Behind closed doors

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Chumley’s, a bar dating from the 1830s, is most famous for being a speak-easy during the Prohibition era of the 1920s. It’s easy to miss the entrance to the place – and that’s the whole point. Walking around this nook of Greenwich Village is entertaining for its jumble of tiny cafes, hipsters and crooked streets – the comforting cross-hairs of Manhattan’s famous street grid do not apply in this part of the city – but there are more charms hidden behind this closed door (above; photo spoiled by pesky scaffolding for a construction job).

Open this unmarked brownish-red door at 86 Bedford Street and you will find yourself in a narrow entry with no choice but to go up three or four stairs. At the top of the stairs, look to your right and you will see a cavernous tavern full of rickety tables and uppity waitresses. Look at the walls: a gallery of framed first-edition book covers and photographic portraits lined up from one end of the room to the other, signed by their famous authors (eg Hemingway) and subjects (eg Orson Welles).

My publishing colleague and friend Steve Saffel made the excellent suggestion we meet here for the most recent of our semi-regular chats about the vagaries of the publishing industry and writers’ lives. We even began tossing around ideas for a non-profit method (surprise!) to facilitate story-telling in the 21st century, as we’re not convinced the traditional book publisher is set up to take full advantage of the multiple opportunities that abound. If it sounds vague and mysterious, that’s because I haven’t been able to get any clearer about it myself. Stay tuned.

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