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What to Do in Greenwich Village

October 10, 2014 - by City Guide

It's often said that NYC's Greenwich Village neighborhood resembles Paris, with its cobblestone streets, row houses, bistros, restaurants, and bars. It's home to NYU -- which turned out some of the city's most famous writers and artists, such as Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Norman Rockwell, and Willem de Kooning.

To get a sense of the neighborhood’s history, visit Charlton, King, and Vandam Streets off Sixth Avenue, only a few blocks south of West 4th Street. John Jacob Astor acquired this area in the 1820s and developed it with the Federal-style homes that once filled Lower Manhattan; this tiny enclave preserves their memory well. Further back in history, this tract of land was the site of the Richmond Hill estate -- John Adams' home during New York's brief reign as the nation's capital, and George Washington's command post during the Revolutionary War. Washington Square North between University Place and MacDougal Street is The Row, two blocks of preserved Greek revival and federal-style townhouses.

Also the title of a Henry James novel set in one of the townhouses that line the north side of the park, Washington Square's first incarnation was as a cemetery for yellow-fever victims, and somewhere between 10,000 and 22,000 bodies rest beneath the present-day bustle. Parades and public executions were the preferred entertainment here in the early 1800s, but civil affairs have been replaced by spontaneous street performers and skateboarders, and competitive chess matches in the southwest corner. Across from Fifth Avenue at the north side of the park is Washington Arch, built originally with wood in 1889 to mark the 100th anniversary of Washington's inauguration, and reproduced with stone in 1892.

Literary footnotes are casually scattered throughout the Village, starting with James, who was born and lived near the park, and spreading out from there in all directions. To the south, on MacDougal Street, Louisa May Alcott's red-brick home (130-132 MacDougal St.), where she wrote Little Women, is surrounded by jazz clubs, ethnic restaurants, and the coffeehouses that inspired so many beatniks. Squeezed into a nine-and-a-half-foot space at 75 1/2 Bedford Street is the narrowest house in NYC, home at different times to Edna St. Vincent Millay and John Barrymore. Off of West Tenth Street is tiny Patchin Place, where e.e. cummings and Eugene O'Neill once resided. And at the White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street, Dylan Thomas indulged in the drinking that led to his death.

Seventh Avenue meets Christopher Street at Sheridan Square. In 1863, during the Draft Riots, an angry mob dragged freed slaves here from nearby Gay Street to be lynched. In 1969, gays from the nearby Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher St.) clashed here with police during another riot, considered by many to be the beginning of the gay-rights movement. Stonewall Inn closed later that year, but was given landmark status in 1999. Christopher Street remains a center of gay and lesbian culture.

The Heritage of Pride march and Halloween Parade are popular annual events centered in Greenwich Village.

As with most NYC neighborhoods, the Village’s wealth and breadth of cuisines is a highlight. For Spanish/Mexican, try Tio Pepe (168 W. 4th St., 212-242-9338); there’s great Italian at Monte’s (97 MacDougal St., 212-228-9194) and Villa Mosconi (69 MacDougal St., 212-673-0390); or experience live jazz and people-watching Garage Restaurant and Cafe (99 Seventh Ave. So., 212-645-0600). The streets are also filled with interesting shops: Head to Matt Umanov Guitars (273 Bleecker St., 212-675-2157), one of the city’s oldest guitar shops.

*New to the West Village, as of Dec. 1, 2014, is former East Side haunt, The Bourgeois Pig, moving to 127 MacDougal Street. 

Contributors: Brian Griffin, Colin Carlson, Irene Ross


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