A Step-By-Step Walk Through 'Just Kids' and Patti Smith's New York
586 Fifth Avenue, where Scribner's has left an imprint
Jason Speakman for the Village Voice
Patti Smith’s Just Kids is a wonderful memoir, but it was also unexpectedly a great New York City book. In the process of telling the story of her life, Smith also vividly captured a very specific moment in time in a very specific New York City. The unadorned, detailed prose paints vivid pictures of the streets and the subways, the people and the places that resound with the reader whether or not you are from that era. It’s the kind of book that can make you homesick for somewhere you never lived.
It’s also a chronicle of the faded, the forgotten and the missing places in the city. Unsurprisingly, most of the places mentioned in Just Kids are gone (CBGB’s, Max’s Kansas City); others exist in some physical form, even if the spiritual facet of the location has been obliterated (Chelsea Hotel, Scribner’s Books). And a few, like Electric Lady Studios and St. Mark’s Church, are still with us and still fulfill their original mission.
But if you walk around at the end of the day, when the streets are quiet, or early in the morning, before the city’s woken up yet, you can close your eyes and try to imagine a New York that had corners you could hide in, apartments you could afford, magic waiting to be discovered, sounds and sights that hadn’t been blogged and Instagrammed to the point of exhaustion.
For history’s sake — and to celebrate the release of M Train, Patti's latest work of literature — here’s our guide to the more notable or important locations of Just Kids.
BRENTANO’S, 586 FIFTH AVENUE | SCRIBNER’S BOOK STORE, 596 FIFTH AVENUE
One of the many grand bookstores that graced Fifth Avenue once upon a time, Brentano’s was the first place Patti worked when she arrived in New York. It was at Brentano’s where Robert Mapplethorpe would come in and purchase the purple Persian necklace that resulted in their second meeting. Today, the entire building that housed the store is completely gone, replaced by a generic Midtown office tower.
Scribner’s, located just across Fifth Avenue, was a palace built for books, the flagship store of the publisher of the same name. It was a wrought iron filigree multi-level wonder world, the kind of place your parents would let you go on a visit to the City if you were good. Patti would come to work here after a disastrous stint at F.A.O. Schwartz, where she worked her way up from the phone desk to sales. Even after she left, her coworkers shared tales of her returning to chat about books; later, they had a photograph of Patti from Rolling Stone pasted on the break room door.
The landmarked building is a Sephora now, but the interior and exterior wrought iron detail still remains, and if you squint between the clouds of perfume, you can see the ghosts of Hemingway and Maxwell Perkins floating above the crowds of tourists.
ST. MARK'S PLACE
Like so many who came before and after her, Patti headed downtown to St. Mark’s Place not long after arriving in NYC. She easily blended in with the others who came in search of a cheap meal, an inexpensive crash pad, or just a place to feel free and not stand out as “weird.” The Electric Circus, the nightclub, was in the center of the block; it would later house the Dom, where the first incarnation of the Velvet Underground would appear. That building is now condos, with a Chipotle on the ground floor.
It was to St. Mark’s Place that Patti escaped to following a lecherous dinner date, after miraculously running into Robert Mapplethorpe in Tompkins Square Park. Robert bought her an egg cream at the Gem Spa at the corner of St. Mark’s and Second Avenue (amazingly, a thing you can still do!)
Around the corner on Second Avenue between 6th Street and 7th Street was Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore East. Robert would work as an usher there, which was how Patti was able to see the Doors, which had a significant impact on her: “I felt, watching Jim Morrison, that I could do this.” Today, the entrance lobby of the Fillmore is an Emigrant Savings Bank; there is now a bronze plaque on the wall outside, commemorating the space.
PATTI & ROBERT’S APARTMENT | 160 HALL STREET, CLINTON HILL
"When we had finally saved enough money, Robert looked for a place for us to live. He found an apartment in a three-story brick building on a tree-lined street around the corner from the Myrtle el and within walking distance of Pratt,” Patti writes in Just Kids. The residential building at 160 Hall Street is still there, around the corner from Pratt. There is even an art supply store in the same location of Jake’s Art Supplies, with a diner located right across the street, where the juxtaposition of the two undoubtedly continues to torment a young artist torn between dinner and new colored pencils, just like Jake’s and the Greek diner did to Patti and Robert when they lived here as starving artists.
