Hipniks: Where Do They Bed-Down When the Sun Comes Up
August 13, 1958
When dawn comes, where does Young Bohemia bed-down? This seemed like a reasonable question to ask. So, the paper put two operatives into the field. Our off-beat survey was interested only in geography, other material was noted but strained out.
Years ago the Bohemian Village was a compact network of streets running west from MacDougal. Today it is a vast, spread-out playground for the cool. But . . . Is it home? That was what we wanted to know. Where do the young people brew their instant coffee, brush their teeth (everyone in America brushes his teeth, even the Bohemians, our surveyors discovered), and have friends over to midnight lunch?
Our men talked to 27 young hipniks (hipnik: a folksy variant of hipster). To strain out the inevitable interloper, who appears during evening hours, they toured the coffee houses in late afternoon while the young people were having breakfast. The accommodations of those questioned, which ranged from an elevator apartment to non-fixed-abodes, were found in such exotic sites as Desbrosses Street (lower West Side), Orange Street (Brooklyn Heights), and a dead-end called Bond Street.
Four said they lived on the Lower East Side. "It's real groovy over there," one striking 19-year-old redhead asserted, but admitted that she never spent more than 10 waking minutes in her apartment. Most of the Eastsiders were vaguely looking for Village diggings. Few of them had paid last month's rent.
While the eight who lived in the South Village (below Bleecker Street), generally, did better on rent, one rotund exception (dark glasses, jeans, and bow tie) explained that he spent at least half his time in a friend's Hudson Street loft until the check arrived from home (Gary, Indiana). He seemed troubled by the whole process.
Rents proved to be no higher in the South Village than on the Lower East Side, but apartments were somewhat harder to get, though not impossible. Sullivan, Thompson, MacDougal, Bleecker were the prime favorites.
The West Village, which is true Greenwich Village, is the most expensive of all. The seven respondents who live there feared their days were numbered. From Charlton to 14th Street the word is "improvement," which means inside johns, heat, and paint. Sometimes this doubles the rent ($20 to $40 is common), but often it quadruples it.
Those with no-fixed-abode gravitate from one friend's floor to another. "It's like a game," said a tall, thin M. A. in Lit; "Who's going to get me tonight?' "It's cheap, but it's tiresomeI guess I'm too old." He was 26.
The survey found that the hipniks still stick as close to the Village as they can get. The East Side is the way out of the apartment dilemma. It isn't Siberia, but then it isn't Mecca, either. (But who cares if you're a Zen Buddhist). The individualist may stray into Brooklyn Heights, but he doesn't stay there any longer than he has to.
It's the Village they all come back to, unless rerouted to Scarsdale in the process.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.