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Up in the Old Hotel

4.35  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,469 Ratings  ·  251 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  SmithBreakfast at Tiffany's by Truman CapoteThe Alienist by Caleb Carr
I Love New York City
20th out of 436 books — 272 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)
393rd out of 3,933 books — 5,804 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 12, 2016 William1 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 21, 2015 Chrissie rated it really liked it
OK, this is an anthology. Some of the essays are clearly better than others. I certainly didn't love them all! I have put my star rating for each essay on the content list provided below. When I look back on this book my overall feeling is that if these stories had never been written so very much would be lost. In this respect, for the sake of the best stories/essays, the book is in my mind worth five stars even if some are not that good. As a whole I am giving it four stars. I really did like t ...more
Sep 24, 2008 Tom rated it it was amazing
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
Steve Turtell
Jun 18, 2012 Steve Turtell rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 29, 2012 Kathleen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
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
Jul 18, 2016 Tim rated it it was amazing
In this collection of pieces that he wrote for the New Yorker, mostly in the 1940s and 50s, Mitchell takes us to an older and stranger New York. This journalist had an affinity for the oddballs, the eccentrics, the solitary men who despite their flaws had important things to share with the rest of us. It is primarily a collection of profiles of such individuals: the head of a small anti-profanity organization, a crusty fishing captain and Sunday painter, a retired fish market worker, a compassio ...more
Jun 15, 2016 Melinda rated it it was amazing
Earlier this year I read and loved a book called Saint Mazie by Jamie Attenberg. In the flyleaf the author said that the book was based on a Joseph Mitchell article published in the New Yorker. So after some research I purchased Mitchell's book and there on page 23 was Mazie's story originally published in 1938. But "Up in the Old Hotel" is much, much more. I loved Mitchell's readable writing style; it's as though he's sharing a cup of coffee with you at the kitchen table recounting the eccentri ...more
Jul 05, 2016 Marti rated it it was amazing
Where has this been all my life? This has quickly shot up to my "Top Ten of All Time." It's actually more a compendium of non-fiction New Yorker magazine stories from 1932 to approximately 1957. It would make a good companion piece to Jacob Riis, except that these portraits are much more lengthy and personal, and the author does not look down on his subjects. He actually enjoys the company of the various beggars, saloon keepers, carnival performers, gypsies, street preachers and hoarders he writ ...more
Jan 20, 2016 Quo rated it really liked it
Up in the old Hotel is an anthology of exceedingly well-crafted profiles by Joseph Mitchell, who wrote for The New Yorker for many years. I suspect that this anthology might have a rather limited appeal, for like many profiles in the magazine, they are long, meandering pieces. Beyond that, the stories detail people who in most every case are not & never were held in any sort of limelight. Rather, the profiles illuminate those who lived on the margins of New York society 60 or 70 years ago bu ...more
Webster Bull
Sep 27, 2014 Webster Bull rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Jul 27, 2014 Ensiform rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, fiction
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
Nov 24, 2009 Eric rated it really liked it
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
Nov 04, 2013 Jakey Gee rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
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
Jan 10, 2011 Nycdreamin rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 20, 2011 Jack Silbert rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 03, 2007 Megan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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.
Introduction, by William Fiennes
Author's Note

McSorley's Wonderful Saloon

--The Old House at Home
--Hit on the Head with a Cow
--Professor Sea Gull
--A Spism and a Spasm
--Lady Olga
--Evening with a Gifted Child
--A Sporting Man
--The Cave Dwellers
--King of the Gypsies
--The Gypsy Women
--The Deaf-Mutes Club
--Santa Claus Smith
--The Don't-Swear Man
--Obituary of a Gin Mill
--Houdini's Picnic
--The Mohawks in High Steel
--All You Can Hold for Five Bucks
--A Mess of Clams
--The Same as Monkey Glands

Jan 31, 2015 Frank rated it really liked it
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
Jan 14, 2015 Katrice rated it it was amazing
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.

Apr 01, 2008 Dennis rated it it was amazing
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
Connie Courtney
Jan 24, 2013 Connie Courtney rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 14, 2009 James rated it really liked it
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
Mar 06, 2010 Jake rated it it was amazing
Easily the best book about New York that I have ever read. I think if Joseph Mitchell had focused on fiction, instead of reporting, he would have been a match for Hemingway- they share a passion for short, declarative sentences, and for stories about noble, damaged people. And like Hemingway, you sense that despite his huge talent, Mitchell was also damaged and sometimes deeply depressed. Maybe that's why he stopped writing after he published "Joe Gould's Secret"– his sadness just got the better ...more
Nancy Burns
Dec 26, 2015 Nancy Burns rated it did not like it
Shelves: short-stories
26 factual eccentric portraits...I only 'really' laughed/enjoyed 6 of them.
That is just 23 %.
If you read the book I suggest starting with the 6 mentioned....then decide if you want to give the other stories a chance. It's your call.

My review:
Audacia Ray
Mar 10, 2011 Audacia Ray rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyc, read-in-2011
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
Dec 24, 2011 Charles rated it it was amazing
True New York stories circa 1930 to 1950 or thereabouts. Truly amazing writing that brings the nooks and crannies of the city to life. The author tends to leave himself almost entirely out of these essays and lets the characters (and these are some SERIOUSLY INTERESTING characters) speak and act for themselves. Drunks. Geniuses. Bartenders. Fishermen. Religous zealots. Gypsies. Best of all, these essays are excellent sources of history, as they capture a time and place that is gone forever. Each ...more
Walt Giersbach
May 04, 2015 Walt Giersbach rated it it was amazing
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
Karl K
Nov 06, 2014 Karl K rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Katie Knight
Nov 03, 2009 Katie Knight rated it it was amazing
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.
Rachel B
Jun 29, 2016 Rachel B rated it it was amazing
Stories from a fascinating (and brutal) time and place - depression era New York City and the fishmongers, drunks, and preachers who populated tenements, taverns and harbors. I learned so much about what's at the bottom of the harbor and fish! Joseph Mitchell was a writer for The New Yorker at the time and these are his stories. Poor, poor Joe Gould....
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There is more than one author with this name

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.
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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.” 30 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.” 2 likes
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