The 1942 painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, which depicts four people in a small triangular restaurant late at night, is one of the most iconic American works of art. Hopper was a realist known for his paintings of scenes around New York City. So where exactly is this restaurant in Nighthawks?
Hopper has been quoted as saying it “was suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet.” Looking at a map, there are only two places where Greenwich intersects another street to form a triangle, West 11th and West 13th. In the painting, a building in the background can be seen above the sign on the restaurant, making it only one story. The building at 13th Street doesn’t have this formation, but on 11th, the bottom floor, now occupied by a flower shop, does extend from the rest of the building. Could this be the place?
Historical photos seem to corroborate this theory. One from 1938 before the painting does show the space with a cigar sign over it. Another from the 1940s shows the sign in a darker color as in the painting. In both photos, it’s not clear what occupies the space, a shop or restaurant, but they do seem to be very similar to the painting.
However, Nighthawks is a painting not a photograph. Hopper was generally a realist but he did say “suggested”, so he could have taken inspiration from this location and used artistic license in the painting. In it, there is no awning and the panes of glass are much larger than in the photos. But these changes give the painting its impact.
So as you pass by the flower shop at 70 Greenwich Avenue, imagine yourself sitting at the counter of the restaurant depicted by Edward Hopper in Nighthawks.
This is a bonus location in the Secrets of Greenwich Village Tour.