New York Insider: Playwright J. Stephen Brantley

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J. Stephen Brantley has lived all over New York City but finds the connection to the history of artists in Greenwich Village a reason to call it home. That and the good ice cream cones, plethora of Thai food, old cemetery's, street drummers and more.

Name, Age, Occupation:J. Stephen Brantley, 39, playwright

Neighborhood: The heart of Greenwich Village, New York.

Abode: Studio in a five-floor walk up. I'm on the top floor and I wouldn't want to live on any other floor. I have a view and I'm only five floors up. It's great.

How long have you lived in this neighborhood? Five years

What do you love most about your neighborhood? What I love is the history of my neighborhood or a better word is the legacy of my neighborhood. There is a great legacy of playwrights and novelists and actors and artists that you can really feel.
Do you talk to your neighbors?
Yeah I do, it's nice. I live on an amazing block in one of the last, old tenement buildings surrounded by amazing multi-million dollar brownstones. But this building is still home to artists and musicians and models and I've actually run into a number of people that lived in this building before me! I befriended a dance critic and dancer and they used to host people like e.e. cummings in the building where I now live! And I know an actor and actress [who've been] living in this building since before I was born. They were a part of the beginnings of Off-Broadway.

It makes me feel connected not just to my neighborhood but to the history of my neighborhood. I'm crazy about that whole New York literary sort of thing. I think about the fact that Edward Albee wrote some of his greatest plays in the building that almost backs up to mine. I think about the people that lived and worked there before me and it makes me feel more at home. On bad days its intimidating, but mostly I find the neighborhood inspiring.

Best kept secret in your neighborhood?
One thing people don't consider at first is that for an area known for political radicals and sexual revolutionaries we have a tremendous amount of houses of worship that are welcoming and friendly. A lot have great music programs like First Presbyterian on 5th Avenue. And there is post-modern dance at Judson Church at Washington Square.

My favorite things are the neighborhood touches like independent book stores and drug stores at a time when chains are taking over every city. In Greenwich Village we still have these independent pharmacies and musty bookstores and then an amazing library in the middle of it.

Also, on my block is New York's smallest cemetery. It's the second cemetery of the Spanish/Portuguese Synagogue. It's a tiny triangular scrap of land on 11th Street. It was part of a larger cemetery that is now under the street and it dates back over a hundred years. In Greenwich Village you feel the ghosts in the architecture and you feel you are in an Edith Wharton novel. There is something about it where you feel a very personal history of the area. And I think it has to do with that mix of churches and cemetery's and green spaces and more radical artistic elements. It's not as wild a neighborhood as it was 20 years ago, especially when Patti Smith and Dylan were here, but there is still that element, free spirited and artistic.

Favorite way to spend a Saturday night in your neighborhood? For all the different kinds of food available we get spoiled in New York. In the Greenwich Village area there is a mix of cuisine that reflects the diversity of lower Manhattan. There is great Thai on nearly every block now. If I am homesick for Texas there is Cowgirl Hall of Fame on Hudson or great chips at A Salt and Battery. I'd say my favorite Saturday night would be grabbing a meal at one of these places and then taking a walk around the Village. It's one of my favorite things to do. And then maybe getting an ice cream cone and watching the drummers in Greenwich Village.


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