Considered by many to be a birthplace of punk rock in the United States, East Village has long had a reputation as one of Manhattan’s artsier neighborhoods. For decades, the East Village has been home to underground rock clubs, bohemian performance spaces, and cutting-edge art galleries. Today many of the neighborhood’s grittier edges have been smoothed over by time and gentrification, but the East Village is still filled with trendy shopping, hip bars, popular restaurants, and plenty of opportunities for a fun night out.
East Village Neighborhood History
Of all the famous New York City neighborhoods, few can rival the East Village for cultural and artistic importance. That’s because from the middle of the twentieth century on the East Village was home to some of the most influential writers, artists, and musicians living and working in the United States. During the 1950s and 1960s, the East Village was where influential poets like W.H. Auden and Allen Ginsberg resided and jazz legends Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and more regularly performed. By the 1970s, rock club CBGB had opened its doors, providing a space for punk rock and new wave pioneers like The Ramones, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, and others to make a name for themselves. Though rents have risen and many of the old haunts are no longer there, the East Village remains a magnet for creative types and those visitors with a taste for the distinctive, unique, and artsy side of things.
Exploring The East Village
To dive straight into all the East Village has to offer, head straight for St. Mark’s Place. This three-block stretch of Eighth Street runs from Sixth Avenue to Third Avenue and has been called by some “the coolest street in America.” St. Mark’s Place has earned this glowing reputation on the back of its eclectic mixture of retailers, restaurants, and cultural attractions. No matter your interests, you’re liable to find something that’ll catch your eye along this famous thoroughfare.
Not only is St. Mark’s Place a terrific spot to shop, but it’s a living, breathing piece of New York City history. Almost every building lining this iconic street has a rich past, with several of them even having adorned the covers of classic music albums like Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti and the debut record by the New York Dolls. Countless famous New Yorkers ranging from James Fenimore Cooper to Lenny Bruce have called the area home, and a walk down St. Mark’s Place, stopping wherever strikes your fancy, is a wonderful way to acclimate yourself to the neighborhood.
East Village Dining
To this day, East Village has all the makings of a fantastic night out on the town. Its bustling streets are lined with everything from rollicking comedy clubs to hole-in-the-wall dive bars to upscale bars and restaurants. Depending on what you’re in the mood to eat and drink, you’re going to find something that’ll suit you and your tastes in the East Village.
If you’re in a hurry and have time to stop at just one East Village staple, be advised that McSorley’s Old Ale House is one of the most legendary bars in all of New York City. While accounts vary and the historical record gets a little bit fuzzy, most estimates have McSorley’s operating in its current location since around the American Civil War. That means for approximately 160 years now beer has been served on the premises of this venerable establishment. Come for its two kinds of ale—your only choices are “light” or “dark”—stay for the museum-like feeling of the memorabilia on the walls.
East Village Shopping
The East Village shopping scene is perhaps most famous for its assortment of vintage shops, thrift stores, and independent boutiques. You can’t go wrong stopping in at whatever storefront catches your eye as you stroll through the neighborhood, but some East Village favorites would have to include Cobblestones, which specializes in clothing and accessories of the 1930s and 1940s; No Relation Vintage, the sole Manhattan branch of the New York City beloved thrift store brand L Train Vintage; and Cloak & Dagger, which sells its own apparel and accessories as well as a curated selection of fashionable designers from all over the world.
At the northwestern edge of East Village, just steps from Union Square, you’ll find the world-famous Strand Book Store. Billing itself as containing “18 Miles of Books,” Strand Book Store is an absolute can’t-miss shopping attraction for any self-respecting book lover.
Explore The East Village Like a Local
- Tompkins Square Park is located at the geographic center of the East Village, and if the weather cooperates, it’s a terrific spot to sit and chat with a friend or enjoy a picnic lunch. At various times of the year poetry readings and jazz festivals are held in Tompkins Square Park, so you’ll want to check out its calendar of events to see what’s scheduled to be happening when you’re in town. You’ll also find here playgrounds, chess tables, and a basketball court.
- Even if it’s your first time, McSorley’s Old Ale House is the type of joint where you’ll want to come across like a true local. Therefore, it’s good to be aware ahead of your visit that McSorley’s remains to this day proudly “cash only.” As a result, be certain to hit up the ATM before hitting up this iconic pub.
- An oft-overlooked gem of a New York City museum would have to be the Ukrainian Museum on Sixth Street in East Village. This charming facility contains all manner of striking Ukrainian folk art, including prominent collections of textiles, ceramics, paintings, and more.