West Village Overview
If you think of the Village neighborhoods (East, Greenwich, and West) as a family, the West Village is definitely the sibling that went to medical school and now splits their time between New York and Martha's Vineyard. It has just as many great shops and restaurants as East and Greenwich Village, but with much more of a buttoned-up polish: brownstones, tree-lined streets, designer labels, and a general tranquility that's hard to find in New York City. To many, it's one of New York City's best neighborhoods.
In the the sections below, you'll get a glimpse into life in the West 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.
WEST VILLAGE History
What is now referred to as the West Village was originally considered the center of Greenwich Village - which was an actual village established in 1712. In the 1600s, Dutch and freed African settlers had farmed on the land, and it became a hamlet separate from New York City, which was still contained further south.
From 1797 to 1829, the village was the site of Newgate Prison, New York State's first penitentiary. Located on the edge of the Hudson River at current-day West 10th Street, the prison soon became severely overcrowded and saw frequent rioting. Up to 50 prisoners a day had to be released even to keep its population to 800, nearly double the intended capacity of the facility.
The West Village became home to industry, with companies such as Bell Telephone Laboratories having a major presence there. From 1898 to 1966, the technology company churned out several momentous inventions, including the first talking movies and the vacuum tube. When the High Line's elevated train tracks opened in 1934, Bell Laboratories and other companies allowed for direct freight deliveries by constructing train tunnels inside their buildings.
Innovation also thrived in the neighborhood in the form of the arts and social movements. Artists from all over the United States have been drawn to Greenwich Village and the West Village ever since the construction of the original Tenth Street Studio Building in 1857. By the 1950s and 60s, writers (including Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac and James Baldwin) abounded and added to the neighborhood's bohemian character; one of their frequent hangouts was the White Horse Tavern.
Beginning in 1938, the neighborhood was the site of the country's first racially integrated nightclub, Café Society, located next to Sheridan Square. The club hosted performances by the likes of Miles Davis, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday.
From the 1950s on, the West Village also hosted many of the city's gay and lesbian bars. The most historically notable of these establishments is the Stonewall Inn, which is still operating today on Christopher Street. In 1969, police raided the bar (a common occurrence at gay bars in those days), and fed-up patrons decided to fight back. The gay rights movement was born out of this pivotal uprising. The first gay pride demonstration in history took place on Christopher Street a few days after the Stonewall Inn raid, drawing about 500 marchers. Since then, the neighborhood has been a frequent center of LGBT activism, and serves as the end point for the annual pride parade to this day.
WEST VILLAGE Vibe
Home to stars like Claire Danes, the Olson twins (!), Will Ferrell, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Brooke Shields, the West Village is the East Village’s more glamorous cousin. These crooked (and often confusing) streets on the far western side of the island are as close to quaint as Manhattan gets. Many say that the area has a distinct European feel and tree-lined blocks, historic brick townhouses, trendy boutiques, and hip restaurants abound. And if the weather cooperates, we can’t think of a finer place to take a stroll.
While the atmosphere is delightful, be forewarned that much of the West Village is not on a grid system. We’re still not sure how West 10th street can intersect with West 4th street, but somehow it does. Like neighboring Greenwich Village, living in the West Village typically means trading space and new construction for aesthetics and location. Most West Village apartments are walk-ups; although the Richard Meier-designed apartment towers at 173 and 176 Perry offer an opportunity to live in a luxury building. If your bank account can handle it, the neighborhood has a number of beautiful Federal, Italianate, and Georgian style townhouses that would make a lovely home.
Of all three villages, the West Village is the area that is the most-buttoned up and residential. If you’re looking for quiet streets and easy access to the Hudson River, the West Village might be just the ticket.
WEST VILLAGE Transportation
With you gain in beautiful architecture and tree-lined streets, you lose in transportation accessibility. The West Village only real subway access can be found at Christopher Street and Houston Street (the 1 train). Although the ACEL lines at 14th Street are also nearby. If you venture farther West, your best bet may be a cab or a long walk. And remember - the streets in the West Village are quite a maze, so be sure to allow for plenty of travel time if you don't know where you're going!
