West Village, New York City
Hitting the pavement is the very best way to truly make New York your own. There are lots of green spots between and in the shadows of our dazzling high skyscrapers, as well as little known fountains and waterfalls, cobblestone streets and mews, tiny steeple churches tucked away in remote corners and 18th and 19th century buildings with endlessly interesting architectural features.
Have an hour? Let's keep it simple. Begin at West 4th and 6th Avenue, and find Bleecker Street. Walk north, just pass 7th Avenue to Grove, turn left, and continue walking until you come to Hudson Street.
Stop a moment to glance at the picturesque garden set back from the street at the Church of St. Luke's in the Fields on Hudson. Right out of a storybook, now notice the winding walkway leading to the entrance of the school not far from the church. Next, retrace your steps on the opposite side of Grove Street so you can take a close look at the brownstones and buildings across from you. When you reach Bleecker, walk to the next block, Christopher Street and repeat, then proceed to West 10th, Charles, Perry and West 11th Street.
Survey the unique character and architectural detail of the brownstones and low apartment buildings. There is an unhurried neighborhood feel here; people leisurely walk with little children and dogs, and sit on doorsteps and front stoops. You'll see ivy clad doorways and facades, well kept stone stairwells with exquisite wrought iron handrails. Dated plaques on many brownstones are proof they have been around since the mid 19th century.
Look up at the stairwells to find grand entrance doors; some carved with intricate designs or polished to a high gloss finish like the mahogany double doors at 70 Perry Street.
There is a lot to see. Bleecker Street has numerous small shops, cozy bookstores, intimate cafes and sidewalk restaurants.
On busy Hudson Street in the West Village you will find a pub that is as much tourist sight as drinking spot, which is why I have placed it here rather than under Nightlife. The White Horse Tavern is famous as the place where Dylan Thomas drank his last whiskey. In November of 1953, he is said to have beaten his own personal record by downing eighteen shots. Soon after the last drink he stumbled outside and collapsed on the sidewalk. He was taken to the Chelsea Hotel (where he was living at the time) and there fell into a coma; the next morning he was transferred to St. Vincent’s Hospital where he died. One of the rooms here is decorated with several portraits of him, and there is also a plaque commemorating his last visit to the tavern above the bar. Later, in the early 60s, it was a favourite hang-out for the other Dylan, Bob, and other Greenwich Village musicians and writers (Jim Morrison, Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S Thompson, among others).
I could easily see why Thomas would come here, as it reminded me very much of a British pub in atmosphere and décor. While today it may have lost much of its bohemian reputation (and crowd), it still appears to be a good place for a drink, with a lot of beers (on tap and bottled) and a laid-back vibe. We were here mid-afternoon, so took our bottles outside to one of the pavement tables as the bar was a bit too quiet for our liking, but I imagine that if you come in the evening you’ll find the place lively and welcoming. There is a menu of basic pub food such as burgers if you need a bite to eat too, and the prices looked reasonable.
567 Hudson St. (at 11th), New York 10014
In my opinion Christopher Street and the western end of West 4th Street that intersects it are among the prettiest in Greenwich Village. Brick terraces, interesting little shops, even cobbles in places – at times it feels as if you must be somewhere in Europe. And while the energy and bustle of most of Manhattan is a major part of its attraction, it is nice now and then to find somewhere more relaxing and laid-back to explore.
But this hasn’t always been the quiet haven it is now. At number 53 Christopher Street is the Stonewall Inn, site of the infamous Stonewall riots of 1969. The following is an extract from Time Out magazine, displayed in their window and quoted on the website:
”It was 1:20 a.m. when eight cops stomped into the Stonewall Inn, a dive in Manhattan's Greenwich Village district that had no liquor license but served watery drinks to a mix of drag queens, street kids, gay professionals and closeted and straight mafiosi (who ran the place). Within two hours, the Village was bleeding and burning as hundreds rioted. How did the nightly saturnalia at Stonewall produce protests that would kick start the modern gay-rights movement? The uprising was inspirited by a potent cocktail of pent-up rage (raids of gay bars were brutal and routine), overwrought emotions (hours earlier, thousands had wept at the funeral of Judy Garland) and drugs…
Later, the deputy police inspector in charge would explain that day's impact: ‘For those of us in [the] public morals [division], things were completely changed ... Suddenly they were not submissive anymore.’ Today gays and lesbians memorialize that night each year with a weekend of rallies, parades and parties – a spectacle as inspiring and raunchy as the Stonewall itself.”
Within weeks of the Stonewall riots, Village residents organised themsleves into activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested. And within two years of the riots there were gay rights groups in every major American city, as well as Canada, Australia, and Western Europe. Today a plaque on the wall of the Inn commemorates the riots and the resulting gradual relaxation of both laws and attitudes, as does the sculpture of four white figures by George Segal opposite in leafy Christopher Park. The Inn itself is a popular gay hangout and I imagine a pretty lively one, but when we passed by on a midweek afternoon it was quiet and peaceful.
North-west of Washington Square. The nearest subway stations are Christopher Street (line 1) or West 4th St / Washington Square (lots of lines)