It was one of the coldest winters in decades when Bob Dylan arrived in New York City in 1961. With nothing much more than the clothes on his back, a guitar, and his trusty harmonica, Dylan stepped into the world of Greenwich Village eager to navigate its bustling network of poets, painters, and folk singers, who would feed off each others’ creative energies and performances during this historic period.
Dylan was rather prolific during the early sixties. At Greenwich clubs like the Bitter End, Cafe Wha, and The Gaslight, he was writing fervently, developing some of his most lasting and impactful songs like Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall and Blowin’ In The Wind.
Fans of Dylan would do well to retrace the early 1960s footprints of this folk legend. Visiting some of these classic clubs is an an amazing opportunity to soak up some ambiance and let your mind wander — maybe even have some old live Dylan playing on your iPod.
This period of Dylan’s life has a special kind of mystery because it occurred just prior to his entrance into the national spotlight. While others were gaining popularity by playing Dylan’s songs, the man himself was making a slow ascent. The period also represents Dylan’s purest folk material prior to stylistically expanding into a more pop-rock oriented sound.
Visiting every club Greenwich Village club Dylan has been linked to might be a bit much, if not impossible, as some have closed, so let’s focus on the top three choices.
The Bitter End club is located at 147 Bleeker Street. A great breakdown of the club’s history can be found in The Bitter End: Hanging Out at America’s Nightclub, written by Paul Colby, who actually purchased the club after managing its bookings for several years. Not only did Dylan start out at this little spot, but so did a long list of other great musicians and stand-up comedians.
Cafe Wha? is our second stop. At 115 Macdougal Street, it still remains a popular spot for not just Dylan fans, but music lovers in general, thanks to the musical stylings of the House Band. This club was Dylan’s first stop after dropping out of university and making his way to NYC. He managed to find work playing harmonica for another band at the club. But soon enough, he’d be sharing his own songs for the lucky audience members.
Finally, let’s check out the Kettle of Fish. Despite its new location at 59 Christopher Street, it still retains some of the charm that made it one of the best places to be in the early sixties.
When it’s time to pack it in for the night, why not stay at the Washington Square Hotel (163 Waverly Place) to complete your Dylan experience. The songwriter actually lived here for awhile in room 305 when the place was called The Earle Hotel.
Also be sure to check out Weekend Trips’ daytrip ideas for Washington Square Park, another Greenwich Village treat for Bob Dylan fans.