WORK and leisure don’t have to be enemies. The writing life is proof of it. New York’s coffee shops would be deserted if it weren’t for people scribbling and typing the day away. But when every seat is taken, the Wi-Fi is down and the only muffin left is bran, there are alternatives to being cooped up in the home office, and the city’s legion of playwrights know them well.
There is a place intended especially for them, for example — a former Lutheran mission on West 44th Street that has housed the nonprofit organization New Dramatists since 1969. Playwrights with one of the residencies that New Dramatists is best known for get private work space within the building, which is between Ninth and Tenth Avenues in the Clinton section. But Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the group’s library, which seats about 30 at chairs and a communal table, is open to the public. Free coffee and tea (and sometimes leftover snacks) included.
In the 1980s and ’90s the library was informally open to the neighborhood people on weekdays, according to Joel Ruark, the group’s executive director, but in 2001 the room was renovated, and with it came formal hours. Most of the writers there now are theater makers. Playwrights who have written in the library include August Wilson and James Baldwin. Lucy Thurber (“The Insurgents”) and Lucas Hnath (“The Christians”) still do. On a recent afternoon Lily Padilla, an actress and playwright, poured herself a mug of coffee and settled into a plush club chair facing walls of scripts. “It has a really good calming energy,” she said. “I have ample material to inspire me if I want to take a break from writing and read something by a masterful writer.”
But not all writers seek a place made for work. Some playwrights with new shows this spring opt for hotel bars, diners, parks, piers, hospitals, rooftops or trains. They recently shared their favorite under-the-radar spots where being creative comes cheap. Use them to inspire your own search.
59 East 59th Street,
Upper East Side
Through April 25
I’m usually writing on the F train going from Midtown to the Seventh Avenue stop in Park Slope. It’s about 45 minutes. I get a lot done in a very short amount of time. I would say I get more creative output on the train than I do sitting at my desk. There’s a sense of urgency. The idea is rushing past and I have to grab hold of it. There’s something about getting those ideas down in that space that’s freeing. You could be playing Candy Crush but instead you’re grabbing hold of that moment.
511 West 54th Street, Clinton
Through April 25
One place that’s great in the morning is Croque Monsieur on 13th Street. They play peppy pick-me-up music. They have a quote by Anaïs Nin — “Dreams are necessary to life” — which gets you in the mood. And they have good Wi-Fi. If you need the caffeine and sugar, you get the pain au chocolat and coffee. If you’re really hung over, you get the bacon, egg and cheese croque monsieur. It’s greasy and delicious. If you eat that thing you’re good until three in the afternoon. Once you buy your food downstairs and you go upstairs, you don’t get mean glares from employees wondering why you’re still there. It’s still small enough that you can get up and go to the bathroom without taking all your stuff and losing your spot. If somebody came and took your stuff, a person at another table would speak up … maybe.
Ensemble Studio Theater
549 West 52nd Street, Sixth Floor, Clinton
Through April 19
My preferred writing spot in the city is, weirdly, right in the middle of Times Square, the last place any sane New Yorker wants to spend quality time, and therefore perfect for uninterrupted writing. I always head to the lobby bar of the Hilton on 42nd Street, which is actually several floors up. It’s got plushy arm chairs right next to huge windows, and excellent bar snacks, if you don’t think bar snacks are gross. The other clientele tends to be hotel guests quietly killing time; no loud music, no fights over plugs, no getting distracted by other people’s conversation. It’s close to the theater district, which allows for undisturbed writing time right up to a 7 or 8 o’clock curtain. And you never, ever run into anyone you know.
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
224 Waverly Place, at 11th Street,
Through May 2
One place I found that’s good is the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza. The third floor has a music and art room where there are these great tables. The Wi-Fi there is the perfect amount of weak so that you can’t be on the web much. You can look stuff up but you can’t procrastinate. You’re surrounded by humanity that I find inspirational and beautiful and sad and complicated.
