Two blocks further north from the Merchant’s House Museum  stands an imposing, columned building with colorful banners beckoning out front. Once the Astor Library, this is now the Public Theater (425 Lafayette St., 212/260-2400, www.publictheater.org ), founded by Joseph Papp.
Until his death in 1991, Papp was one of America’s most important theater producers. Best known as founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival, he was also the man who first produced Hair, A Chorus Line, and 15 other plays that later moved to Broadway. Today, the Public is home to five stages, a coffee bar, and a cabaret space called Joe’s Pub and Restaurant.