New York City’s beauty lies within its myriad neighbourhoods, each so distinct in character and feel.
East Village is one of Manhattan’s most diverse and real communities. As I described in a previous post, it’s a neighbourhood of juxtapositions: there’s grit, there’s glam; it’s where the homeless live alongside the middle class; it’s edgy, it’s traditional; it’s where Sunday brunch happens across the road from Tompkins Square Park.
As I’ve been a Brooklyn resident for much of my time in NY, I sought the advice of an East Village local, Josh M.
Josh is the publisher of travel, music and food blog, Eating in the East Village | 3rd and B., whose coordinates speak to his Alphabet City base. Josh has been living in the East Village area for two years (he’s originally from Jacksonville, FL) and loves his neighbourhood. When Josh told me, “I do plan to live here for a long time. I don’t see myself wanting to move anywhere else during my time in New York,” I knew he was the man to tell the Village story.
Enjoy what Josh has to say in this Q&A.
NB: All photos are my own.
Marina: What do you love about this neighbourhood?
Josh: The East Village is essentially 40 square blocks of restaurants and bars. I run into my neighbors and friends on the streets and when I’m out on a regular basis. It makes it feel like I live in a small neighborhood instead of a big city.
How would you compare it to other parts of New York City in terms of look, feel, and energy?
The East Village still has some of the grit that I picture when I romanticize old New York. The short buildings and distinctive architecture make the neighborhood visually stand out when compared to the rest of Manhattan. Even though the East Village looks a little gritty a first glance, the high rents and active bar scene ensure that young professionals occupy the majority of the neighborhood.
Tell me a little about the community.
The East Village is made up of primarily young professionals, NYU students, and the young-at-heart middle age residents. I’d say that most people in the East Village are in the stage of their life between college and having kids.
At times you wouldn’t guess that the East Village is such an affluent neighborhood because the housing projects around 1st Avenue and 3rd St and along Avenue D — this gives the neighborhood an interesting mix of characters. You see homeless people from time to time in the neighborhood, but I haven’t found it to be much of a problem. Overall, the East Village is an extremely safe neighborhood. There are lots of people on the streets at virtually every hour of the day and night. My girlfriend and plenty of other women I know feel very safe walking alone at night in the neighborhood.
My favorite East Village character is Nicholas VanderBorgh. Nicholas was the apartment broker who helped me find my apartment in the East Village. Anyone who has met Nicholas certainly remembers him. His outgoing personality and inappropriate sense of humor are thoroughly entertaining. He takes off and travels the world three months out of the year, but when he is home in the East Village, I run into him about once a week. If you are ever looking for an apartment in the East Village, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Describe Tompkins Square Park.
Tompkins Square Park: it’s a nice little green space in the middle of the East Village. It certainly isn’t Central Park; however, it is nice to have a park just a few blocks away. One of my favorite parts about the park is the dog run – it’s nice to have it divided into a small dog side and a large dog side.
The biggest attractions in the East Village are the restaurants and bars. There aren’t many major tourist attractions, other than Clinton Street Baking Co., that I’m aware of, which is nice in many ways because we don’t have packs tourists roaming the streets like other parts of the city.
Favourite community garden?
The people that take care of the Sixth Street and Avenue B Community Garden put a lot of time and energy into making it a nice place. This garden isn’t open all of the time, but when it is, it is definitely worth checking out. They even have small music performances in this park from time to time.
Will you live here forever?
No, I don’t think I’ll live in the East Village forever, but I do plan to live here for a long time. I don’t see myself wanting to move anywhere else during my time in New York.
If you had an afternoon to spend in East Village, what would you do?
When I introduce people to the East Village for the first time, I like to start with a walking tour. The East Village is an easy neighborhood to navigate because it is on a perfect grid.
Tip: The only tricky thing that you need to be aware of is that 8th St is called St Marks Place.
Take the F train to the East Village, and get off at the 2nd Ave stop (you’ll get out at the corner of 2 Ave, and Houston St). Walk N on 2nd Ave up to St. Marks Place. The block of St Mark’s Place between 2nd and 3rd Aves has a lot going on, and is the closest thing to a tourist strip that we have in the East Village. You will find Mamoun’s Falafel on this block. I would recommend that you stop and have a falafel because Mamoun’s makes one of the best falafel sandwiches of all time for only $2.50.
For something sweet, walk back to 2nd Ave; then N up to 13th St. Turn left and walk along the N side of 13th St. You’ll quickly find Momofuku Milk Bar. Ideally, you will have ordered one of their cakes at least 48 hours in advance using their website. You can buy a snack of their popular “compost cookies” and other treats, but the smart move is to order a cake because this cake will likely be the best cake you have ever tried. If you don’t have any free hands to carry the cake to your hotel/home, you may prefer their soft serve ice cream – while rich, it’s not for everyone. People tend to love it or hate it, so try a free sample and decide for yourself. They will give you a sample as a mix of the two flavors if you ask them.
STROLL ALPHABET CITY
When you leave Milk Bar, head E on 13th St, toward 1st Avenue. You will notice that this block has fewer retail shops than most of the other blocks in the East Village. In general, 11th St, 12th St, and 13th St don’t have as much going on as the streets further south in the East Village. Apartments are a little cheaper on those streets as well.
Once you get to 1st Ave, head S until you reach 7th St. Head E on 7th St until you reach Ave A. At the corner of 7th and A, you will find Yuca Bar. This is the also the southwest corner of Tompkins Square Park so it makes Yuca Bar’s outside seating a great place for people watching. Eat some tapas and get a pitcher of sangria. After you finish at Yuca Bar, you can walk through Tompkins Square Park towards Ave B.
Ave A and B are both great streets to walk down. Take some time to explore the blocks between them as you walk south towards Houston St. Your goal is to end up at Il Laboratorio del Gelato at the corner of Ludlow and Houston. This place has a wide selection of classic and unique gelato flavors. It is definitely a must try if you are in the area. Their espresso gelato is easily my favorite espresso gelato of all time.
From here, you’re close to the F train stop at Houston and 1st Ave. If you decided on buying Momofuku Milk Bar’s cake, enjoy it as congratulations for a solid day of sightseeing. Make sure that you have some friends to help you eat the cake because you get a solid 12 slices out of it. We have been known to throw parties just so we would have an excuse to order a cake.
To read an excellent write up of the restaurants and bars in the area, see Josh’s post: Eating in the East Village | 3rd and B.