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Up in the Old Hotel
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Up in the Old Hotel

4.36 of 5 stars 4.36  ·  rating details  ·  2,070 ratings  ·  217 reviews
Saloon-keepers and street preachers, gypsies and steel-walking Mohawks, a bearded lady and a 93-year-old “seafoodetarian” who believes his specialized diet will keep him alive for another two decades. These are among the people that Joseph Mitchell immortalized in his reportage for The New Yorker and in four books—McSorley's Wonderful Saloon, Old Mr. Flood, The Bottom of t ...more
Paperback, 716 pages
Published June 1st 1993 by Vintage (first published 1992)
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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty  SmithThe Alienist by Caleb CarrBreakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
I Love New York City
20th out of 433 books — 244 voters
The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
357th out of 3,285 books — 5,285 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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William1
Luc Sante's wonderful Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York is in some ways a pendant piece to Up in the Old Hotel. Though Sante's vision is darker, and he has a keener eye for the con, it's as if both he and Mitchell were coming at the material from different angles. Sante is a cultural historian; Mitchell's focus by contrast is more on the individual. But both have a special forcus on the gritty demimonde of the Bowery in the late 19th century and, after its decline, marked by the death o ...more
Tom
Sep 24, 2008 Tom rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: essays
One of those rare treasures that just gets better with age. A one-man lesson in the cleanest yet most lyrical non-fiction you're likely to find anywhere. Whenever I need to clear my head and cleanse my soul, I pull out this book and reread any one of dozens of favorite passages. A kind of poetry of the streets -- Whitman would've loved Mitchell, I'm convinced of it!
I'd match "Joe Gould's Secret" with any famous novella in American Literature.
So many favorite lines ...
"Done by aproned, middle-a
...more
Steve Turtell
This is one of the books I had to ration because I never wanted it to end. Of all the writers who have taken New York City as their subject, none is better than Joseph Mitchell. I once referred to "the Joseph Mitchell tradition" to Fran Lebowitz in conversation and she shot back: "That's not a tradition, that's a talent." Amen to that. One of a kind. I have read some of the essays repeatedly: "Mazie" about the saintly ticket taker in a Bowery movie theater, "The Mohawks in High Steel," and "Up i ...more
Kathleen
What is it about me and the old guys these days? I can't seem to get enough of them. Mitchell, a prolific staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, chronicled daily life in hidden corners of New York City in the 1930s and 1940s, from McSorley's Saloon, a men's only bar in the Village, to Gypsy neighborhoods on the outskirts of town. When my brain is abuzz from too much screen time and ringing cell phones, I like nothing more than taking a step back into old time New York City with Joseph Mitch ...more
Ensiform
A collection of pieces, mostly factual but with a few fiction stories thrown in, that originally appeared in the New Yorker during the 1940s and ‘50s. Most of these stories focus on the strange and larger than life characters who populated New York in the Depression and afterwards – eccentric barmen, street preachers, Bohemians, gypsies, fishermen, a bearded lady, a Calypso singer, and more. Mitchell’s beat is the Bowery, the Fulton Fish Market, and the Hudson River. He talks about the poverty, ...more
Eric
A disclaimer: I only read about 2/3rd's of this book. It's around 750 pages, but some of the stories were either too antiquated to read or were of a topic too sensitive for me to read (ex. the raising of terrapins for future consumption - couldn't handle that. Although, it did remind me of the magical Terrapin Station!). Otherwise, Mitchell's book is fantastic. He was a reporter for the New Yorker from the 1930's to the 1990's. These stories are all profiles he made of the common man and, specif ...more
Jakey Gee
Glorious. Probably the best non-fiction I have ever read and probably the best anything I have read in a decade. Not that this is surprising - that line about ‘Hemingway for fiction; Joe Mitchell for non-fiction’ makes the point.

This is where the normal arguments for fiction (that it brings a place and a time more vividly to life than non-fiction / history / social history) go rather out of the window. This reads like the best fiction, with the powerful feeling that these places exist / existed
...more
Nycdreamin
An amazingly entertaining collection of stories written by Joseph Mitchell, this book should be required reading for any American Literature class in high schools. Mitchell, in his incredibly descriptive writing style, tells tales of some of the people he met in the 1920's - 1950's in and around the vicinity of NYC. Some of the stories contianed in this volume are longer, more complete versions of stories that appeared in an earlier Mitchell collection, "My Ears Are Bent." To read them again her ...more
Jack Silbert
I wanted to read this collection since 1992, when it first came out. Finally, last November, my friend Fiona loaned me her well-worn copy. It had been to Alaska and back with her, and who knows where else. At some point early in the new year, I began to read the book, first reinforcing the cover with clear packing tape.

