Gramercy Park is the city’s most elitist greensward. Only those fortunate enough to live on the periphery of the square block of trees and gardens are allowed beyond the locked gates. Even so, millions of less privileged New Yorkers who can only peer through the iron fence don’t seem to mind, and they speak proudly of the refuge from which they are excluded as one of the city’s great treasures.
Irving Place, a remarkably well-preserved bastion of Old New York, runs south from the park to 14th Street. The handsome street, lined in part with refined brownstones, is forever linked with two literary New Yorkers. Washington Irving, author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, lent his name to the street, but claims that he lived in the Washington Irving House, at 17th Street, are unfounded. The house was, however, home to a famous turn-of-the-20th-century lesbian couple, Elisa de Wolfe, an actress and interior designer, and Elisabeth Marbury, a powerful literary agent. Their salon, where Sarah Bernhardt was likely to rub shoulders with Astors and Vanderbilts, was well known.
- Henry merely drank on the street, at nearby Pete’s Tavern. He penned some of America’s favorite short stories in the dark, woody interior, where he seems to have found the muse for his warm, witty depictions of late 19th- and early 20th-century life. Take a seat in Pete’s and ponder Irving’s magic-infused stories of early America in these atmospheric old environs.