Living in the East Village: Things to Do and See in the East Village, New York

The East Village—Downtown Living Defined

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The enclave of Downtown Manhattan between Astor Place and the East River will forever be associated with the counterculture. What began as vast farmland owned by Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant was parceled out during the great 19th-century immigration wave and became the Lower East Side. In the 1950s, Willem de Kooning and other Abstract Expressionist painters arrived. The beatniks, edged out of the West Village by rising rents, and writers like Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg soon followed. A decade later, it was the turn of musicians, hippies, and artists, including Andy Warhol, to make the exodus east. The neighborhood’s subsequent gentrification and rebranding as the “East Village” began around 1964, according to the guidebook Earl Wilson’s New York, which noted, archly, “Artists, poets and promoters of coffeehouses from Greenwich Village are trying to remelt the neighborhood under the high-sounding name of ‘East Village.’”

The 1970s and ‘80s brought a new generation of avant-garde artists—among them Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons—and musicians. Legendary nightclub CBGB was the center of the American punk rock and new-wave music scenes, where Talking Heads, the Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, Madonna, and the Beastie Boys got their start. Today, the allure of the East Village endures.

Where is the East Village Located in NYC?

The East Village is in Downtown Manhattan, bordering the East River, Gramercy Park, Greenwich Village, NoHo, and the Lower East Side.

  • East to West Boundaries: The East River to Third Avenue
  • North to South Boundaries: 14th Street to East Houston Street
  • Subway: 6, L, F
  • Ticket out of the City: FDR Drive

What to Do in the East Village?

In the last two decades, the East Village has lost its gritty reputation but has retained its unconventional character. It still attracts trendsetting bars, clubs, and restaurants; likewise, its denizens, a mix of young and old, latecomers and long-time residents, who are determined to keep the edgy, urban atmosphere of this iconic neighborhood alive.

The East Village’s scene is youth-oriented. Quirky cafés, upscale cocktail lounges, dive bars, intimate restaurants, and fashionable boutiques jostle for position along the avenues. The side streets hide locally owned vintage stores, antique shops, retro salons, and record stores. New York is full of bars and clubs, but the East Village remains a draw for alternative after-hours entertainment. Popular are prohibition-themed speakeasies such as Please Don't Tell on St. Mark’s Place, hidden behind a phone booth in Crif (hot) Dogs; Angel’s Share; and Death & Company. Mother of Pearl is a visually alluring 1940s-style Polynesian tiki bar, while the no-frills East Village institution McSorley’s Old Ale House, established in 1854, serves up nostalgia with its two choices of ale: dark or light.

In the ‘80s, the East Village art scene exploded with the dawn of conceptual movements such as graffiti art, Neo-Expressionism, Neo-Conceptualism, and Commodity art, which was a response to the consumer excess of the decade. The Fun Gallery opened in 1981, introducing the works of Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, and Jeff Koons, followed by experimental art spaces, such as Nature Morte, International with Monument, and Cash/Newhouse. At the height of the East Village art scene, there were some 100 galleries, but by the end of the decade they had either closed down or headed south to SoHo.

New York’s most influential art galleries have since moved to West Chelsea, but the East Village is still a magnet for contemporary art, evidenced by its internationally renowned New Museum, Manhattan's only dedicated contemporary art museum. Other notable art spaces and galleries include Salon 94 Bowery, Sperone Westwater, Hole, and Salon 94 Freemans.

What to See in the East Village?

There is no better symbol of the East Village than St. Marks Place. Dubbed “America’s hippest street,” this three-block stretch of East Eighth Street, from Astor Place to Tompkins Square Park, is a blend of Federal-style mansions, edgy storefronts, bars and restaurants. A who’s who of past residents includes Leon Trotsky, W.H. Auden, and Debbie Harry. The Bowery too has its place in East Village lore. Its most famous landmark was CBGB, or CBGB and OMFUG as it was officially known, an acronym of “Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers”. The club closed in 2006 and the building is part of the Bowery Historic District. For urban relaxation, residents can explore the area’s nearly 50 community gardens, Tompkins Square Park, or the East River Park, which has a sports field and promenade along the waterfront.

The neighborhood’s real estate offers the luxury buyer everything from large single-family homes with gardens to penthouse lofts overlooking the city skyline. The elegant Federal-style townhouses and Victorian brownstones that line many of the East Village’s quirky side streets are a remnant of New York’s Gilded Age. Many have undergone museum-quality restorations and include outdoor spaces, such as courtyards and roof decks. Other options include prewar residences in doorman-serviced co-ops and loft-style duplexes in contemporary high-rise developments.

Where to Eat in the East Village?

In typical low-key style, many of the East Village’s hottest new restaurants are hidden behind inconspicuous storefronts. Food has always been a main draw in the East Village and today’s crop of restaurants, which offer everything from Korean barbecue to vegan raw food and Southern soul food, are a testament to the Lower East Side’s culturally diverse roots. Among the neighborhood favorites are Momofuku Milk Bar, Edi and the Wolf, Empellón Al Pastor, Hearth, Veselka, and the 1908 Italian classic John’s of 12th Street. The stellar lineup of Michelin-star restaurants include the one-star Japanese hot spots Kanoyama, Kyo Ya, and Jewel Bako, and the Asian-accented two-star Momofuku Ko, by celebrity chef David Chang.

What Schools are in the East Village?

The East Village has over two dozen elementary and secondary schools. The top-ranked K-12 institutions include Girls Prep Lower East Side and New Amsterdam School. The Bard High School Early College is an alternative public secondary school affiliated with Bard College in Upstate New York. The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers undergraduate and postgraduate studies in architecture, engineering, art, humanities, and social sciences. Established in 1859, it remains one of the most distinguished institutions of higher learning in the United States. A few blocks away in Greenwich Village are the internationally renowned New York University, the New School, and Parsons School of Design.

How Many People Live in the East Village?

Population: 63,347

What Languages Are Spoken in the East Village?

Language: English

What is the Currency in the East Village?

Currency: USD

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