El Quijote on 23rd Street
Jason Speakman for the Village Voice
HOTEL CHELSEA / EL QUIJOTE | 222 W. 23rd STREET
FIRST STUDIO, 206 W. 23rd STREET
Patti and Robert escaped to the Chelsea Hotel in 1969, after surviving a murder outside the door of Robert’s Lower East Side loft, and then fleeing the fleabag Allerton Hotel on 22nd & 8th, which was the only place they could afford at the time. Patti had heard that artists could trade art for rent at the Chelsea, and was prepared to make her case to manager Stanley Bard that they were artists worth taking a chance on (and that she could get a monetary advance from Scribner’s). One of the two impressed Bard enough to let them in, and Smith and Mapplethorpe promptly installed themselves as visible members of the Chelsea community, absorbing as much as they could from anyone who would let them, from Harry Smith to William Burroughs — writers, musicians, artists.
The El Quijote restaurant downstairs was an extension of the hotel’s lobby, and would be where Patti would meet and hang out with Janis Joplin and the Jefferson Airplane, among many others.
The gorgeous, distinctive red brick facade laced with wrought iron balconies remains, but that and the plaques mounted alongside the entrance commemorating legendary residents are the only remnants of the Chelsea as an artistic refuge and counter-cultural incubator. The El Quijote is also still there, but exists in name only, ownership having transferred as the Chelsea began its decline into respectability.
Just two doors east of the hotel is 206 W. 23rd Street, the building where Patti and Robert had their first studio (and later, residences) above the bar on the ground floor.
MAX’S KANSAS CITY | 213 PARK AVENUE SOUTH
Ground Zero for downtown bohemia, downstairs at Max's Kansas City defined “fabulous.” The Warhol crowd shared banquettes with Bowie, Lou, the Dolls and Iggy, along with anyone else amazing who came through town and was fearless or weird enough (or both) to attempt entry. Robert Mapplethorpe spearheaded the mission to hang out there, believing it would provide him with entree into the Warhol universe. His plans were thwarted when their lack of fabulosity relegated them to the sidewalk outside.
Eventually the door person took pity on them and allowed them to enter. Even then, they remained on the fringes, sitting alone at a table off to the side, pitifully sharing the one salad and two Cokes they could afford until one night, tastemaker and downtown cultural impresario Danny Fields invited them to share one of the center tables.
Despite her history with the place, Patti would later play Max’s only a few times, including one stint opening for Phil Ochs, and later, a one-week run with Television in 1975. The building still exists; upstairs is residential, and downstairs is one of those ubiquitous NYC delis, catering to the lunchtime hordes. (Tomorrow it’ll probably be a bank.)
GOTHAM BOOK MART | 16 E. 46th STREET
Gotham Book Mart was another Midtown wonderland of books, located around the corner from Scribner's. Its entrance was graced by a wonderful wrought iron sign of a fishing boat with the legend, "WISE MEN FISH HERE." Patti would come over on her breaks at Scribner's to read or talk books, and in a year or two, Gotham would publish some of her of poetry: the chapbooks "A Useless Death" and "ha! Ha! houdini," and WITT, a larger, more formal work. The building is some faceless midtown tomb now.
WOLLMAN RINK | CENTRAL PARK
Wollman Rink is an ice skating rink that for many years became a concert venue in the summertime. It was the home of the Schaefer Music Festival, later the Dr. Pepper Music Festival. The festivals were known for their strong lineups and bargain pricing; even in 1980, the last year concerts were held at the rink, floor tickets cost $5 and balcony tickets were $3.
Patti went with Dylan sidekick/confidante Bob Neuwirth (who she met in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel) to see Janis Joplin perform there in 1969, and would later play there with her band in 1978 and 1979. Wollman Rink has the distinction of being one of the last places Patti played in NYC before her 1979 "retirement" on August 11, 1979.
The venue was surrounded by trees, and had a gorgeous view of the Plaza Hotel and Fifth Avenue skyscrapers. Due to the residential noise complaints, the festival relocated to Pier 84 in 1981. It’s still a skating rink in the winter, and in the summer becomes an amusement park.
VILLAGE OLDIES | 149 BLEECKER STREET
Patti read an article Lenny Kaye wrote about doo-wop music in Jersey in the early Sixties. She thought the article was well-written, and reminded her of home — so she decided to get in touch with him to thank him for the article. He in turn invited her to come hang out with him during one of his shifts at the early location of this Village record mecca, later known as Bleecker Bob's Golden Oldies, at the time located at 149 Bleecker Street.
