From 1966 until 2020, when it closed for good, Spain Bar and Restaurant was a fixture in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Today on NYR Online, Sam Fentress writes about Spain’s appeal, the history of the townhouse on West 13th Street that was its only home for fifty-four years, and the fading culture that once thrived in the Village. “Like that of so many holdouts,” Fentress observes, “Spain’s charm resided partly in what it had withstood.”
Below, alongside Fentress’s piece, we’ve collected from the Review’s archive essays by Vivian Gornick, Susannah Jacob, Jeremiah Moss, Jason Epstein, and Lucy Sante about downtown in old New York.
Hidden within the storied Greenwich Village hangout Spain were remnants of the neighborhood’s bohemian past.
“To experience oneself through open sexuality, irreverent conversation, eccentricity of dress; to routinely declare oneself free to not marry or have children, free to not make a living or vote—these were the extravagant conventions of American modernists then living in downtown New York.”
“Last summer, in the lingering warmth of an August day, a real estate agent walking down 7th Avenue blared into his phone: ‘You could move into the Riviera space,’ he said over and over, as if the listener was hard of hearing. The old café remains boarded up today.”
“Whatever protections may come, they will not save the St. Denis as it is. Like almost all of the nineteenth-century buildings in the neighborhood, it isn’t landmarked, and the area around it is not protected as a Historic District. Almost every building, from the Romanesque masterpiece at 841 Broadway to the Gothic gem at 808, can be smashed into dust.”
“The war over the monstrous Lower Manhattan Expressway, a projected ten-lane elevated link running along Broome Street and connecting the Holland Tunnel to the East River bridges, would be long and painful. Jacobs and the neighborhood coalition prevailed. But the nine-year struggle until the plan was finally abandoned convinced Jacobs that if she wanted to write other books she must leave New York.”
“Aside from the matter of actual violence, drugs, and squalor, there was the fact that in the 1970s New York City was not a part of the United States at all. It was an offshore interzone with no shopping malls, few major chains, very few born-again Christians who had not been sent there on a mission, no golf courses, no subdivisions.”