Fiona, you know me too well. The book was a revelation, one of the best I've ever read. Even if I took my sweet time with it. Its 700+ pages hold 37 of Mitchell's New Yorker essay
...more
Megan
Collected works of arguably the greatest nonfiction writer ever. You will find out more about NYC history here than in any other book on the subject.
Frank
A very enjoyable well-written book that thoroughly communicates the rough and tumble gritty world of old New York. Having grown up in New York in the 60s and 70s it was interesting to note that some of the flavors of this past era, that belonged to my parents and grandparents, we're still present in my childhood and youth. I believe that Mitchell has a gift for finding and communicating the essence of the New York experience. There was much fascinating reading also about elements of New York tha ...more
Katrice
I knew nothing about Joseph Mitchell before I picked this book up and out of a sale bin. Am I ever happy that I did because now I know just how well he wrote.

Apparently he never wrote a thing again after the last bit in this collection "Joe Gould's Secret". Thirtyish years going to his offices in the New Yorker everyday but never writing anything again. Part of me feels, sayang, but the other part of me thinks, its okay because what he did produce before those dry years was astonishing.

Mitchell
...more
Webster Bull
UPDATE I can't remember when I enjoyed a book as much as I have this one. A collection of stories, mostly nonfiction, that originally appeared mostly in The New Yorker, these are extraordinary portraits of people living in and around NYC in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Many are fringe characters, including families of gypsies, barflies, and the incomparable Joe Gould, whose "Secret" makes up the last 100+ pages (see my first review below).

I might almost accuse Mitchell of being Catholic, though he
...more
Dennis
Apr 01, 2008 Dennis rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone who loves New York, Everyone who loves the New Yorker
I re-read this book every couple of years. It's both a way to time travel to the New York of the earlier twentieth city and an immersion in that compelling yet somehow effortless prose that drives me to pick up the New Yorker every time I see it. I want to visit the New York Mitchell describes, and I feel deeply cheated that it's gone.
This isn't just New York, the center of the civilized world, it's New York as a place that grew up out of a Dutch settlement surrounded by long grass at the confl
...more
Connie Courtney
This is a book that I come back to again and again. Stunning, otherwordly! It is a series of short stories by Joseph Mitchell who worked at the New Yorker. All of the stories are about real people who lived in NYC during the 30's and 40's. You are treated the the world of Mc Sorley's Wonderful Saloon, a bar that came into existence in the late 1800's. A bar with a potbellied stove for heat, various cats running around, a crusty owner from Ireland who collected strange memorabilia and hung it on ...more
James
This is a wonderful and readable collection of Mitchell's essays, in which he lovingly describes haunts like the Fulton Fish Market and McSorley's, one of the last bars in America to admit women, and profiles various folk and colorful denizens of New York City's nether regions, most famously, Joe Gould, the bohemian character with whom he is inevitably and eternally linked. Mitchell demonstrates great skill as a writer by letting his subjects seemingly speak for themselves, all the while renderi ...more
Audacia Ray
While I was in college and for a few years after, I was deeply obsessed with reading books about NYC's social and cultural history. I'm not sure how I missed this one. I'm glad I finally read it. Mitchell's writing is super descriptive and he develops character studies well enough that many of them feel timeless - well, timeless if you know NYC and its characters. But there is also fascinating stuff about a New York that is truly lost. I was especially taken with the writing about food - not res ...more
Walt Giersbach
I discovered Up in the Old Hotel almost a dozen years ago and fell in love with Joseph Mitchell and his paean to times gone by in New York City. He spoke to me of places I’d visited, some that seemed familiar, and others I could only imagine. For example, there was the Fulton Ferry Hotel, a six-story place on South Street that housed Sloppy Louie’s 80-seat restaurant that opened at 5:00 a.m. for the fish peddlers and mongers. The area was pungent with the smell of the market then and the ghosts ...more
Off The Shelf
Allison Tyler reviewed Up in the Old Hotel on OfftheShelf.com.

