High Fives 2015 – Pete Kennedy
Here’s a contribution from someone I’ve met a few times in the last few years. Pete Kennedy is one half of The Kennedys, along with Maura Kennedy and they are two of the nicest people and finest songwriters I know. This year, Pete released “Heart of Gotham”, his masterpiece and labour of love which has been ten years in the making; it’s a huge Riot Squad favourite already. We asked him to contribute to High Fives for the second year and he’s kept to the spirit of “Heart of Gotham” with this wonderful piece.
These excursions all happen in my neighborhood, the East and West Village…I’m sure the museums further up town, and the goings-on in Brooklyn are great as well, but I’m sticking to my home turf. First of all, don’t go anywhere near Times Square, unless you want to pay ripoff prices at the same shops you already have on the High Street back home. You want to spend your hard earned pounds sterling on the music, food and atmosphere of the real New York, so follow me down below 14th Street.
Day One…Lunch at the Mud Cafe on 9th Street in the East Village, where you can sip local grounds while paging through a worn copy of Howl or On The Road. Don’t have any real books with you? Put that e-reader away, and let’s head down St. Mark’s Place to East Village Books. This tiny basement is that perfect Bohemian environment you pictured in your mind on the flight over…if you leave with a jones for more books, head over to The Strand, America’s greatest bookstore, on Broadway at 12th Street. Browse the outdoor stalls, a la the left bank, and throw a stack of 48 cent used books in your backpack. Dinner is at Rai Rai Ken, another tiny place, on 10th Street. It’s dark and rough hewn inside, and humid from the steam of huge pots of curry ramen. When your bowl arrives, just let the steam wash over you while it cools. Now it’s time for some music. The newest spot in this ‘hood is Treehouse, an intimate little stage three flights up, above Jesse Malin’s 7A and a new basement club, Berlin…
Day Two begins at Veselka, the 24 hour Ukrainian diner/deli where you can get your blintzes, bagels, bialys, and so forth. This is where I wrote the lyrics to the “Heart of Gotham” album, under the big mural of East Village writers. Then we head down 9th Street, stopping at Katinka to say hello to owners Jane and 9th Street Billy, paying silent homage at Jimi Hendrix’s basement flat, and shopping for vintage stuff at Fabulous Fannie’s, where Declan McManus is rumoured to sometimes stop by for a fresh pair of specs. The street is lined with small boutiques…one shop, recently closed, sold only candy and rain gear. For dinner, we go down the next block to Jules, for a salad Nicoise and live jazz with no cover charge. Then it’s a short hike up to the Hi Fi Club. The best juke box in town, the walls are lined with LP jackets, and the music is intimate and always good. Amy Rigby’s three week residency here has already passed into legend.
Day three starts out with Japanese breakfast at Panya, continuing our theme of haunting tiny places that tourists would never find. Pick up a packet of green tea biscuits for quick energy later in the day. Next we head up to the Union Square green market. This is where the city’s cutting edge chefs and foodies gather four days a week, and the perimeter is lined with artists, musicians, booksellers and chess players. Dinner? This will sound like heresy, but I’m going to say Whole Foods. The Indian buffet is by no means Brick Lane, but it’s serviceable, and the upstairs seating area has one of the best panoramic views in the city…Union Square, with the Empire State Building and other iconic structures looking like you could reach out and touch them. all for the price of a samosa. Now it’s music time, and we head down to the Bowery Electric for rockabilly and punk in the basement, or indie songwriters in the tiny Map Room upstairs. It’s at the corner known as Joey Ramone Place, and you can scoot a few doors down the block to mourn the passing of CBGB’s.
Day four begins in the West Village, with strong espresso at Cafe Reggio. The legendary template for all American coffeehouses, it features the first cappucino machine to emigrate here, and it is indeed imposing, resembling a navy cruiser dominating the small room. Reggio is featured in the film Shaft, when mobsters crash a car through the plate glass. No telling how many songs, poems and novels have been written on the semi-darkness of this place. Speaking of legends, we head up the block to Washington Square. In a way, there’s little need to pay a club cover charge for New York music, because it is happening here en pleine aire all the time. Folk jams, of course, but you will also hear classical pianists and cellists, rappers and poets, and everywhere the sound of Coltrane style sax in its natural element, the streets of New York. For dinner, let’s grab a quick burger at The Kettle of Fish, where someone will probably be playing Robert Johnson on an old Martin over in the corner. Music time…we’ll check out Le Poisson Rouge. Last show I saw there was a rare dbs reunion. Always something interesting going on here in Bleecker Street.
Day five, the last day of our excursion, begins at John’s Pizza in the West Village. Early for pizza? I forgot to mention that, in the Village, the day begins at noon. We will have to split a pizza, because following a deal hammered out long ago with Al Capone, there is no pizza by the slice at John’s, Lombardi’s, or Patsy’s, America’s original pizza joints. Apres pizza, we head across the street to Matt Umanov’s, the venerable guitar shop where every six string slinger you’ve ever hero-worshipped has bought at least one axe. After ogling the vintage Martins and Gibsons, we head around the corner to Carmine Street Guitars, where Rick Kelly caters to the working class guitarist, and specializes in building Telecasters out of hundred year old wood from demolished buildings in Brooklyn. You will want to take home a piece of twanging New York history. We’re getting peckish now, and the major bit of local cuisine that we haven’t sampled yet is pasta, preferably with a simple salad, cheap house wine, and a checkered tablecloth. That can all be taken care of right on the corner, at Trattoria Spaghetto. For our final night of music, we travel just one block to the Cornelia Street Cafe, where musical polymath David Amram has held court for years, with an eclectic mix of jazz, classical and folk combined with tales of his exploits with Kerouac, Ginsberg and Charlie Parker.
In the morning, we share a refreshing egg cream, which contains neither, at Gem Spa, the favorite deli of the Beats, and then, under the Keith Haring sculpture at the corner of St. Mark’s and The Bowery, we put you in a taxi headed for JFK, sated with music, food and the great vibes of our little neighborhood, Greenwich Village.