The bohemian lifestyle abounds in Greenwich Village. It is a haven for artists, writers, musicians and anyone who is a forward thinker. The Village is located just south of Chelsea, on the west side of Manhattan, boardering the neighborhoods of Soho, The East Village and Gramercy. It offers some if the best restaurants in the city. Shops, museums and nightclubs line the beautiful treelined blocks, making it the perfect place to stroll and take in its beauty and diversity, day or night. NYU, the Whitney Museum, and Washington Square Park, some of the more popular hotspots, just scratch the surface of this neighborhood filled with beatniks and free spirits. Greenwich Village has gone through a number of transitions and much gentrification over the years, but its prolific roots will always be the backbone of this neighborhood and can be sensed around every corner. This is the second in a series of articles on the best of New York by neighborhood.
Check out: The Best of New York By Neighborhood: Chelsea, for more inside information on the this magical city.
The name Greenwich Village, comes from the Dutch word Groenwijck, meaning “green district”. It was named by the original settlers in the1630s who farmed and developed it. The English soon acquired the area and by the 1740s and it evolved into a country hamlet.
Greenwich Village retained its rural identity throughout the American Revolution. Markets with fresh fish, meat and produce appeared along the Hudson River and in the 1780s, the city purchased eight acres for use as a potter’s field and public gallows. This area is now known as Washington Square Park. An outbreak of yellow fever and cholera brought people from the other parts of the city, taking refuge in there. More businesses and markets were put in place to accommodate the population surge. Farms were subdivided to pave the way for blocks of row houses that would be homes to middle class merchants and tradesmen.
By 1826, the potter’s field was converted to a military parade ground and pedestrian common area. The Washington Square Park arch was erected in 1892, comemorating the Centenary of George Washington’s inauguration as President. This area became very popular, attracting the wealthier population of Manhattan.
Immigration started to changed the character of Greenwich Village in the 1880s. People traveled from France, Ireland and Italy to start a better life. As the upper class made their way north, The Village became more commercialized. Massive factories were built along Broadway and the waterfront. Religious institutions, educational establishments and cultural organizations appeared everywhere to fill the growing community’s needs. New York University developed on the east side of Washington Square Park. Galleries, literary salons, libraries, hotels, shops and theaters proliferated. Older homes were split into lodging hotels and multi-family residences and higher-density tenements.
At the turn of the century, Greenwich Village had transformed into a quiet, reasonably priced enclave for artists and writers. It was gaining a reputation for tolerance, radicalism and nonconformity, which is still evident today. It started to attract tourists. Uptown residents traveled downtown during prohibition to frequent the local speakeasies. Luxury apartments and renovated studios attracted the wealthy again.
In the 1950s and 60s, the beat movement initiated. The Village’s large homosexual community, formed the Stonewall Rebellion on June 28, 1969, which culminated in riots. This event was the inception of the gay rights movement which is still being fought today. The Village was also the site of numerous anti-war protests and AIDS epidemic rallies.
Over the past 50 years, there has been a huge push to preserve what is left of the historic buildings, which is how the area continues to be one of the more quaint and charming neighborhoods in the city.
What to See
Washington Square Park: What started as a burial ground and public gallows, is now a hotspot for musicians, performance artists, chess aficionados, children and students. The arch, named after President George Washington, is one of the the most iconic landmarks in New York City. Relax on a bench and watch the locals congregate around the central fountain, or dip your toes on a hot day! Listen to music, watch a chess match and take in the ambiance of this famous park. Click the link for current events. Something is always going on!
The Stonewall Inn: Steeped in history, The Stonewall Inn is a gay bar and National Historic Landmark that was the scene of the Stonewall Riots of 1969. These events gave way to millions of LGBTQ Americans fighting for equal rights. Everyone is welcome, so show your pride and soak up the ambiance.