Gypsies, Bearded Ladies, and Oysters: Joseph Mitchell’s Love Letters to New York by Allison Tyler

When I was contemplating a move to New York City to be with my boyfriend du jour, I went to Barnes & Noble, because book stores and libraries are my oracles. When I saw it on the shelf, I was inspired to take a closer look at the red brick tenement on the cover of Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel, a thick omnibus collection of d
...more
Karl K
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Katie Knight
I'm re-reading this now. Each essay reveals something new and surprising about early 20th century New York City. My favorites are the Old Mr. Flood essays, where you learn a lot about Fulton Fish Market and the characters that wander there. I never expected to be so engrossed in a essays about fishmongering (I'm vegan), but everything is so lively and quotable and delightful, it really doesn't matter how you feel about fish.
Al
Mr. Mitchell was a journalist famed for his detailed and penetrating essays about New York, and particularly about some of the unique characters and parts of city life. Some of the pieces are long, and minutely observed. However, the power of Mr. Mitchell's writing is such that one reads, almost against one's will, but with complete fascination, pages and pages of historical information and descriptions of people, places and things that one, if given the opportunity to read without recommendati ...more
Brian
Book? Book? This ain't no book. The NEW YORKER magazine in long form? A personification of the New Yorker Hotel on Eighth and 23rd Street? A Dickens work without a plot? Really just a series of human disinterest stories taxing to the limit. 'Albeit' well written! But why is this on a high school book list? I read it, though. Whew. Done. Now the book report.......
Katie
Super interesting book! It's long and I found myself losing interest a little during the Bottom of the Harbor. But Joe Gould's Secret was amazing and really tied the whole thing together for me. I would recommend this book to anyone who's a lover of NYC history.
Glenna
Up in the Old Hotel is a collection of all of Joseph Mitchell's published works. Many were published in The New Yorker. After the final story in the book, Joe Gould's Secret, Mitchell never wrote another.
I enjoyed his slice of life writing. But it was rare, if ever, that I caught the character of the author. He revealed much more of himself in the last story than he ever had before. Some of the stories were fiction and I felt I saw Mitchell more in those stories.
Mitchell's non-fiction were very
...more
Dvora
I read this several years ago and don't remember many (or any) details except the fact that I liked the book a great deal. I think I will reread it one of these days to remind myself why.
Julia
some reading tips: probably the best/most reliable stuff is in the McSorley's Wonderful Saloon section, pt. 1. even so, wouldn't read it all in one go—wouldn't really recommend reading this whole book in one go—because it can get quite samey. I suspect I would have appreciated it more if I'd interspersed it with other reading. don't feel guilty about skipping stuff. i didn't, but i was often strongly tempted to, especially in the bottom of the harbor section (oh, if only i cared more about fish) ...more
Andy
God, everyone I know should have been telling me to read this years ago. Just about perfect.
Joanne
Great writer, wonderful stories.
Joaquin Lowe
I came to Up in the Old Hotel through Luc Sante's Low Life, and I came to it, primarily, for one reason: to read about Joe Gould, the mysterious bohemian known by many nicknames including Professor Seagull (given to him because of his graduating from Harvard University and for his claim that he could understand the language of seagulls), which was also the title Mitchell gave to his first profile of Gould back in 1942. Gould haunted the Bowery and the Village of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, existing ...more
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Joseph Mitchell was an American writer who wrote for The New Yorker. He is known for his carefully written portraits of eccentrics and people on the fringes of society, especially in and around New York City.
-Wikipedia
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Joe Gould's Secret McSorley's Wonderful Saloon My Ears Are Bent The Bottom Of The Harbor Old Mr. Flood

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“Also, I had not yet found out about time; I was still under the illusion that I had plenty of time - time for this, time for that, time for everything, time to waste.” 29 likes
“Gould is a night wanderer, and he has put down descriptions of dreadful things he has seen on dark New York streets – descriptions, for example, of the herds of big gray rats that come out in the hours before dawn in some neighborhoods of the lower East Side and Harlem and unconcernedly walk the sidewalks. ‘I sometimes believe that these rats are not rats at all,’ he says, ‘but the damned and aching souls of tenement landlords.” 0 likes
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