listen to Irish Rebel songs performed by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. This now well-known tavern was also frequented by writers including the poet British poet Dylan Thomas, from whom Bob Zimmerman took his stage name.
If your musical taste goes beyond Bob Dylan, check out this fun guided tour on the rock and roll history of Greenwich Village.