There’s something about the iconic Tompkins Square Park. Once an enter-at-your-own-risk crime and drug-ridden park, it’s a massive and family-friendly green space these days lined with convenient benches. Dogs of all shapes and sizes run around in fenced off areas, young artsy types sip on cold brew while lounging underneath the sea of trees, and older locals who’ve seen it all play chess and hang out. Sometimes there’s even a pretty good sax player.
Need more green? Venture away from the tourist-heavy avenues and weave through the Alphabet City side streets, where several gated community gardens are sandwiched between apartment buildings and coffee shops. The gates are open most to the public on weekends, so grab a book and a snack, and opt out of those awful brunch lines. 6BC Botanical Garden is one of the East Village’s best—its gorgeousness is on (yep) 6th Street between Avenue B and C.
Don’t dare step into the Urban Outfitter’s. You must step (see also: run) into East Village old school staple and vintage eye glass store, Fabulous Fanny’s and feel like entering a magical eyewear museum: specs are artfully displayed and many are found in apothecary-like cabinets. Fabulous Fanny’s specializes in head-turners from the 1700s, 1920s, and the present, and thankfully the employees are basically (very friendly) eyewear historians. Also make sure to check out occult-themed shop Enchantments (beware of the few cats that often nap under racks of incense and/or on top of stacks of tarot cards)—just a few of the magical shops to check out.
The East Village has whatever your taste buds are in the mood for: Mexican, Korean, Italian, French—you name it (or Google it). 6th Street alone has been popularly known as “curry row” for agesbecause of its slew of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi restaurants. In the mood for Moroccan? Then it’s all about Cafe Mogador. Polish? The old school joints, Little Poland and Veselka, are famous for their mouth-watering-inducing pierogies. How about Ethiopian? Go to the delicious Awash, opened in 2004. Have fun attempting to narrow down the options for the East Village’s best sushi and ramen, especially when strolling through Little Tokyo. And don’t even bother Googling “Best Burger in the East Village” because you’ll lose your mind.
The East Village has forever been known for its fantastic music scene and the musicians who rocked out at iconic clubs like the now-closed, pre-fame CBGB. (Patti Smith, anyone?) The music scene is still booming in the East Village—a must is Berlin, an Alphabet City basement boozy haunt and music venue located just below old school East Village staple, 2A. The cavernous, red-lit snug space with an artsy crowd welcomes many a downtown darling, indie rocker, and the biker-jacket-clad friendly. Think: skateboarders, punk kids, downtown darlings, and maybe a Chloë Sevigny and/or Natasha Lyonne spotting.
True East Villagers will avoid the NYU student-heavy Buffalo Exchange. For punk-y looks (studded leather jackets, concert t-shirts), it’s all about St. Mark’s Street classic staple, Search & Destroy. For those looking for ’80s/’90s oversized looks, like bombers, varsity jackets, and basketball jerseys, or a Tupac or Biggie concert t-shirt, it’s all about Metropolis and Mr. Throw Back.
Many namesake designer stores and boutiques carry high-end designers in the East Village. For a head-turner that won’t be seen down in SoHo, then get to Tokio 7, a high-end consignment store and fashion world favorite. Find second-hand designer and vintage clothing, shoes, and accessories here, from established to edgy local designers. Good luck trying to sell your own duds here, though—Tokio 7 is picky.
There’s no need to be religious to appreciate the beauty of this landmark, the second-oldest church building in Manhattan. Located at the intersection of Stuyvesant Street and Second Avenue, this Episcopal church is both a gorgeous and haunting sight to see. The St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery has supported the arts since the 19th century—after all, this is where Patti Smith launched her rock career in 1971. These days, in addition to regular worship, the landmark hosts events like poetry readings, mindfulness meditation group meets, and designers’ New York Fashion Week collections.
Living in New York City makes finding a favorite, open 24/7 neighborhood bodega an imperative. Living in the East Village, where it feels like there’s at least one bodega on every block, means the options are overwhelming. One of the East Village’s best round-the-clock bodegas is Sunny & Annie’s. Be careful if stumbling in here after one too many drinks at the club because this space is extremely tiny, the aisles crammed with everything you’d ever need. It’s all about their creative sandwich combos though, with fun names like “Pho Real” and “2009 Obama.” Bonus: a free pickle!
There’s always another art opening with wine-spilling hipsters at a new gallery in the East Village. But visitors can always (well, usually) expect interesting art and a good time at The Hole, located on the forever trendy Bowery. Opened in the summer of 2010, the contemporary art gallery (and often club kid/indie celeb chaotic clubhouse) presents exhibitions focusing on emerging artists and thematic exhibitions.
Whoever said no one reads books anymore hasn’t been to the Strand. Founded in 1927 and located a few blocks from Union Square, this independent bookstore is massive yet perma-packed, so its slogan, “18 Miles of Books,” makes a lot of sense. The Strand specializes in new, used (sell books here, too), and rare finds. It also has book signings and other events and has hosted the likes of Gloria Steinem, James Franco, Carrie Fisher, David Sedaris, and many, many more.
Despite Starbucks and high rises popping up everywhere, there’s still nothing like people-watching in the East Village. Sit on a stoop and take in the East Village’s enduring edge: skateboarders, fashion darlings, club kids, artists, celebs, and senior citizens who’ve resided in the East Village their entire lives and rock zany outfits, purple hair, etc.