Known for its high-end shopping on Bleecker Street, the elegant brownstones dating back to colonial times that have been depicted in films and television, the abundance of cafes, and its celebrity residents, the West Village neighborhood is what springs to mind when you think of the essence of New York City. This is a neighborhood where the pace of life is less hurried, and harried, than in other neighborhoods, exuding an understated elegance and naturally beautiful sophistication and charm.
The West Village has something to offer everyone, whether your taste runs to designer goods and trend-setting restaurants, or you are happier browsing thrift stores and whiling away the hours in conversation with friends at a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. There are public green spaces dotted throughout this neighborhood, where you can stop and commune with nature, or grab a bite to eat from a local deli or cafe and have a picnic. The Hudson River Park offers recreational opportunities and events for all ages.
There is a tradition of bohemian non-conformity attached to the West Village. Even the intimate, tree-lined, and sometimes cobblestoned, streets refuse to conform to the grid layout of the rest of Manhattan. Activism and social consciousness have always been hallmarks of this neighborhood. The neighborhood is diverse and accepting of all. You will find artistic venues and experimental theater, together with a broad spectrum of bars, including speakeasies, and restaurants featuring myriad cuisines.
The West Village is primarily residential, conspicuously lacking the high-rise office buildings that characterize other neighborhoods. This lends an air of quiet sophistication during the day. At night, the area becomes more lively, as residents frequent their favorite restaurants, theaters, cafes, and gastropubs. Housing consists of brownstones dating back to the 18th century, low-rise walk-ups, townhouses, artists lofts, and condos in renovated buildings. Newer high-rise residential buildings are cropping up along the Hudson River. Always popular with celebrities and artistic types, the West Village is now attracting families and young professionals in the tech and financial fields.
Cherry Lane Theater - The Cherry Lane Theater is the City’s oldest Off-Broadway experimental theater and has been running continuously since it opened in 1924. Here you will be treated to both classic and newer theatrical productions, together with readings and programs that showcase the works of African-American and women playwrights. Located at 38 Commerce Street
The Village Vanguard - Known for the outstanding acoustic qualities that result from its triangular shape, the Village Vanguard has hosted many live jazz album recordings, since it opened in 1935. Jazz icons such as John Coltrane have performed here in the past, and legendary artists, together with newcomers, perform here nearly every night. Even with reservations, you can expect a wait, so plan on arriving at least 30 minutes early. Located at 178 7th Avenue
The Corner Bistro - This delightfully unpretentious bar is, perhaps, the last remnant of the famed bohemian bars of West Village yesteryears. It is famous for its gigantic 8 oz. Bistro Burgers and very reasonably priced steins of beer on tap. You can mingle with the locals and watch the tourists try to wrap their mouths around the burgers! Located at 331 W 4th Street (at the corner of Jane Street)
Christopher Park - On the site of a former tobacco farm from the early 1600s, Christopher Park now commemorates the history of the gay rights movement. Across the street, you will find the Stonewall Inn, site of the June 28, 1969 police raid that was part of an effort to shut down establishments that catered to the gay community. Protests erupted in response to this raid. Today, there is a memorial sculpture, entitled “Gay Liberation,” by artist George Segal found in Christopher Park. Located at 38-64 Christopher Street
What You Might See
The West Village is home to a wide variety of street art, from the stunningly realistic to the downright quirky and strange. As this is an ever-changing tableau, with new art being made overtop of older pieces, often overnight, your best bet is to just do a walking tour of the neighborhood. Don’t forget to take pix of your favorites - it might be the last time you’ll ever see them.
Don’t be surprised if you are standing at a street corner and find a celebrity standing right next to you! Celebrity hunting (no, not like stalking them!) can be a lot of fun, as quite a few celebrities live in the West Village. Here are some known hangouts, to get you started on your quest: Employees Only (510 Hudson Street), The Otheroom (143 Perry Street), and The Spotted Pig (314 W 11th Street). Tips: Don’t gawk, don’t ask for autographs, don’t take pix, and don’t pester them. They are just out there, living their lives, like you. Respect their privacy.
What's In The Future?
More young families and young professionals are moving into the West Village, having an impact on housing availability and pricing. As properties become available for either ground-up builds or renovation, additional residences will become available in lower-rise condo buildings that will provide desirable amenities.
What You Don't Know
There are two interesting homes on Bedford Street. At 77 Bedford, you will find the oldest house in the West Village, which was built in 1799. It was initially a farmhouse, with more than 4,000 square feet, four bedrooms, and four bathrooms. At one time, it was part of the estate of the Russian-American actor Yul Brynner (famous for both the Broadway and film productions of the musical, The King and I). It sold in 2013 for $7.5 million. Right next door, at 75½ Bedford Street, is the narrowest house in NYC, built-in 1873, which is only 9.5 feet wide, totaling 999 square feet. This house was home to various celebrities, including American actor Cary Grant, noted American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, and American playwright, poet, and activist Edna St. Vincent Millay. It also sold in 2013, for $3.25 million.
At 45 Grove Street, just to the west of Bleecker Street, is a Federal-style residence that was built in 1830 for Samuel Whittemore, a major property owner and the man responsible for much of the development of the West Village area. The home was sold in 1851 and became a boarding house. A boarder by the name of Samuel Chester lived there in 1865. He was an actor and friend of John Wilkes Booth, infamous for his assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. Booth visited Chester at 45 Grove Street, trying to enlist his aid in the original plot to kidnap Lincoln. When Chester refused to participate, Booth decided to kill the President, instead. Unfortunately, Chester’s decision sealed the President's fate. If he had agreed to help in the kidnapping plot or had reported Booth’s plans to the authorities, history would have told a different story. Ironically, after the Civil War ended, 45 Grove Street became known as the “Lincoln Home,” where destitute sailors and soldiers could seek refuge.
The unusual street patterns of the West Village were a result of its beginnings as a small suburb north of the city. The streets were designed to jut out from the Hudson River waterfront and piers of the time. In 1822, there was a yellow fever epidemic raging in Lower Manhattan, causing a large number of residents to flee northward. As these new residents built houses in the area, they followed the grid pattern that had been designed as part of the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, governing how the city would be structured as it grew north of Houston Street and below 155th Street. The Commission felt that this gridiron structuring of the city combined “beauty, order and convenience.”
What We Love
The small, intimate, and oddly-angled streets of the West Village have served to isolate it, somewhat, from the general flow of traffic along the gridwork that governs the rest of Manhattan. This gives it a quiet ambiance that almost makes you believe that you are walking the streets of 18th and 19th century America, as you pass under mature trees that line the streets in front of the historic brownstones in the neighborhood.
Roughly 80 percent of the West Village is designated with historic landmark status, which has prevented the proliferation of high-rise buildings. The lower height of the existing buildings has helped create a more cohesive neighborhood atmosphere, where people are not dwarfed by the buildings they live in. Combine the sense of history with great shopping, fantastic restaurants, and the natural beauty of the neighborhood, and it is hard to beat the West Village as a desirable place to call home!