The Public Theater & Joe's Pub

Art & Culture | History

From John Jacob Astor to Hamilton, it's a hell of history

The Public Theater Joe's Pub Noho

About The Public Theater & Joe's Pub

 & why it made the Carpe City list

The Public Theater is one of the nation’s leading incubators of groundbreaking theater. The first show mounted here was the world premiere of “Hair” in 1967.

Since then, The Public Theater has debuted such path-breaking blockbusters as:
– A Chorus Line
– For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf
– The Normal Heart
– Fun Home
– Hamilton!!!

Ok, so it’s an amazing place… and has been since 1854! Look at the theater. If you check out the arches, you can tell from a glance that this is not a new building. In fact, it was built in 1854 as the Astor Library, the first public research library in NYC!

John Jacob Astor, for whom this area, Astor Place, is named, was a fur trapper/real estate mogul who died the wealthiest man in America. In his will, he left funds for a public library. As the city’s first public research library, free for anyone to browse, it was the primal ancestor of today’s New York Public Library. In fact, the NYPL is officially named “The New York Public Library Astor, Lennox, and Tilden Foundation.”

The 80,000 books in the Astor Library made up the original collection of NYPL. When the central branch of NYPL (you know those lions!) opened on 42nd Street in 1911, all the books from the Astor Library were moved to NYPL.

So why isn’t “Joe’s Pub” called “Astor’s Pub” or something? Who’s Joe? Say hello to Joe Papp, the founder of the Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park! Joe Papp, born in Brooklyn as Joseph Papirofsky, founded the New York City Shakespeare Festival in 1954. He believed that great theater, and Shakespeare in particular, should be free and accessible to the public. The Public Theater runs “Shakespeare in the Park” to this day, and it’s still free! The Public Theater also hosts Shakespeare in other parks around the city, staging productions in every borough.

Beyond “Shakespeare in the Park,” Joe Papp was a true visionary. He saw that great art could change the world and was committed to giving it a place to thrive. By 1965, the Astor Library was vacant and slated for demolition. Joe Papp convinced the city to buy the building and turn it into a theater. Thanks to Papp, this building became one of the first buildings in NYC to be saved from demolition under the 1965 “Landmarks Law.” Once the building was preserved, Papp began renting it from the city for a reported $1 per year! (We guess that’s the best deal in NYC history!) Since that time, The Public has staged some of the most essential works in American Theater.

Carpe City Trivia

So is Joe's Pub a spot to pound one back?

The Pub is not a "pub" so much as an intimate performance space where you can order dinner and drinks at your table. At the same time, you watch a concert, a cabaret, a podcast taping, or a live variety show. It's a small, experimental atmosphere for new live work.

Can you go to the library at what was once the Astor Library?

Actually, sort of… There is a small, cool pubby/clubby restaurant in The Public called "The Library," where you can hang out for drinks and dinner before or after your show. We recommend!

By: Lucie Levine

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