How to find bona fide New York intellectuals in New York?
February 13, 2010 8:01 AM   Subscribe

New York intellectuals: where do I find them? Where in the city would I go if I wanted to find intellectuals of the old-school variety, all ready to discuss literature and history, existentialism and poetry, theater and mythology and politics? I know they exist--some older specimens write letters to the New Yorker--but where do these special fauna array to be met and befriended?
posted by Malad to Human Relations (19 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
At the opera.

posted by dfriedman at 8:07 AM on February 13, 2010

I know lots of people like that (they also go to the opera), but they're also mostly conservative Catholics which may or may not fit with your image of New York intellectuals. If you're interested I could recommend places to find them...
posted by Jahaza at 8:19 AM on February 13, 2010

and most of the time they can spell too
posted by Jahaza at 8:20 AM on February 13, 2010

I am afraid they may longer exist in New York, or at least Manhattan.

This isn't a diatribe against the youth from a man pushing up close to 50, but if you wanted to try intellectuals of the old school variety you probably need to find older people. You yourself allude to that. So where do these older people live?

You could try my neighborhood (around Columbia) where a lot of long-time residents who haven't been priced out still hang on. They might still be peppered around the Upper West Side. Or you can go to Burlington VT! That's where a lot of them have retired to.
posted by xetere at 8:22 AM on February 13, 2010

Oh and since you specifically asked where to *meet* them, Perhaps Skirball Center, 92nd st. Y, and well a good old-school Greek coffee shop (where they still exist) on the UWS is a good place to start.
posted by xetere at 8:23 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, events at the 92nd Street Y seem like a good call, xetere.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:27 AM on February 13, 2010

I've found them at the Village Chess Shop, at publics events at CUNY Graduate Center, driving cabs, the Strand bookstore to just name several places.
posted by Pineapplicious at 8:41 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of intellectual types in New York might not look the way you would expect intellectuals to look. And I'm not sure what the old-school qualification means, exactly: plenty of younger people are willing to engage in conversation about these topics with no lack of depth or shortage of energy. Here are some places where you will likely have better luck than the opera:

Bruce High Quality Foundation University
Storefront for Art and Architecture
Austrian Cultural Forum
Issue Project Room
The Public School
Light Industry

You also might want to try this Light Industry/Triple Canopy/Public School benefit party that's coming up on the 20th.
posted by avianism at 8:41 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

OK... some other ideas...

Part of the difficulty in answering this question is we don't know how extroverted you are. Can you meet and befriend people after a movie or a public lecture? I met a couple of people when we all went (independently) to about 5 of the films in the Roberto Rossellini retrospective at MOMA a few years back. I also once met a guy there who had been a Borscht Belt comedian.

You could do something similar at the New York Studio School Lectures, I'd think. How about the 92nd St Y's events?

The Friends of The New Criterion. This groups events seem to include a social component as well. If you keep an eye on their blog, they also sponsor bar nights and such occasionally for the general public.

Is this helpful at all? If we had a better idea of your specific interests we might do better, because this is of course a numbers game. You'll probably need to do a lot of whatever you do to meet people so whatever you pick to do should probably be something you like.
posted by Jahaza at 8:46 AM on February 13, 2010

Free lectures at universities are a good place to start; both NYU and Columbia (and Fordham, Brooklyn College, Rutgers, etc.) have a ton of free events where professors, graduate students, and random members of the public congregate. Readings at bookstores are also a good bet; Time Out New York lists all of them every week. Generally I find that young professional New Yorkers tend to be more literate, well-read, and informed about current events than the national average, so don't count people out just because they're under 65 and not wearing a corduroy blazer with elbow patches.
posted by alicetiara at 9:09 AM on February 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

This may or may not help you, because to me an intellectual is not necessarily just defined by those interests.

So I am going to pretend that perhaps you wanted to meet intellectuals that love and also discuss science in addition to those other topics, too.

Please see what I answered in another post here From that list with active links, I would recommend gettin on the Science in the City newsletter - they reommend plays that I would consider both intellectual and related to a theme in science.

I would also recommend the New York Academy of Sciences from that list -- you will have the chance to listen to specialists in their field talk about their topic.

