Thursday, May 15, 2014

Visit the Real NYC Part 3 - Greenwich Village

I had the chance to walk around Greenwich Village (see map) for the first time in several years. I know that this is going to sound like a "grandpa is complaining about change again" blog, but I was really disappointed in what I found.

Let me start by saying that I was a teenager in the 1970's. I spent a lot of time wandering around The Village. I loved that there was an edge to it. West 8th street had a great mix of head shops, record stores, stores that specialized in really good band tee-shirts and posters. It was a place where 20 drama club nerds could end up after a successful show and dinner in Chinatown, sitting in Washington Square Park with a jug of wine, not worried about being hassled by the police. There were inexpensive restaurants and bars. There was the 8th street Playhouse:
Home to the "Midnight Cult Classics", especially Rocky Horror Picture Show!

Yes, it was edgy and seedy!  That was the whole point.

There was an honesty to the village. Anyone could come. Everyone could be who they were. This led to birth of political movements.

Stonewall riots
It was home to movements of music and culture. From the Folk revival of the 50's and 60's to the Punk rock movement of the 80's many up and coming artists found their home in Greenwich Village.

So what is Greenwich Village like today?

Well, Greenwich Village is still worth the trip to visit. There are many architectural treasures to be seen, just above street level.

Row of houses along 6th Ave.
Jefferson Market Public Library
On 6th Ave and 10th street is the Jefferson Market Library. Built in 1877 as a courthouse it was designed by Fredrick Clark Withers and Calvert Vaux. The building was voted one of the 10 most beautiful buildings in America in 1880. and was the site of the trial of Henry K. Thaw for the murder of Stanford White. For more on the first "trial of the Century" see here. See more of its history here.

8th Street Today

As I said earlier, 8th street used to be one of my favorite places to hang out. I would spend hours in the poster and t-shirt shops. I used to go to a place called Mamie's for ice cream sundaes. And i used to go to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show with my friends. It was a place where someone who didn't have a lot of money could come and hang out for an evening and feel like they were welcome and belonged here.

Today 8th street has become a gentrified, and expensive. The restaurants are all upscale. Now, it is home to one of my favorite "coffee-snob" places - Stumptown
The best coffee roasters and brewers around
Stumptown Coffee (see here) is an amazing place - not you neighborhood diner. In fact it makes Starbucks look inexpensive. But the coffee it produces is out of this word.Every month or 2 I treat myself to a cup of their fresh brewed drip coffee - a pot of coffee made just for me with the care usually given to a Japanese tea house.

On the other hand there is also 5oz. Factory. This store sells frozen custard and fried Wisconsin Cheese curds. But taking advantage of being on 8th street their prices start at over $7 for the cheese curds. Way beyond what I am willing to pay.

But all is not forsaken. For Washington Square Park is still the heart of Greenwich Village, and it has been rehabbed and is back to jewel status.

Washington Square Arch
 Over the past decade Washington Square park has been totally rehabbed. The benches have been replaced, and there are new playgrounds for kids. Meanwhile the old trees are still there giving shade as they have for decades.

And the feel of the park as a town square is still there. Near the Arch you will find the drummers and guitar players who have been there since the 1950's still congregating. The fountain is a performance space for acrobatic troops. The southwest corner is still home to chess players ready for a game. But be on your a-game before you sit down because they are good and will take your cash.

In other words, if you want some place to come and sit and watch people Washington Square Park is on of the best places in NYC.

One of the more interesting performers is the Washington Square Piano Player. 
Colin Huggins entertaining the crowd
Every weekend, weather permitting, Colin Huggins brings his Baby Grand to the park and plays for tips. From 60's rock to swing and blues to Liszt and Rachmaninoff. He plays and people dance:

One place that is definitely worth the stop is Porto Rico Importing Co. This was the first store I had ever seen selling fresh roasted coffee. Walking into this shop, which has been on Bleecker Streetsince 1907  near 6th Ave is a delight for all of your senses.


  1. Well I miss Steve's Ice Cream shop, Balducci's and Grey's hot dog stand. My village is gone.

  2. Good intro to the new Greenwich Village. But I too miss the old coffee houses (there used to be dozens of them where you could sit for hours having coffee and some kind of Italian pastry). I miss the HUGE art shows all over the streets. I miss Azuma's with it's inexpensive Japanese housewares and tiny dishes. (I still have a carved room divider bought there for $99.00 in 1974). I miss the store with 41 types of pies on 6th Avenue and the stores that sold hundred of jeans just up the block. I miss the Mad Monk with its beautiful ceramics and the shoes stores where you could be fitted for custom made sandals that lasted for a decade. But then again, I'm an old foggy. Still, I wish young people today could enjoy all those experiences for not very much money. AMD

    1. I believe the jeans store you mentioned was Instant Pants, where they would tailor for free on the spot. Favorite of mine back then. Loved all the places you mentioned.

    2. Thank you for mentioning The Mad Monk! Carl Monk was a really cool
      guy, as was his employee, George. I still have a soup tureen that friends bought me, a plate and a casserole dish that I treasure these many decades later. He also would give away Creation Spirituality magazines that had full page pics of Robert Lentz’s art. Being surrounded by all that beautiful pottery, there was a calm that enveloped me anytime I stopped in from the frenetic energy just outside the door of 500 6 Av to chat with Carl or George and see what was new in the displays.

  3. I miss Azuma's too! Do either of you remember the store that sold Tibetan art? There was a huge painted and carved phoenix in the window. I think it was closer to Seventh Ave.

    1. I absolutely loved Azuma. You have no idea how much I miss that store.
      The Village is just not the same since NYU invaded it.

    2. I absolutely loved Azuma. You have no idea how much I miss that store.
      The Village is just not the same since NYU invaded it.

    3. i was always broke but still had enough for my dishware at Azuma. Also the silk flats with the strap. Loved that store

  4. That store was on Bleeker street near Christopher. I loved that place. Unfortunately it is no longer there, I assume it succumbed to rising rents.

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