West Village Subway & Walking Times
The West Village also offers easy access to the PATH train at Christopher Street. The PATH connects Manhattan and New Jersey via a tunnel under the Hudson River and provides service to Jersey City, Hoboken, Harrison, and Newark.
WEST VILLAGE Guidebook Landmarks
The Gansevoort Market Historic District
This preserved area includes 112 buildings over the span of 11 blocks and is most commonly referred to as the Meatpacking District. Its most defining features are cobblestone streets, warehouses, and rowhouses. And in recent years, it’s become the home to the city’s trendiest clubs. If you love the nightlife, the Meatpacking District will be calling your name.
The Stonewall Inn
This tavern is most famous as the site of the Stonewall riots of 1969, which became the birthplace of the gay rights movement. The bar is still operating today and remains a hub of LBGT activism.
Bob Dylan House
161 West 4th Street might look any other West Village apartment, but its plain appearance belies its place in music history. In 1961, shortly after arriving in New York, Bob Dylan made the apartment his home. Not only did he likely write some of the most famous songs in history in the apartment, he was photographed for the snowy Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album just down the street.
WEST VILLAGE Insider LANDMARKS
Near the Christopher Street subway station at the corner of Seventh Avenue, a curious tiled triangle sits on the sidewalk. It represents the Eminent Domain battle between the City and landowner David Hess, who was pushed off of his property, but in the end refused to give up the mere 500-square-inch triangle that remained in 1914. The Hess Triangle is the smallest piece of private property around, and although people walk all over it, it is still not officially part of the public sidewalk—it is owned by the corner cigar shop, which bought it for $1,000 in 1938.
Although this volcano has remained dormant for years, there are many New Yorkers who are hopeful that one day it will come back to life. Okay, so it's not a real volcano. In the early 1980s, there was a crack in the sidewalk which let steam vent through the sidewalk. A New Yorker with a healthy imagination and good sense of hunor decided that it was the perfect site for an artificial volcano, so they built one with cement. The steam has since died off, but the miniature volcano remains... casting a small but menacing shadow over the West Village.
WEST VILLAGE Parks & Recreation
James Walker Park (1.7 acres)
The Park is definitely lovely, just try not to think too much about its past. Before becoming a park in 1895, the land previously served as the cemetery for Trinity Park. Today, there is a reminder of the Park's past in the form of a large sarcophagus dedicated to three deceased fireman in 1834. Once you move past the fact you are playing in a cemetery, you will really enjoy this place! There are baseball fields and playgrounds make it a popular gathering place for neighborhood families.
Highline Park (6.7 acres)
In a city filled with parks, the Highline is perhaps the most striking, as it exists 30 feet above the street level. The Highline Park was created in the footprint of an elevated train track that was built in the 1930's to remove congestion from the street. Trains ran until 1980 and then the tracks stood until a group of private citizens stepped in to prevent its demolition in 1999. Ten years later, after an international design contest, hundreds of hours of lobbying, and massive construction, the first section of the Highline opened. Today, the Highline is a wonderful place to stroll down New York's west side with views of both the Hudson and the skyline. The Park prominently incorporates local plant life with over 160 plants that are native to New York and over 200 overall. It is a wonderful place for a stroll and when it's not too crowded, you certainly feel like you are above the fray of New York City life.
Hudson River Park (550 acres)
The Hudson River Park, one of the City's most popular leisure destinations, came into being following an aboveground road collapse and a failed highway project that left a large portion of the west side of the City unused. After years of political battling over how to handle the space, Hudson River Park was approved in 1998. The Park's first section was opened in the West Village in 2003. Today, the Park stretches along the river from Battery Park City up to 58th Street. The Park is extremely popular for runners and cyclists who provide a steady stream of traffic for the bikeway, but is equally popular among the multitudes of sunbathers who take up camp on the Park's green banks. One of the Park's most interesting features is its incorporation of old piers, which have been converted into public park space.