The last cultural hey-day of Greenwich Village was the folk era of the early 1960s, when Bob Dylan crashed onto the international stage, getting his start in small clubs and writing songs in his Village walk-up apartment. Today, most of the traces of that era are gone, but a few remain more or less intact.
The corner of Jones and West 4th Street is a bit like the Abbey Road of Dylan’s career: this is where the cover photo of Freewheelin’ was taken one wintry February afternoon in 1963 with then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo. The two shared an apartment on the top floor of 161 West 4th Street a block away. Dylan and other folkies such as Peter, Paul & Mary, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez would pop into The Music Inn a few doors down at no. 169. Here they’d buy or borrow guitars, violins, and rhythm instruments from the owner who is still there today, tucked in the basement repairing and hand-making instruments. The upstairs is jammed-packed with mandolins, guitars, bongos, sitars, and world instruments of all kinds. The window display looks like it hasn’t been touched since the ’60s, and the place is not recommended for the claustrophobic.
Big names in folk music and rock have bought new and used guitars at Matt Umanov for decades. The selection is impressive, and the sales help highly informed. Suze Rotolo’s son works here.
Everyone from Woody Allen to George Carlin, Janis Joplin, Dylan, and even Frank Zappa have played at some point at The Bitter End. It’s the last club of the folk era still going strong, programming six acts a night.