Funkier than its western counterpart, the East Village is typified by tiny apartments, inexpensive ethnic restaurants, the best unusual shopping in the city, and dozens of bars. You'll find more piercings and tattoos per capita here than anywhere else in the city. Traditionally German, Polish and Ukranian, and still retaining a strong ethnic identity from those cultures, the East Village is full of alternative-leaning college grads, musicians, artists, homeless punks, and babushkas. In fact, it may be the only neighborhood left in Manhattan that is authentically "multi-culti" for its mixture of cultures and range of ages.
Leftist political organizations and radicals (as far back as Emma Goldman) have called the East Village home for decades, and despite its (inevitably) rising rents and inexorable gentrification, the area still retains a rough, defiant edge to it.
The queer scene of the East Village is in keeping with the area's individualistic spirit, although the look of tattoo-shaved head-pierced nose is so standardized here that it seems the truly defiant are the ones who are unadorned, shaggy-haired and unmarked. Gay bars are scattered throughout the neighborhood from Avenue B all the way to Second Ave, and all cater to a decidedly grunge-queer look.
St. Mark's Place (8th Street), the neighborhood's commercial thoroughfare, runs from Astor Place and dead-ends into Tompkins Square Park. St. Mark's Place between Second and Third Avenues is a roiling mix of street life, attracting pierced and dyed teens to its cheap restaurants, T-shirt shops and jewelry stands.
More interesting is Avenue A, which runs perpendicular to St. Mark's, and forms the west border of Tompkins Square Park. Here you'll find the neighborhood locals'; stomping ground, lined with funky shops, eateries, live music venues and best of all, the park, where -- oh hallowed ground! -- Wigstock (212/243-3143), the annual festival of love, peace and wigs, got its start in the band shell (now demolished) back in 1984 under The "Miss" Lady Bunny. Later the festival was moved to the West Side Highway to accommodate the thousands of wigged attendees.
East Sixth Street between First and Second Avenues is Indian Row, so-named for its solid string of Indian restaurants, and one of the best spots in town for a cheap and tasty meal.
Most of the restaurants have BYOB policies, so pick up a bottle of wine or a six pack to go with your samosas.
It wasn't until the mid-';70s that this warehouse district, once devoted to making things like Christmas ornaments and shoe bows, was renamed SoHo, standing for South of Houston (bounded by Sixth Avenue to the west, Broadway to the east, Grand Street to the south and Houston Street to the north). Its re-christening was at the hands of its homesteading artists, who moved into the gigantic, cast-iron buildings for their cheap and enormous lofts. Ahh, those were the days. By the late '70s, SoHo had surpassed 57th Street as the center of the art world, and galleries were filling the streets from Grand to Houston. Rents skyrocketed. Now the area is among the city's priciest real estate, and the only artists that can afford to live here are the superstars.
Today there are literally hundreds of galleries in this relatively small district (pick up a copy of Gallery Guide for a couple of bucks or visit it online at www.galleryguide.org), and they range from the obscure and tiny to the most expansive and powerful. . SoHo is equally known for its haute-trendy shopping at correspondingly haute prices. Todd Oldham and Anna Sui have shops here. Saturday afternoons are the best time to take-in the cutting-edge fashion parade that fills the streets.
An acronym for the Triangle Below Canal street, Tribeca has SoHo's trendiness in a less-frenetic, sparsely-populated atmosphere. Also established by loft-dwelling artists, Tribeca is best known for its outstanding restaurants, as famous for their food as for their imperviousness to anyone seeking a reservation within the next year. Nobu, Tribeca Grill and Chanterelle are celebrity haunts, and very expensive.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six
Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine
New York City: Introduction
New York City: Where to Stay
New York City: Where to Eat
New York City: Where to Play/Meet
New York City: What to See and Do
New York City: Where to Shop
New York City: Resources