A Look at the Little-Known Haunts of the Former Beatle, From His
First Apartment in the City to His Favorite Cafe
OCTOBER 9, 2010
As London, Liverpool and much of the world celebrates John Lennon's
70th birthday today, New York marks its own claim on the former
Beatle, who spent most of his final decade here before being gunned
down in 1980. Events include a free public screening of "LENNONYC, "
a new documentary that traces his personal, political and artistic
life in New York, including inside accounts of the recording of
albums such as "Double Fantasy." The film also delves into the FBI's
surveillance of the rocker and his immigration problems. (The Central
Park screening will take place at Rumsey Playfield. Entry begins at 6
p.m. and the film starts at 7.) Lennon arrived in 1971 and found a
refuge from the press that dogged him in England. "It allowed him to
step away from the fame machine, to recalibrate and become a person,"
says Michael Epstein, director of "LENNONYC." Citizen Lennon roamed
far from his home in the Dakota on Central Park West, which remains a
sightseeing stop for fans. Here are some other, lesser known
landmarks from Lennon's life as a New Yorker and how they look now.
Home on Bank Street
After an initial sojourn at the St. Regis Hotel, Lennon and wife,
Yoko Ono moved to an apartment at 105 Bank St., rented from the
Lovin' Spoonful drummer Joe Butler. From that base in Greenwich
Village, still the city's nexus of art and politics, the couple
explored their new home turf. Lennon's downtown orbit included
gallery hopping, night life at Max's Kansas City and meals at the
Pink Tea Cup, a soul food restaurant that recently reopened. But FBI
scrutiny soured this bohemian idyll. And after the Bank Street pad
was robbed, the couple decamped for the Dakota.
A Yippie's Home
With the Vietnam War in full flame, Lennon found cohorts for his
aggressive campaign for peace in Yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and
Jerry Rubin. The latter lived on Prince Street (next door to the
Vesuvio Bakery). The activists often powwowed at the apartmentand
consoled themselves there on the night of Richard Nixon's 1972
re-election. For Lennon, that included a reckless sexual encounter,
with Yoko and friends mortified in the next room. Soon after, a
temporary rupture in their marriage led to his extended "lost
weekend" in Los Angeles.
The Hit Factory
Among recording studios, the Record Plant on 44th Street had been
Lennon's second home. He recorded "Imagine" there, and that was the
studio he had been working in the day he was shot. But Lennon wanted
secrecy for the collaborative sessions with Yoko that would lead to
the album, "Double Fantasy." "We could never have gotten away with
doing the record [at Record Plant]. It was such a high-profile studio
and fans would wait outside, so we had to find a studio that was out
of the way," says producer Jack Douglas, who worked on "Imagine" and
"Double Fantasy." In the boondocks (by comparison) of 48th Street and
9th Avenue, the Hit Factory was new and relatively unknown. Now
called Sear Sound, the studio is still operating.
Cafe La Fortuna
One of Lennon's neighborhood haunts, Cafe La Fortuna, was just around
the corner from the Dakota. The space now houses a hardware store,
but at the time, "it was his favorite place to go for coffee. He
would sit in the back, reading the paper unaccosted," says director
Michael Epstein. Mr. Douglas, the producer, recalls meeting Lennon
and Ono there for breakfast during their "Double Fantasy" period.
Afterward, Yoko would head over to the Hit Factory for a morning
session, while John (a night worker) would go back home to bed, or
perhaps head across Central Park to the 92nd Street Y, where he took
his son, Sean, for swimming lessons.
Friends say Lennon relished the moments that made him feel like just
another face in the crowd. Among them: walking into a clothing store
and plunking down the American Express card bearing his name to buy a
parka he fancied. Lennon bought the coat, which he was wearing when
he was shot, at Charivari, a now-defunct boutique on 57th Street,
famed for its stock of high fashion and outré gear. "You couldn't
find anything to wear in there. Unless you were John Lennon," Mr.