The East Village has two distinct moods. By day, it is quiet and peaceful. Everyone is out and about, either working or relaxing at Tompkins Square Park, strolling or jogging along the East River, or hanging out in one of the subsets of cultural activity, such as St. Mark’s Place.
But then night falls, and the East Village comes to life, keeping the entertainment and nightlife going long after the other neighborhoods have called it quits for the night. People from all five boroughs flock to the dive bars and speakeasies, head for their favorite cafes and restaurants, or drop in to a music venue to listen to hot tunes or cool jazz and dance the night away. Don’t worry, you don’t have to “know somebody” to gain admittance to even the most popular venues. You won’t find velvet ropes, bouncers, or and a waiting list at the door of most places. Just walk right in and enjoy yourself.
Be prepared for the increased population during fall through spring, when NYU is in session. College students will be everywhere, contributing to the youthful essense of the neighborhood.
The Creative Little Garden. Transformed from the rubble of a burnt-out tenement, this tiny (24x100 feet) little park was opened in 1982 and is maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers. It is a tranquil break from the chaos of the city. It has also been designated as a National Wildlife Federation Habitat. Don’t expect bears, but you might see squirrels and birds. There are sculptures and a water feature, too. It is open daily and you can bring your pets if you keep them leashed. Located at 530 E 6th Street, between Avenues A and B.
Please Don’t Tell. Want to visit a unique speakeasy that you would never find on your own? Saunter on over to Crif Dogs. Go into the phone booth from yesteryear and follow the directions to gain access to a hidden gem - the Please Don’t Tell speakeasy bar. The drinks are spectacular concoctions and they pair well with the Crif “dogs.” It is best to make a reservation, otherwise you could face a lengthy wait, especially on the weekends. Located at 113 St. Mark’s Place in Crif Dogs.
The Museum of the American Gangster. This tiny, 2-room museum houses gangster-related memorabilia from the Prohibition era, such as John Dillinger’s death mask, bullets from various massacres of American gangsters (the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, in particular), as well as numerous newspaper clippings detailing the lives and exploits of mobsters and gangsters. During Prohibition, there was a speakeasy where the tavern is located now, that was frequented by the likes of Al Capone, John Gotti, Lucky Luciano, and other crime bosses. Booze was delivered to the speakeasy through a series of underground tunnels that run under 1st Avenue. When the bar was sold in 1964, $2 million was found in a safe down in the basement. Today, the bar is known for the absinthe that is served on half of the original horseshoe-shaped bar. If you sweet-talk the owner, you might be able to get a guided tour of the tunnels. Located at 80 St. Mark’s Place, above the William Barnacle Tavern.
The New York Marble Cemetery (Second Avenue Cemetery). This is NYC’s oldest, non-sectarian public cemetery, founded in 1830. President James Monroe, 5th President of the U. S., was temporarily interred there in 1831, before his remains were moved to their final resting place in the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. The unusual thing about this cemetery is that everyone here was buried in vaults made of solid white marble constructed below ground, based on the belief that marble would prevent the spread of the diseases of the day, particularly yellow fever, which could easily wipe out significant portions of the population. The vaults are like small rooms, arranged in a grid of 26 rows with six columns each. Over 2,000 people were buried there. The last burial took place in 1937. Today, only descendants of the original 156 vault owners can be buried there. The cemetery has no headstones or monuments. Instead, the vault owners and locations are inscribed on the North and South Walls, and the grounds have been turned into a beautifully landscaped garden with benches. It can be rented for weddings and other suitable events. It is usually open to the public only once each month. Located at 41½ 2nd Avenu.
Tompkins Square Park. Although this is not a large park, only 10½ acres, it offers plenty to do, in addition to being a cool oasis in the middle of the neighborhood. There are handball and basketball courts, a children’s playground, and a dog run for your furry friends. There are festivals and parades held at the park throughout the year, such as the Wigstock Drag festival, the annual New York Dance Parade, a Halloween Dog Parade, and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. Chess tables are set up in the shade. Pack a picnic and head for the grassy area of the park to watch free performances throughout the year. Located on E 10th Street between Avenues A and B.
Russian & Turkish Baths. If you are feeling a bit stressed out after a day exploring the East Village, you can head about half a block west of Tompkins Square Park and have yourself a relaxing sauna, cleansing steam or bracing soak at the Russian & Turkish Baths. It is believed these 10th Street Baths opened in the 1890s. Things have changed quite a bit over the intervening years. Women are now accepted in this former bastion of masculinity. There’s also a juice bar, and food available. The two owners have distinctly different approaches to running their business. During Mr. Shapiro’s weeks, you will find a younger crowd. On alternate weeks, Mr Tuberman’s clientele are the more traditional, older crowd. You can find out which week is which by consulting their website. Located at 268 E 10th Street.
What You Might See
Interesting sights can be found on the top of East Village buildings, if you know where to look and don’t mind craning your neck for a peek. On E Houston Street, between Avenues A and B, on top of the building that has become known as Red Square, you can catch a glimpse of the 18-foot tall statue of Vladimir Lenin that was rescued from a Moscow yard after the fall of the Soviet Union. This unusual statue is displayed as an homage to the early socialist days of the East Village neighborhood.
Another intriguing rooftop sight can be found on a building at the corner of E 1st Street and First Avenue. Nobody seems to know how it got up there, but there is a completely finished East Coast beach house perched up there! This cottage has three bedrooms, bathrooms, fireplaces, private terraces and comes fully furnished and ready-to-use. Except for the beach, that is! Strange as it might seem, there are other small houses sitting on top of apartment buildings throughout the City, such as the cottage on top of an apartment building on the corner of 13th Street and Third Avenue. For safety’s sake, as well as the best view of these lofty building sites, go across the street and brace yourself against a pole or sign before looking up, so you don’t lose your balance, especially if you are trying to snap pix.
What’s In The Future
You can expect to see more residential properties in the East Village in the coming years, as developers snap up available properties, either to renovate or build from the ground up. With the influx of young families and younger upper-middle-class professionals, the current population is being replaced and gentrification of the area is taking place. High-end condominiums are popping up everywhere, as the residential face of the East Village changes from one of affordable, often rent-stabilized apartments, into its new incarnation of more luxurious living spaces.
What You Might Not Know
Around the time of the Civil War, there were so many German immigrants in the East Village area that it became known as Little Germany.
What We Love
The artistic flavor of the East Village that was a hallmark of the area when it was a haven for creative types is still very much present. There may not be quite as many artistic types living there today, as the neighborhood has become more family-friendly and attractive to tourists, but art can still be found prominently displayed in murals created by local artists and local galleries.
The ubiquitous tenement buildings, once considered low-rent properties, are now being renovated into prime residential properties that are popular due to their quintessential New York architecture and convenient locations. There are pre-war walk-ups available, too, and even a few pre-war luxury buildings. There are also a few newer buildings, some even offer doormen. If you are looking for a quieter place to live, seek out an apartment on the quieter streets, instead of the busier avenues.
You can find everything you need in the East Village. It is a fairly green neighborhood, with trees, plentiful community gardens and parks. There are bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. You will enjoy hunting for treasures in the many thrift and vintage shops. The East Village has convenient transportation options, and many popular destinations are in easy walking distance.