Times Square.... that's New York, right? You know, the giant area that you see've on TV and in movies countless times? With the electronic billboards and the giant ball that drops on New Year's Eve? It's the first place that everyone wants to go to as soon as they get to New York. It's the center of the universe, and the place to be. Right?
Well, this post isn't about Times Square. You see, in my nearly two months spent in New York City, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I went to Times Square. Full disclosure: part of the reason for this is because I had been to New York on vacation two years ago, so I had already experienced it. I just didn't have a huge desire to go back.
But wait! How could you avoid Times Square? Isn't that the place to go in New York? Well... no. Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe that everyone should go to Times Square at least once. If it's your first ever trip to New York, you have to go. That said, the cartoonish electronic billbords, chain restaurants and large retail stores are not really what New York is. I may like the Hershey store as much as anyone, but it's not reflective of the city itself. Times Square is a fun time, and the term "Disneyfication" that is used to describe modern Times Square is pretty apt. Though once you're done with it, it's time to go somewhere calmer (relatively speaking, it is New York City that we're talking about), and a little more authentic. Where chain restaurants are not the norm, and where locals actually go. So where do you go? Well, as my last post indicated, DUMBO is a pretty great place. But suppose you want to stay in Manhattan, and not make the trek out to Brooklyn? Well, ask ten people from New York and you'll get ten different answers, but I'm going to give you mine. For me, it's all about the East Village.
If I had to describe the East Village in one word, it would be "vibrant." Yes, you could say the same about much of the city, but this area has a particualr flavour to it. NYU has a significant presence in the area, meaning that the area is filled with students. This leads to a youthful, exciting area with pretty much everything. Restaurants, nightlife, movie theatres, you name it and it's there. What separates this from areas popular with tourists is the feeling of authenticity that you get from walking around. This isn't a giant carnival of consumerism, this is a place where New Yorkers live and work. Admittedly, the East Village is not the cheapest place to live, but that likely derives from the vibrancy of the area.
Why do I know the East Village so well? It's where I lived during my time in New York. I lived in Coral Tower, an NYU dorm, on 3rd and 14th street. The location was the real beauty of Coral. Walk outside the doors and you were a stone's throw away from basically anything you wanted. There was a Trader Joe's located nearby on 14th street, Joe's Pizza right next to it, along with basically any store or restaurant you wanted. It also helped that the subway service was pretty handy. The 3rd avenue station was located right outside the door at Coral, and the Union Square station was just a short walk away. More on Union Square in a bit. The nightlife was also exceptional, with interesting pubs and places to go. In that way, the East Village really does feel like a college town.
So where to go in the East Village? It's a tough question to answer, since it really does have everything. But its location is helpful in that crosses over with a number of other New York City areas. It is in close proximity to the Flatiron District, Union Square and Greenwich Village. Ah, Union Square. It is a short walk from Coral Tower, and provides one of my favourite parts of the city: Union Square Park. On Saturdays it has a beautiful farmer's market, it frequently features vendors throughout the week, and overall provides a lively and vibrant presence to the area. Go there anytime of day and you'll see people playing chess in the park, going to one of the many cafes and gelato spots nearby, eating at one of the restaurants, or visiting the giant Barnes and Noble that is adjacent to the park. It is also the site of a major subway hub that can pretty much get you anywhere you want to go. I wasn't there during this time of year, but I've heard that it is also the site of a Christmas market during the holiday season. As the photo in the gallery shows, it also provides an excellent view of the Empire State Building.
If I had to recommend one place in the East Village, I would suggest Strand Bookstore for anyone who is into reading. It has several floors crammed full of every kind of book you could imagine. The prices are also very affordable. You could also catch a movie at any of the theatres nearby. If you're looking for a place to eat, I suggest Joe Jr.'s on 3rd Avenue, a small diner that made one of the best burgers that I've ever had. I also suggest Joe's Pizza on 14th Street, and The Donut Pub on 14th Street. I also can't write about the East Village without mentioning Westside Market on 3rd and 17th Street, a fantastic grocery store. Their smoked fresh mozzarella is worth the trip to New York by itself.