Patti and Lenny would play records and dance, and hang out and talk music. One day she mentioned that she was going to be doing a poetry reading, and asked if Lenny would like to accompany her; could he make a guitar sound like a car crash? He said yes, and the musical partnership of a lifetime was born, Lenny serving as Majordomo to Patti’s Field Marshal through today.
Bleecker Bob’s would move a few times after that, and survived longer than most record stores in the Village did. There’s a rumor that the last location on W. 3rd Street will be turned into a Starbucks.
St. Mark's Church
Jason Speakman for the Village Voice
ST. MARK’S CHURCH | 131 E. 10th STREET
St. Mark’s Church, more correctly St. Mark’s Church-In-The-Bowery, seems an unlikely location for an American cultural landmark, but it had mojo before the poets arrived. It is ancient in the way most things in the city are not. Peter Stuyvesant is buried there — the church faced his farm back in the day (when the "day" is 1665) — and the church’s website also proudly notes that it is “the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in New York City.”
The Poetry Project began there in 1966, and was flourishing by the time Patti arrived under the sponsorship of Warhol acolyte Gerald Malanga for her first solo reading on February 10, 1971, with Lenny Kaye behind her on guitar. (She would also occupy an apartment down the block on E. 10th St. after leaving the Chelsea, along with boyfriend Allen Lanier of the Blue Öyster Cult.)
St. Mark’s is still a picturesque corner of the Village, and one of the few places on this list where you can show up for an open mic night, or the New Year’s Day poetry marathon, and still feel a connection to the Village’s bohemian past.
THE MERCER ARTS CENTER | 240 MERCER STREET
The Mercer Arts Center was located inside the old Broadway Central Hotel, a warren of small theater spaces created by an entrepreneur named Seymour Kaback who thought Broadway theater prices were too high and wanted to offer an alternative. In 1971, he decided to let rock bands book shows in the spaces in order to make some extra money.
At the time, there were very few small rooms for rock bands to play in New York; Max's Kansas City generally only booked acts that had label support, and CBGB's didn't exist yet. Glam rock was at its peak, so on any given night you could see acts like the Tuff Darts, Eric Emerson & The Magic Tramps, the Harlots of 42nd Street and the New York Dolls (to name a few). Patti Smith would appear as an opening act reading poetry, for everyone from the Dolls to Ruby and the Rednecks.
The building housing the Mercer Arts Center collapsed in 1973, and was eventually replaced by NYU dormitories.
ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE’S STUDIOS, 24 BOND STREET | 35 W. 23rd STREET
Not long after Robert Mapplethorpe met Sam Wagstaff, his lover and patron, he acquired a space at 24 Bond Street, which at the time was a cobblestoned, largely desolate street between Lafayette and the Bowery, shared with manufacturing buildings, a fire station, and other artist lofts. Patti visited and worked with Mapplethorpe often here, including the filming of “Still Moving,” a project they created for their first (and only) joint exhibition at the Robert Miller Gallery in 1978.
Later, Mapplethorpe would buy the top floor of a building on 23rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue, and transform it into a space that reflected his successes and showcased his art and his taste in collecting. Patti would visit him here after moving to Detroit, coming back once she learned he had been hospitalized with AIDS-related pneumonia.
Bond Street is now prime NoHo real state, and the artists are gone, even if the cobblestones are still there.
BOOK ROW / THE STRAND | 828 BROADWAY
Fourth Avenue between Union Square and Cooper Union was once known as “Book Row,” due to the large number of bookstores lining the street. Many of them were already gone by the time Patti, Robert and Sam Wagstaff would wander from store to store, looking for first editions to sell, or ancient photographic prints to acquire, but even as late as the Eighties there were still a significant number of shops remaining.
The Strand, where Patti worked part-time after leaving the Chelsea, was originally part of Book Row, before relocating over to Broadway and 12th Street, where it thankfully remains to this day.
The John Varvatos boutique occupies the space that CBGB formerly inhabited
Jason Speakman for the Village Voice
CBGB | 315 BOWERY
It’s important to remember that CBGB didn’t exist in the grand scheme of anything until 1973, when Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd of Television stumbled in to Hilly’s On The Bowery, renamed “CBGB” (which stood for “Country, Blue Grass and Blues”) one night and convinced owner Hilly Krystal that he should let them play one night a week for the proceeds from the door. There weren’t a lot of places for a fledging rock band with original material to play: the Mercer Arts Center had collapsed, Max’s Kansas City generally only featured artists with a record deal, and despite attempts to start scenes at other bars or restaurants around town, nothing quite stuck.
