Quintessential New York is Frank O'Hara's poem "The Day Lady Died," with its bouncy, urban "I do this, I do that" listing of the poet's day and then the last, heart-stopping lines:
"I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing"
Years ago, I tried to find the original site of the 5 Spot. I ended up at a bar inside the now demolished 35 Cooper Square, mistakenly thinking it was the right place. There was no Internet back then and I had little to guide me. Now there's a Wikipedia page for the 5 Spot and this site, 5 Spot Artifacts, put together by the daughter of former owner Joe Termini.
The original 5 Spot was at 5 Cooper Square, between 4th and 5th. It was a favorite place for many painters and poets, including Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg.
It was demolished and a second 5 Spot opened on the corner of St. Mark's Place and Third Avenue in the 1960s.
Billie Holiday died in 1959, so it wasn't at the second Five Spot that O'Hara leaned on the john door and stopped breathing.
The second Five Spot is now a pizza place and some open-street shops that sell hats, sunglasses, and marijuana paraphernalia.
"Tea," as it was known in the jazz scene. "Reefer" and "Mary Jane." Billie Holiday loved it. But she probably never smoked it through a bong attached to a gas mask.
P.S. Happy belated birthday to Billie.
Thelonious Monk and Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter get into her Bentley outside the Five Spot cafe, New York, 1964. Photograph: Ben Martin/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images