The following article provides no specific plot spoilers but does point out a few locations that will be visited on the upcoming season.
Why did the Amazon original series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel make such a big splash when it debuted early last year? The show about an unhappy 1950s housewife (played by the marvelous Rachel Brosnahan) who secretly becomes a bawdy stand-up comedian in Greenwich Village feels like a twist on an epic American story, seen from unexpected viewpoints, delivered with a technicolor sparkle. It’s also great history, amply caffeinated.
It certainly fills the void left by the departure of Mad Men in 2015, seemingly set in the same time and place. (The first season of Mad Men actually began in 1960; the second season of Maisel gets us to 1959). Like Mad Men, Maisel does an exquisite job in placing its characters within actual New York City period locations. In season two, we actually spend slightly less time in New York City, but I highly doubt you’ll grumble over the destinations.
More importantly, season two places Midge in ‘after hours’ environments that are more richly drawn. In the first season, stand-up comedy was both an escape and a therapy session. But in this season, those escapes begin creeping into her orderly uptown world.
Here are a few real-life places in New York City that you’ll be visiting again on the show:
B. Altman & Company
Mrs. Maisel’s day job just happens to be one of the most treasured names in New York City retail. Benjamin Altman’s store first opened in the Lower East Side and slowly followed the center of retail up the island. B. Altman’s was a key player on Ladies Mile — the classic retail district on Sixth Avenue — before moving to the 34th Street location in 1906, one block east of the new department-store complexes opened by Macy’s and Gimbel’s.
Today’s B. Altman’s beautiful flagship store houses the New York Public Library’s Science Industry and Business Library.
Below: B. Altman at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, 1960
The center of action on Mrs. Maisel is a dumpy cellar in Greenwich Village. One of New York’s greatest (and smallest) venues for live entertainment in the 1960s, the Gaslight was located at 116 MacDougal Street. Along with Cafe Wha?, Gerde’s Folk City and the Village Gate, the Gaslight provided stages for Greenwich Village’s burgeoning folk music scene. And it was locations like the Gaslight where comedians began experimenting with the form, presenting a raw, more personal monologue, rejecting the vaudeville-inspired style preferred by their parents.
Stage Deli and Carnegie Deli
Wheeling and dealing in New York City’s entertainment industry took place in a handful of diners, delis and taverns in Midtown Manhattan. Both Stage Deli and Carnegie Deli — infamous rivals with exceptional menus — were located in the heart of the American entertainment scene, near Broadway theaters and stages as varied as Carnegie Hall and the jazz clubs of Swing Street. The booths and tables of these delis (along with Lindy’s) were filled with agents, joke writers and comedic talent looking to meet both.
Just this past week, Robert Plotnik, the owner of Bleecker Bob’s record store, passed away at age 75, a major name in Greenwich Village’s music-retail scene. The neighborhood was once populated with record stores and instrument shops of all kinds, places that sold the music debuting in those small coffeehouses. The Music Inn, believe it or not, is still with us! Opening in 1958 at 169 West 4th Street, the perfectly cluttered shop still provides budding music legends with a variety of exotic instruments. The Music Inn’s open mic night on Thursdays harkens back to the Village’s glory days.
Manhattan’s Garment District has been the center for all things American fashion for almost one hundred years. The lofts and office buildings here still buzz with industry of making clothing — from design to distribution. Before 1911 that center of garment manufacturing was in lower Manhattan. And then the Triangle Factory Fire happened.
Fears of the clothing industry encroaching upon Fifth Avenue provoked some New York businesses to stop working with garment sector unless they moved to particular area of the city. And so, by the mid 20th century, hardly a stitch was sold in the United States without it coming through the blocks between 34th Street and 42nd Street west of Sixth Avenue.
(For more information, we have an entire podcast on the history of the Garment District.)
One of the most important laboratories in American history was once located on the far west side, just south of today’s Meat-Packing District. Among the inventions perfected at New York’s Bell lab location were color television, the phonograph record and even the transistor. In the mid 1960s, the laboratory would move out to New Jersey, and the building was refashioned as the Westbeth Artists Community, a haven of the Village art scene to this day. A section of the West Side Freight Line (aka the High Line) once cut through the building.
Find out more about the Bell Laboratories building in our show New York and the World of Video Games.
The Catskill Mountains was more than a beautiful summer getaway for Jewish New Yorkers (who gave the region its famous nickname — the Borscht Belt). The many classic resorts of the Catskills developed a very specific style of comedy on its nightclub stages and fostered the talents of many up-and-coming Jewish comedians — many who went on to shape early American television.
For more context and background on the characters on Mrs. Maisel, check out our latest podcast on the history of live comedy in New York City. Listen to it here or find the show wherever you listen to podcasts.