Maybe because it’s been dragged through the verses of so many folk songs, MacDougal Street has an immediate, familiar force to it—a preformed memory, a kind of Greenwich Village reenactment. The scene may be self-romanticizing, the costumes slightly campy, but when you round the corner and it whirs to life, a perpetual carnival just for you, you can’t help but go a little weak-kneed. It’s here, deep in the Village’s cramped arteries, that Eugene O’Neill saw his early dramas spark to life, Dylan Thomas took his last drink (or 13) and Basquiat’s spray-paint proclamations invented SAMO, then declared him dead. It’s the combustible quarter where the city once pushed its artists, anarchists and alcoholics, its dispossessed and discontented, a place where even the streets play renegade to the imperious grid, Fourth Street overrunning 10th.
In the early 1960s, a property owner around MacDougal could nail up a sign that said “Folk Music” and be in the thriving coffeehouse business. Though today’s residents are more likely to have starred in the glossy biopic version of the Village’s freewheeling days, the street is still noisy with ghosts, their stillborn plays and lost guttural ballads. — Emily Geminder
SLIDESHOW > TOUR MACDOUGAL STREET, PAST AND PRESENT