Abingdon Square Greenmarket: Local famers provide everything from fresh produce to fish, cheese, bread, meat and eggs at the Abingdon Square Greenmarket. It is a neighborhood institution and a great place to blend in with the locals. Get there early because the good stuff goes fast.
Angelika Film Center: Renowned for its diverse mix of independent films, the Angelika is where cinema lovers and movie makers go to get the ultimate experience. There is eclectic art adorning the walls and the cafe in the lobby provides delectable drinks, ice cream and pastries. The theaters are small and the seats are not what you would find at your local cineplex, but this is a true arthouse cinema experience. The Angelika doesn’t offer reserved seating, so be sure to get there early.
Bleecker Street: Bleecker Street has been the subject of songs by Iggy Pop, Simon and Grafunkel and Joni Mitchell. Gian Carlo Menotti’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, The Saint of Bleecker Street, was named after it. Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, James Baldwin and Lenny Bruce were regulars. It was definitely a scene you wanted to be a part of. Today, it is home to independent shops, restaurants, clubs and cafes. Stroll down Bleecker, taking in the sights and smells. Stop in a used bookshop or have coffee at an outdoor cafe. There are music venues and comedy clubs for evening entertainment.
Le Poisson Rouge: Le Poisson Rouge is a music venue and multimedia art cabaret on Bleecker Street. There is a myriad of genres from indie rock and punk, to jazz and classical. You can sit in on poetry readings, comedy, theatre, and burlesque. It is the ultimate Greenwich Village experience and everything the neighborhood was founded on. Be sure to check the website for upcoming events and reserve tickets in advance.
Take a Bob Dylan Walking Tour: If you love Bob Dylan, go on the Bob Dylan walking tour. Walk where he walked and see the places he frequented. This tour is self-guided so you can do it at your leisure.
Where to Stay
Marlton Hotel: Set in a historic1900s building, the cozy, stylish rooms and swanky surroundings make this Greenwich Village hotel a must. Originally a boarding house, it’s possible to get the room that John Barrymoore, Maggie Smith, or Jack Keroak stayed in. There is a Mediterranean Restaurant, a bar and a cafe. Complementary breakfast is included and you are within walking distance to all The Village has to offer.
The Washington Square Hotel: This landmark art deco hotel is a few steps away from Washington Square Park and all of the most intriguing parts of Greenwich Village. On the walls hang unique artwork. There is a beautiful lounge and restaurant with rooftop dining, when the weather allows. Relax at the in-house spa or do a quick workout in the fitness room. Continental breakfast is included.
Walker Hotel Greenwich Village: The Walker Hotel is a boutique accomodation in the heart of Greenwich Village. Its style is a mix bohemian and art deco that takes you back to the Golden Age. Charming rooms enveloped in vintage details are equipped with modern amenities such as free wifi, flat screet TVs and high pressure shower heads. Some rooms even come with a terrace.
The Jane: The Jane hotel is a step back in time. This landmark building was originally built in 1908 as a home for sailors, and has been restored to its former glory. You can stay in a standard “cabin” or a bunkbed “cabin”. Some rooms offer private baths, and some are communal. The decor is inspired by luxury ship and train cabins, using innovative design to take advantage of limited space. The grand ballroom is the perfect setting for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Grab a late night cocktail and sneak away to a dark corner for intimate conversation. The Jane provides complimentary wifi, along with slippers and robes for your comfort.
Where to Eat
John’s Pizza: John’s Pizza is a must when you come to The Village. They offer some of the most authentic, New York pizza in a casual, classic atmosphere. Thin crust, brick oven pies with all the traditional toppings will delight your senses and curb the most ravenous hunger. There is usally a line, so be prepared, but it is definitely worth the wait.
