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Up in the Old Hotel

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  3,311 ratings  ·  306 reviews
'Mitchell bottled and preserved more of the soul of New York than any man before or since; Up in the Old Hotel is required reading for anyone who wants to hear the lost voices of the city' Tim Adams, Observer

'The master of a journalistic style long vanished - urbane, lucid, courteous... A masterpiece of observation and storytelling' Ian McEwan

Mitchell is the laureate of
Paperback, Omnibus collection of several works, 707 pages
Published July 5th 2012 by Vintage Classics (first published 1992)
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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 ...more
Sep 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
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

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 ...more
Steve Turtell
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jan 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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 ...more
Jake Goretzki
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 /
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
read about half of this (it's over 700 pages), and will get back to it, but it's a library book and had to go back. Fantastic articles about eccentrics and 'tribes' in New York, including tales of bar fights and grumpy landlords, gypsy kings, a couple who lived in a cave in Central Park. All around 1930-50.
Again the book came to life for me because I was in the streets mentioned, particularly Mott Street, Mulberry St. etc. - visiting my daughter who lives nearby. Of course they have now been
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jack Silbert
Aug 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jigar Brahmbhatt
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have no real context with the city or the milieu, and yet the pieces worked for me. Like old wine, Mitchell's work keeps growing on me. And I see a close cousin of him back home in R K Narayan, who must have walked among the city folks with open eyes and ears, to draw inspiration for his many characters who populate Malgudi.

How far, I wonder, is Narayan's Selvi from Mitchell's Mazie (one fictional and other non-fictional); and though separated by a vast geographical gap, I see that their (and
Bob Schnell
I don't recall ever having heard of of Joseph Mitchell or "Up in the Old Hotel" until it was recommended to me. This seems odd considering how many books I've read and loved of a similar nature. It is a collection of journalistic writings (mainly from the New Yorker magazine) about people and things in and around New York City from the 1930's to the early 1960's. Mr. Mitchell's focus is on the characters and establishments that gave New York a flavor that, sadly, doesn't exist much anymore.

Jul 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
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 ...more
Mar 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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, ...more
Jul 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

Connie Courtney
Dec 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a quirky collection of stories about New Yorkers: musical prodigies, gypsies, fishermen, preachers, gluttons, collectors, and eccentrics of all varieties. It was amazing to me how Mr. Mitchell ( a reporter) could win the trust of such a diverse circle. He seemed right at home with all if them, settled down with them in their favorite haunts, won their confidence, and then penned the experience so vividly that you feel you really understand these folks. The last story, "Joe Gould's ...more
Dec 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Katie Knight
Nov 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.......
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's hard to tell whether New York was once a bigger, more interesting, more varied place - neighborhoods of gypsies and Mohawks and rich bankers and Irish mobsters and black oystermen and Italian fishmongers and down-and-out bohemians and Bowery flophouse bums and writers and scoundrels and drunks and saints and preachers, the fabulously wealthy next to the well to do next to the rising, working poor next to the indigents and luckless, all within a couple stone throws away from each other in a ...more
Walt Giersbach
May 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Michelle Tang
The one half of this anthology that was NOT about seafood of any kind was great! A nice look back at old New York, bookended by two brilliant profiles.
Jan 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jan 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...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.
“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.” 36 likes
“it takes almost a lifetime to learn how to do a thing simply.” 2 likes
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