1681 Broadway, between 52nd and 53rd Streets
Opens April 21
I tend to write on subways. It changes with each play. With “Zhivago” it was mostly on the red line, the 2 or the 3. I’d ride from one end of the line to the other. There’s a stop called Gun Hill Road. For some reason I looked up, around the time when I was trying to figure out the opening of “Zhivago.” I thought, ah, gun. That’s how we begin the show.
45 Avenue of the Americas, at Dominick Street, South Village
I have a day job that involves writing ad copy. I write plays by nights and on weekends. But I also work on plays at lunch. I work in Greenpoint [Brooklyn], along the river, and next to the building is a park, the WNYC Transmitter Park, that looks across at Manhattan. What I’ve discovered is that I can’t get the thoughts to come when I’m sitting in a chair. So I go down to the park with a spiral notebook and write standing up in the wind, which is not easy to do, and try to write as many pages as I can. It’s my crisis spot when I know I’ve got to get some pages out.
‘Iowa’ (with Todd Almond)
416 West 42nd Street, Clinton
Opens April 13
One time when I was writing my play “God’s Ear” I was stuck. I couldn’t figure out a part. So I went to La Guardia Airport and I wrote there. One of the characters in it spends a lot of time traveling. I thought I might overhear something, or that I might get outside myself to watch people traveling. I also learned that at Weill Cornell hospital, at 70th and York, there are these rooms that are waiting rooms where you can plug in your computer and work. They are very private. There tend to be no one in them. I spent time there when I was with a relative. But then I realized you could go there anytime you want.
‘Bad With Money’ and ‘Patti Issues’
61 Christopher Street, at Seventh Avenue, Greenwich Village
In repertory through June 21
I’ve done a lot of my writing on these two pieces on the Williamsburg waterfront, near where I live. One spot is in Williamsburg at the North Side pier at North Sixth Street. I can see the ferries coming in and the condos and all the people. It’s the most fertile place for inspiration. I also like the new Bushwick Inlet Park, where there’s this weird sloping man-made hill. It’s actually the roof of a new building. The roof is diagonal to the ground and has these terrace levels. At the top of that there are a few benches. It’s a really spectacular view. It’s sketchy to sit there sometimes because that’s where teenage hoodlums go to smoke, so I can’t always establish my turf.
‘The Other Thing’
Second Stage Uptown
2162 Broadway, at 76th Street
Previews start May 12
I wrote some of it in Prospect Park [in Brooklyn]. I have problems writing in public on my laptop because I feel I’m on display. I go there when I can’t sit in my apartment any longer but I don’t want to be seen publicly writing. It feels so performative, like here I am writing my play. That’s all in my head because nobody cares in the park. I write by hand sometimes so it’s conducive to that. I usually go by the huge lake on the south side. I’ll walk until I find an empty area in the sun. Sometimes I bring my cat. Yes I’m that crazy person.
‘The Upstairs Concierge’
Goodman Theater (Chicago)
Through April 26
When I was single I used to write in bars a lot. Writing is lonely. Being in a bar made it feel a little less lonely sometimes. Now I’m married and I have a 3-year-old and I don’t write at night anymore. I spent a lot of time writing and rewriting at the Farm on Adderley [in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn]. Before the evening rush it’s usually a pretty nice, quiet, relaxing place to work. They wouldn’t kick you out. They have something called chocolate bread, which is this bread with chocolate baked through, and sea salt on top. It’s a good thing to be eating while you’re beating yourself up for not being better at writing.
‘The Biscuit Club’
338 West 23rd Street, Chelsea
Through April 25
My play takes place in a doggy boardinghouse. It’s comedy inspired by “The Breakfast Club.” It’s about what happens when dogs who don’t know each other are locked up alone in a boardinghouse overnight. I started hanging out at a dog park in Tompkins Square Park. We’d go down with the cast and I’d say, “You are such a poodle!” I started seeing people as the dog they would be. I had my own dog and I would bring him there and sit with my laptop.
‘Dinner With the Boys’
410 West 42nd Street, Clinton
Opens May 4
All the rewrites on my play were done sitting at the Westway Diner in a booth late at night. It’s 24 hours. I get all the coffee I want. I’m always at the Westway for a roll and egg and bacon in the morning. I write very blue collar people. There are mostly blue collar people in that diner.