East Village Overview
The East Village has something that many New York City neighborhoods do not: a very distinctive personality. With slightly rough edges and some of the city's finest bars and restaurants, the East Village may not be quite as polished as its West Village and Greenwich Village neighbors, but it has just as much charm.
In the the sections below, you'll get a glimpse into life in the East Village. But before you go anywhere, make sure you scroll through the photos in the gallery below. Nothing can tell the story of a neighborhood as well as a few good photos.
EAST VILLAGE History
Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New Amsterdam, was one of the original residents of today's East Village. He owned a large tract of farm land that would stay in his family for generations. After his death, he was buried in a vault located beneath the family chapel. In 1793, his descendants donated the chapel's property to the Episcopal Church, and a new church was constructed there. That church, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, is still in operation and is the second oldest church in Manhattan.
In the early 19th century, John Jacob Astor, a German immigrant who became wealthy from the fur trade, began buying and selling real estate in the East Village. Astor and many other wealthy families (including the Vanderbilts) built mansions there and transformed the neighborhood into one of the most fashionable areas of Manhattan. After waves of immigrants began arriving, wealthy residents sold their properties to tenement developers and moved to other parts of the city.
Between 1850 and 1910, immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe moved into the East Village. For a while, the neighborhood was actually known as Little Germany. The neighborhood was hit hard by one of the city's greatest tragedies: thousands of German immigrants were on their way to a church picnic when their steamboat caught fire and sank. Over one thousand people died in the accident. The accident touched every person in the neighborhood and some historians believe it hastened the dispersion of German residents to other parts of the city.
The East Village changed dramatically in the 1960s when artists, musicians, and students arrived in search of cheap rents. The neighborhood had been considered part of the Lower East Side, but with the influx of new residents, took on a new name: the East Village. The Village's Bowery section - once called Skid Row - was known for its counter-culture, seedy bars, and punk rock clubs (the East Village was one of the birthplaces of punk rock). The community gardens that began popping up on empty lots were some of the few bright spots in an area otherwise known for being rather dangerous.
Beginning in the 1990s, tenements and abandoned properties were renovated and condominiums were built. Artists, poets and writers could no longer afford the rents, and they were, over time, replaced by young professionals with families. The neighborhood continues to evolve, but retains much of the cultural spirit of the past century.
EAST VILLAGE Vibe
A little off the beaten path, the East Village has long attracted artists, students, skateboarders, and hippies, and was a major center for the punk rock scene and the Nuyorican (New York Puerto Rican) literary movement. It was also famously the backdrop for the story of the group of young struggling artists portrayed in the musical Rent. More recently, though, the East Village has become one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Manhattan, with a growing concentration of hip boutiques, bars, and serious foodie destinations.
As a longtime hub for counterculture, the East Village still carries that alternative vibe. The neighborhood boasts a high concentration of community gardens, street art, second-hand stores, and natural food stores. Two of its defining cultural institutions are the Bowery Poetry Club and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, both of which host poetry slams and similar events; another is Lucky Cheng's, a restaurant featuring drag shows.
Nearby NYU and Cooper Union, as well as the punk rock movement and the more recent outcropping of trendy nightlife and shopping, make the East Village's population skew to the younger side. On any given day or night in the neighborhood, you might see bike messengers racing on fixies in Tompkins Square Park; young couples bringing their pets to the dog run; crowds of foodies waiting for ramen, arepas, or vegetarian food at the latest hotspot; or bar-hopping college students.
Needless to say, the East Village is defined by its eclectic feel. From gritty to trendy, historic to brand new, the neighborhood has it all, but has managed to keep a pretty indie atmosphere. It's culturally diverse, too, with a significant Puerto Rican population (as evidenced by street signs and murals throughout the area) and a Ukrainian pocket (near the Ukrainian Museum).
While the western part of the neighborhood - due to its proximity to the subways and college campuses - is often hopping with activity, the eastern section (eastern Alphabet City to East River Park) is considerably quieter and more residential. Throughout the neighborhood, the majority of housing consists of walk-up apartment buildings accented by those quintessential New York fire escapes, but some new high-rise condos are making an appearance as well.
EAST VILLAGE Transportation
Several of the main selling points for the East Village (more space for the money, less expensive) have a lot to do with the neighborhood being less accessible via public transportation. As you move east to the River, you are going to have a long walk to any public transportation. It's a trade-off, but a long walk with a heavy wallet might just be a bit more bearable.
East Village Subway & Walking Times
EAST VILLAGE Guidebook Landmarks
Cooper Union is as famous for its selective art, architecture and engineering programs as it is for its free tuition—well, until a recent decision to begin charging students. The building at 41 Cooper Square is the most noticeable landmark nowadays. Its innovative design features sloping stainless steel mesh and many green features. The other notable building is the stately Foundation Building, where, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln gave a historic speech (known as the Cooper Union Address) in which he elaborated on his views against slavery.
St. Mark's in-the-Bowery Church
The second oldest surviving church in Manhattan, St. Mark's in-the-Bowery was built from 1795 to 1799 as an Episcopal church on land previously owned by the Stuyvesant family. St. Mark's also holds the title of New York's oldest site of continuous worship, since it had been a Stuyvesant family chapel since 1660. Peter (Petrus) Stuyvesant's burial vault can still be found in the church yard. St. Mark's has been fostering the arts since the 1800s, and hosted performances by several famous poets (Carl Sandberg, Edna St. Vincent Millay), dancers (Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham), and other artists.
The Cube at Astor Place
The Cube, designed by Tony Rosenthal and known officially as Alamo, is an outdoor sculpture and popular meeting spot on Astor Place. Its gravity-defying look is enhanced by the fact that with a little bit of elbow grease, passersby can actually spin the 1,800-pound cube on its axis. Interestingly, the Cube was never intended to be a permanent sculpture, but it so thoroughly won over residents during its temporary exhibition that the City made it permanent.
EAST VILLAGE Insider LANDMARKS
96 and 98 St. Marks Place
If you are a fan of late 70s and early 80s rock (and who isn't?), 96 and 98 St. Marks Place require a visit. The two matching buildings have made two music cameos: 1) as the cover art for Led Zeppelin's album Physical Graffiti, and 2) as the waiting place for Keith Richards and Mick Jagger in the Rolling Stones music video, Waiting on a Friend. Take a picture and then get to work on Photoshop to make your own rock and roll memento.
Charlie Parker Residence
There was a time in New York's history when being a "hipster" was legitimately cool. The early practitioners and fans of bebop jazz were called "hepsters" and then "hipsters." Charlie Parker, one of the most celebrated saxophonists in the history of jazz, was one of the early fathers of this movement. Today, his New York home still stands on Avenue B, and was recently restored to its former architectural glory.
EAST VILLAGE Parks & Recreation
Tompkins Square Park (10.5 acres)
Who was the Vice President of the United States from 1817-1825? New Yorker Daniel Tompkins, of course. Like so many New York parks, Tompkins Square Park started as a private estate. In this case, it was originally Peter Stuyvesant's home (the last Director of the Dutch colony of New Netherland) before eventually being taken over by Tompkins. Portions of the Park were originally swamp land which were filled in and converted to green space. The Park has kept many of its original tress, including a handful of Sycamores and Elms which have been in the park for over a century. Today, the Park contains a handful of playgrounds, a dog park, and a basketball court. It is the largest Park in the East Village.