Neighborhood Walk: The Villages
1. East Village: Once an immigrant neighborhood, the East Village acquired its distinctive feel in the 1960s as the haunt of artists, musicians, and hippies, and as the center of America’s counterculture. Gentrification has erased some of the area’s grittiness, but the neighborhood’s artsy vibe is still evident in the graffiti-covered walls and independent stores. Street artist Jim Power has decorated almost all of the 80 lampposts with ceramics, mirrors, and glass: a new streetscape known as the Mosaic Trail. At the heart of the village is St. Mark’s Place, where vintage shops help keep the alternative spirit alive. One of the most famous, Trash and Vaudeville, has been dressing rock stars and teenage rebels since 1975. St. Mark’s Place ends at Tompkins Square, the scene of the first labor demonstration in 1874 and a performance space for Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, and other 1960s legends. Punk rock arrived in the 1970s, with bands such as the Ramones and Blondie regularly playing at the (now defunct) CBGB nightclub on the Bowery, once the slummiest area of the city. The street’s name derives from the bouwerij or farm belonging to the Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant in the 17th century. He is buried at nearby St. Mark’s Church in-the- Bowery, one of New York’s oldest churches. The East Village’s Avenues A, B, C, and D—known as Alphabet City—have become a trendy enclave, with a nightlife that draws many uptowners. If you feel in need of refreshment in your wanderings, drop in at Veniero’s Pasticceria & Caffè, or McSorley’s Old Ale House, which dates to 1854.
2. Merchant’s House Museum: A wealthy merchant family, the Tredwells, owned this Federal-style row house, built in 1832—the city’s only 19th-century home that retains its original interior and exterior. Displayed in eight rooms over three floors are the family’s fixtures and furnishings, decorative arts, and personal possessions. Occasionally, one or two items from the Tredwell Dress Collection are on display. The museum is also reportedly Manhattan’s most haunted house. Every October it presents Candlelight Ghost Tours; Gertrude Tredwell, the last owner, who died in 1933, is summoned from the great beyond.
3. Greenwich Village: New York’s regular street pattern breaks up around Washington Square, home of New York University since 1835 and hub of Greenwich Village. Known to locals as “the Village,” the world-famous neighborhood originally really was a village. By the late 19th century, literary salons, art clubs, and cutting-edge theaters were flourishing; by the end of World War I, residents and visitors included avant-garde figures such as Marcel Duchamp. As you walk the streets, catch up with the Village’s vibrant music and intellectual scene, past and present.
4. Union Square Park: Marking Greenwich Village’s northeastern tip, Union Square lies at the intersection—or union—of Broadway and Fourth Avenue. Its 6.5-acre park has a popular farmers’ market, where you can sample local bread, cheese, wine, and crafts on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. During November and December, the Union Square Holiday Market takes center stage, with stalls selling everything from jewelry and candles to ornaments and Christmas décor. Among the famous sculptures dotting the park is a bronze equestrian statue of first U.S. President George Washington. Cast in 1814, it is the oldest sculpture in New York City’s park collection. Be sure to look up at the surrounding buildings to spot the newest sculpted addition: the kinetic Metronome designed by artists Kristin Jones and Andrew Gizel. The piece features a digital clock and releases a continuous plume of steam.
5. Meatpacking District: Once the home of the meat trade, this cluster of streets has transformed itself into Manhattan’s trendiest quarter. Now it plays backdrop to some of the city’s coolest restaurants, most exclusive clubs, and most expensive shopping. As you stroll the streets you’ll see a few meatpacking houses surviving among the modern glass architecture, snapshots of the area’s past. Along 14th Street you can window-shop at the high-end boutiques of Matthew Williamson, Jeffrey New York, and Yigal Azrouël. The tasty treats of Chelsea Market lie just to the north of the district. Its 28 upscale food shops include Lucy’s Whey for handcrafted American cheeses, and Eleni’s for hand-painted cookies.
6. The High Line: This unusual, slimline park, 30 feet (9 m) above the ground, was created around 1.45 miles of disused freight track. Miniature landscapes, such as wildflower meadows and tree plantings, adorn the walking trail from Gansevoort to West 30th Streets; en route you can pause on wooden loungers and viewing platforms, and peruse temporary art installations. With views of the Hudson River, the streets below, and surrounding neighborhoods, the High Line is a special place to watch the sun set over the city.
Excerpted from Walking New York by National Geographic. Copyright © 2012 by National Geographic. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.