Nthing MOMa from a post above - go to their website - they have classes for adults that adult walking through the museum after hours and exploring the history of art and particular time periods and movements (surrealism). My guess is that other people that take that class would also be interested in those topics.
posted by Wolfster at 10:26 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Authors' readings at bookstores, etc, Ethical Culture Society, and yeah, free lectures at Columbia, etc. Science and the City is good. 92nd Street Y. Stuff sponsored by the Nation. If you are interested in Judiasm, there are many, many talks at Jewish centers and synagogues and many of these aren't particularly religious.

There's the Philoctetes lectures, which are at the NY Psychoanalytic Society and are free-- they're typically about neuropsychoanalysis which tries to find brain bases for analytic ideas.

Ultimately, you have to collect people and it may take a while but there are certainly amazing intellectuals here who do still hang out and discuss great ideas. It can just be hard to "break in," as it is in pretty much any community, especially given the status issues that New York presents. So, you kind of need to impress them.
posted by Maias at 10:56 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

The thing is there are a million intellectuals in NY, but if you want to be friends with these strange and gangly creatures, you're going to need to get them in a more intimate setting (e.g., not the Met, not a spectator situation like the Opera or a great film house like Anthology, not an art form associated with class attainment). MeFi will focus your attention on science-y/nerd hangouts, like D&D and comic book meet-ups, which may not be the place to go if you want to discuss Kierkegaard. You won't find the contemporary Irving Howe or Lionel Trilling at Barcade.

(1) Would it be remiss to say that I run a nonprofit that you might be interested in? It's called The Asian American Writers' Workshop and we're dedicated to the belief that Asian American literature is not just for Asian Americans, but for everyone. Our past events include the MIX TAPE reading where writers wrote about their favorite songs and the audience got free mix CDs, BROWN PERIL symposia series featuring novelists, activists, professors, and a Pakistani punk band discussing contemporary South Asian muslim identity, and PAGE TURNER, our first literary festival that featured more than 40 writers, including Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Ondaatje, and Ed Park. Anyways, we have a lot of range from booze-fueled open mics to more wonky political talks and inspiring literary readings.

(2) There are a million NY cultural groups and literary nonprofits that may be hard to get onto your radar. Readings are a good place to meet people since, like art openings, they turn into an informal mixer space. Go with a friend, ideally one who is open, comfortable in new spaces, and outgoing, and chat someone up. Since I work in this industry, I've created a handy list below. I want to promote my peers, but I'm doing this off the top of my head so apologies to anyone I've missed:

Poetry Society of America
Academy of American Poets
National Book Foundation
Pen America Center
Fence Magazine
CUNY Graduate Center
Poets House
Center for Book Arts
Center for Fiction (formerly Mercantile Library)
The New School Events
Teachers & Writers Collaborative
NYU MFA Program
St Marks Poetry Project
Hunter MFA reading series

(3) If you want to be super hardcore about this, you can find nonprofits on the basis of how they get their money. Take a look at past grant recipients by New York State Council for the Arts and the NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs.

Hope that helps!
posted by johnasdf at 11:13 AM on February 13, 2010 [9 favorites]

I sometimes attend the NY mythology meetup group (basically a Joseph Campbell fan club).
posted by bingo at 1:15 PM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My thinking is that your worldview is from the 1950s. Visit a Maker event or a hackerspace or some other geek friendly outlet and you can find that conversation and a whole more.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:13 PM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

you could always attend n+1 magazine parties, though the crowd at those tends to the pretentious...
posted by paultopia at 1:17 AM on February 14, 2010

Movies at MOMA. Readings at KGB Bar or Ding Dong. Weeknights at Bar 1020 on Amsterdam near Columbia.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 9:42 AM on February 14, 2010

Go to public talks and colloquia in the humanities departments at nyu and Columbia. They draw your crowd and provide a context for engagement.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:40 AM on February 14, 2010

It's been a while since I really spent some time there, but I would imagine the Hungarian Pastry Shop still fits your bill. That place was my living room for 5 years (former 1020 'tender here).
posted by mds35 at 8:14 PM on February 21, 2010

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