Up in the Old Hotel is a compilation of essays and short stories that Joseph Mitchell wrote for The New Yorker from the 1930s to the 1960s. Most were published as collections before, as McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon, Old Mr. Flood, The Bottom of the Harbor, and Joe Gould’s Secret. Five essays and two short stories were added to the McSorley’s section in this book.
With the exception of three fictional stories set in the Deep South of Mitchell’s youth, Mitchell wrote about colorful characters in and around New York City. He wrote about bar owners, street preachers, gypsies, bohemians, fish mongers, circus freaks, game wardens, shad fishermen, and anyone else he came to know. He could make anyone’s story fascinating.
And that is what makes Up in the Old Hotel such a terrific book – every story is mesmerizingly interesting. It makes no difference if the subject is a kook running his own museum in a brownstone basement or oyster harvesting around Manhattan Island, Mitchell holds the reader’s attention. The stories flow off the page with no distraction from the style of the writing – it is like the stories are absorbed whole instead of word-by-word.
Up in the Old Hotel deserves its spot on any Must Read list. It is a book to leave on the nightstand permanently, as every piece in it could be read over and over again.
(If you would like your review of this or any of Joseph Mitchell's books listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)
My friend Bob from Art Scatter left this note about Mitchell:
This book is just great, great personal journalism, and it brings back the flavor of a New York that will never be again. Mitchell was a staff writer for The New Yorker who spent the last 20 years or so of his life going to the office faithfully every day -- the routine became a legend at the magazine -- but, after an extraordinarily prolific career, never wrote another word. He'd simply written himself out.