Your first impressions of the East Village will have to begin at Tompkins Square Park. The legendary greenery separates the East Village from neighboring Alphabet City, and has become the staple of the neighborhood. After years of decay in the 1980 and 90s, the historic park has been refurbished to become yet again a popular destination for locals and families.
There’s an array of fashionable and trendy stores in East Village, but there’s one mainstay that hasn’t changed since 1927: Strand Bookstore. You need to visit, shop and walk around this incredible establishment on a weekly or even daily basis. While many corporate bookstores went under, Strand continued to flourish. They carry discounted books, hard-to-find books as well as a rare book collection for the serious reader. The slogan “18 Miles of Books” is no joke: Strand is more like a library than a bookstore. Even more, Strand has been a pop culture icon, referenced on shows like "Gilmore Girls," and featured in movies like “Six Degrees of Separation," "Julie & Julia” and "Remember Me" (actor Robert Pattinson played a Strand employee).
You may have noticed the Bohemian atmosphere in the East Village. No wonder, the neighborhood has been a hippy haven and an art mecca for many years. One of the most important artistic locales in the East Village is the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. The location became the center piece of the Nuyorican art movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Today, the cafe, which opened in 1973, has become a forum for poetry, music, hip hop, video, visual arts, comedy and theatre. You may even want to just step inside and take in the environment that has so strongly influenced the culture in the city. There’s also two specific film centric locations that you will need to visit here: the Anthology Film Archives and the Village East Cinemas (the latter features midnight showings of cult movies).
Besides all the art and music in the East Village, the area also has an odd side to it, which we have all had a chance to recently observe on TV. A few years back the show “Oddities” was a Discovery Channel hit, highlighting the area’s long-time storefront Obscura Antiques & Oddities. The popularity of the store precedes the airing of the show, having found a strong following for its museum-like displays of weird – from animal skulls to taxidermy. Here, you’ll find unusual keepsakes like hairless rabbit foot keychains and giant-sized safety pins. You could even uncover some strange finds – like bone dice and Russian flight goggles.
Though the bright lights of Broadway are about 30 blocks north, there’s a fairly decent performing arts hub right here in East Village. The most successful shows are at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. The off-off Broadway theater has been at the center of the arts movement in the East Village for more than 50 years. The list of actors that started their careers at La MaMa will blow your mind: Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Nick Nolte, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, Robert DeNiro, Whoopi Goldberg, and Danny DeVito. The theater’s still going strong, with more than 100 productions each season and with more than 400 performances.
The bars are everywhere in the East Village. There’s practically four to five per block. You will soon pick up on the good spots. There’s the extravagant Beauty Bar, or the historical McSorley’s Old Ale House. A number of cocktail bars also call this area home like Amor Y Amargo, and Death & Co. But you can’t resist a chance to visit PDT – also known as Please Don’t Tell. The bar, which is connected to Crif Dogs, was one of first successful speakeasy-style bars in the city. You need a reservation since there are only 20 seats at the PDT. But the M.O. here is to enter the phone in Crif Dogs and pick up the phone to confirm your reservation. The door opens on the other side. Et voila! You are in. There’s a small menu, but some very tasty cocktails to be had. It’s a perfect date place to boot.