Did you ever hear of Finn Square? No? Very well, then, we shall have to inflict upon you some paragraphs from our unpublished work: “A Scenic Guidebook to the Sixth Avenue L.” The itinerary is a frugal one: you do not have to take the L, but walk along under it.
Streets where an L runs have a fascination of their own. They have a shadowy gloom, speckled and striped with the sunlight that slips through the trestles. West Broadway, which along most of its length is straddled by the L, is a channel of odd humours. Its real name, you know, is South Fifth Avenue; but the Avenue got so snobbish it insisted on its humbler brother changing its name. Let us take it from Spring Street southward.
Ribbons, purple, red, and green, were the first thing to catch our eye. Not the ribbons of the milliner, however, but the carbon tapes of the typewriter, big cans of them being loaded on a junk wagon. “Purple Ribbons” we have often thought, would be a neat title for a volume of verses written on a typewriter. What happens to the used ribbons of modern poets? Mr. Hilaire Belloc, or Mr. Chesterton, for instance. Give me but what these ribbons type and all the rest is merely tripe, as Edmund Waller might have said. Near the ribbons we saw a paper-box factory, where a number of high-spirited young women were busy at their machines. A broad strip of thick green paint was laid across the lower half of the windows so that these immured damsels might not waste their employers’ time in watching goings on along the pavement.
Broome and Watts streets diverge from West Broadway in a V. At the corner of Watts is one of West Broadway’s many saloons, which by courageous readjustments still manage to play their useful part. What used to be called the “Business Men’s Lunch” now has a tendency to name itself “Luncheonette” or “Milk Bar.” But the old decorations remain. In this one you will see the electric fixtures wrapped in heavy lead foil, the kind of sheeting that is used in packages of tea. At the corner of Grand Street is the Sapphire Cafe, and what could be a more appealing name than that? “Delicious Chocolate with Whipped Cream,” says a sign outside the Sapphire. And some way farther down (at the corner of White Street) is a jolly old tavern which looked so antique and inviting that we went inside. Little tables piled high with hunks of bread betokened the approaching lunch hour. A shimmering black cat winked a drowsy topaz eye from her lounge in the corner. We asked for cider. There was none, but our gaze fell upon a bottle marked “Irish Moss.” We asked for some, and the barkeep pushed the bottle forward with a tiny glass. Irish Moss, it seems, is the kind of drink which the customer pours out for himself, so we decanted a generous slug. It proved to be a kind of essence of horehound, of notable tartness and pungency, very like a powerful cough syrup. We wrote it off on our ledger as experience. Beside us stood a sturdy citizen with a freight hook round his neck, deducing a foaming crock of the legitimate percentage.
The chief landmark of that stretch of West Broadway is the tall spire of St. Alphonsus’ Church, near Canal Street. Up the steps and through plain brown doors we went into the church, which was cool, quiet, and empty, save for a busy charwoman with humorous Irish face. Under the altar canopy wavered a small candle spark, and high overhead, in the dimness, were orange and scarlet gleams from a stained window. A crystal chandelier hanging in the aisle caught pale yellow tinctures of light. No Catholic church, wherever you find it, is long empty; a man and a girl entered just as we went out. At each side of the front steps the words Copiosa apud eum redemtio are carved in the stone. The mason must have forgotten the p in the last word. A silver plate on the brick house next door says Redemptorist Fathers.