Patti came down one Sunday night in 1974 to watch fellow poet Tom Verlaine’s new band play. Television’s weekly gig resulted in her asking for one of her own, which took place on Valentine’s Day in 1975. That would lead to the 7-week residency the Patti Smith Group shared with Television in the Spring of 1975: two sets a night, early and late, the two bands trading off who played first each set, four nights a week. While the scene had attracted some critical attention before the PSG/TV marathon of shows, it was these seven weeks that put the club and the bands playing there on the map. You had limos lining up on the Bowery, bringing VIPs, celebrities and the major labels, with none other than Lou Reed squiring Arista’s Clive Davis into the club one night. At the end of it all, Patti was the first of the CBGB bands to get a major label deal.
CB’s would become her spiritual home, and she’d come back over and over again for extended residencies or special occasions or even just because. She would work her way up to the storied Village venue the Bottom Line, headlining multiple dates. But after she fell off the stage in Florida in 1977 and needed to play some post-rehab shows before going out on tour, it was CB’s where she chose to play a week of shows, still wearing her neck brace, calling it “Basic Training.” And of course, she was the one who closed it down on that very last night in October of 2006.
There is a clothing store there now, but you should probably just walk on the other side of the street if you have to walk down that section of the Bowery.
ELECTRIC LADY STUDIOS | 52 W. 8TH STREET
The House That Jimi Built figures in Patti mythology, not just because she recorded Horses there, the first punk album to be recorded out of the CBGB's class of '75. (She had actually recorded there a year earlier, recording the Robert Mapplethorpe-financed “Hey Joe”/“Piss Factory” 45 RPM single.) But Electric Lady also looms large in her legend because of the place Hendrix held in Patti's heart: She wrote about him for CREEM, and also for the story about meeting Jimi when she was nobody, winnowing her way into an event for the studio's opening because of a shared publicist. But too shy to enter, she sat on the stairs outside, where she ended up running into Hendrix anyway. He stopped and sat with her for a minute, sharing that he also hated crowds and was actually shy, before leaving catch a plane to the Isle of Wight festival.
Patti would later return to Electric Lady in 2015 for a press event commemorating the 40th anniversary of Horses, and Electric Lady just celebrated its 45th anniversary as a recording studio. The studio’s original Sixties mod, curved, brown brick exterior has been replaced with a generic glass and steel facade, after neighboring businesses complained that its entrance niche attracted the homeless.
Around the corner from Electric Lady is One Fifth Avenue, the palatial art deco anchor of lower Fifth Avenue, notable as the location of the groundbreaking photograph on the cover of Horses. Sam Wagstaff had an apartment there, and there was one particular white wall in his apartment that caught Robert’s eye because the light hit it in a particular way. So it was here the two ran, Patti wearing a man’s white button-down shirt, trying to not be late so Robert didn't lose the light. (“He took twelve pictures that day,” she notes in Just Kids.)
THE BITTER END / THE OTHER END | 147 BLEECKER STREET
This 230-person capacity nightclub in the heart of Bleecker Street has gone under both names, but on June 26, 1975, as the Patti Smith Group played the second night of a five-night stand, it was known as the Other End. In the audience that night was none other than Bob Dylan, in town putting together his Rolling Thunder Revue and occasionally showing up at his old Village folk music haunts. The Patti Smith Group was on their best behavior that night with Bobby D in the audience, as Patti played the set to Dylan and the band otherwise turned out what all reviewers regarded as an exemplary performance.
The two would meet after the show, and the moment would be captured for posterity by Danny Fields, among others. The club is still there, and still features live music.
THE HIT FACTORY | 421 W. 54TH STREET
Patti would return to New York with husband Fred in an attempt to finally finish Dream of Life, the first (and only) album they would work on together. There were multiple attempts to work on the record in Detroit, where Patti had moved after marrying the MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith in 1980. But nothing quite gelled until she came back home in 1986 and reunited with former bandmates Richard Sohl and Jay Dee Daugherty at the venerable industry studio.
Pregnant with daughter Jesse, the record would finally be completed (with Jimmy Iovine at the desk) and released by Patti in 1988. The cover photograph for Dream of Life, taken by Robert Mapplethorpe later in Los Angeles, would be their last collaboration together before he died in 1989.
The building was transformed into condos in 2005.
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