Rosemary’s: Farm to table is all the rage right now and Rosemary’s has gone beyond expectations. All of the produce served is grown on their very own rooftop garden. They have a farm in the Hudson Valley where other fresh items are procured. The dining area is light and airy and the seasonal Italian cuisine is fresh and tasty. They are open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
Empellón Taqueria: Who doesn’t love tacos? Empellón Taqueria offers eight varieties of tacos plus a daily special. They serve ceviche and seasonal vegetables. Garnish that with a margarita or mojito made from artisanal Mexican spirits and you will be feeling good for the rest of the day!
Murray’s Bagels: Are you looking for an authentic New York bagel? Well, look no further than Murray’s. These are some of the best in the city. For a real New York treat, order the capers and lox. They offer plain cream cheese as well as a variety of flavors such as scallion, vegetable, sun-dried tomato, maple raisin walnut, kalamata olive and blueberry.
Babbo: The wine list is extensive, the ingredients are fresh and flavors are out of this world. Serving only the highest quality Italian, Babbo will not fail to impress. If you can’t decide what to order, the tasting menu will give you a sample of all the best dishes they have to offer. Forget about your diet, because dessert is a must. Try the Babbo Tiramisù or the Olive Oil Cake and Gelato for a special treat. This is the perfect spot for an elegant dinner or celebration. Be sure to make reservations far in advance. This is a popular spot!
Japonica: If your looking for sushi, Japonica is a local treasure. Don’t let the casual ambiance fool you, highly skilled chefs serve fish so fresh it’s practically swimming. From bento boxes to chirashi, it has some of the best in the City.
Where to Drink
Caffe Reggio: Since it opened in 1927, Caffe Reggio has been a Greenwich Village staple. It was the first cafe to serve cappuccino in the United States. The espresso machine, made in 1902, was the first of its kind. Artwork ornaments the walls, some dating back to the Italian Renaissance. Grab an afternoon pastry and a cappuccino, and unwind Italian style in this quaint, authentic coffee bar.
The Duplex: There is nothing more thrilling than singing The Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera in unison with a room full of strangers! The Duplex attracts ametuers and professionals alike, who just have to let it out! Not only can you croon away with the pianist, but you can also catch an open mic performance or the cabaret. Don’t miss this Greenwich Village favorite.
Smalls: The name says it all so if you are looking for live jazz in a quaint, intimate atmosphere, Smalls is the place to go. It is first come, first serve, so get there early, because the music is sweet and many of the greats like Howard Alden, J.D. Allen, William Ash, Ehud Asherie and Omer Avital have performed there.
The Bitter End: The Bitter End is the oldest rock club in New York City. Renowned artists such as Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, James Baldwin, Neil Diamond, Gavin DeGraw and Lenny Bruce have performed there. It is a hub for music, poetry and comedy. You never know when you will witness the next big thing, so don’t miss your chance.
Chumley’s: This prohibition era bar has been around since 1922. It was established by Leland Stanford Chumley who converted an old blacksmith’s shop into a speakeasy that is still in business today. It was frequented by some of the most influential writers, poets, playwrights, journalists, and activists of our time, such as Willa Cather, E.E. Cummings, Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Ring Lardner, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O’Neill, John Dos Passos, and John Steinbeck. Sit where the greats sat and drink what they drank. The walls of Chumley’s are adorned with covers of books that were supposedly worked on there. Stop by, grab a drink, and soak up the creative energy at Chumley’s.
Tickets and Reservations: If there is an opportunity to get tickets or reserve a table in advance, do so. New York City is overpopulated and things fill up quickly. Don’t miss out!
Walk: Walk everywhere! I cannot stress this enough! Yes, you’re tired, yes, your feet hurt, but there is so much to take in! Don’t miss a second of this enchanting neighborhood.
Summing It Up
Each New York City neighborhood has its own dynamic personality. It is living, breathing and evolving every day and it’s impossible to keep pace. A lot of times, as a tourist, you only get to experience the “hotspots”, but there is so much more to explore and these are the most wonderful parts- the nooks and crannies, the places that only the people “in the know” frequent. Greenwich Village is a must see. You will not regret it.
Other Articles In This Series: