The East Village—the blocks east of the Bowery between Houston and 14th Streets—may have lost some of its radical edge (and the unofficial home of U.S. punk, CBGB, is now an upscale menswear store), but remnants of its spirited past endure in arty hangouts like the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Despite decades of gentrification, humanity in all its guises still converges in the neighborhood’s parks, bargain restaurants, indie record stores and grungy watering holes. Recent years have seen an influx of standout bars, while a wealth of reasonably priced eateries with cult followings has made the E-Vill a magnet for budget-minded foodies.
The East Village has a knack for sprouting reasonably priced eateries that draw cult followings. No East Village restaurant guide would be complete without mention of David Chang’s enduringly popular Momofuku Noodle Bar, which spawned his mini empire, and other top toques—including Peter Hoffman with Back Forty and Daniel Boulud with DBGB Kitchen and Bar—have set up shop in the nabe. Northern Spy Food Co. has become a locavore staple for its earnest (and delicious) devotion to seasonal cooking. Also consult our curated lists of cheap eats and great brunch places.
A day in the East Village
See street art, oddball antiques and a centuries-old cemetery in Manhattan.
Start your journey through the neighborhood by picking up breakfast from the small counter at Abrao (86 E 7th St between First and Second Aves, abraconyc.com), where an espresso ($2) and a Lil' Eggie ($3.50)—a hard-boiled egg on brioche, topped with seasonal items like pesto or pickles—will fill you up. There's not much room to sit, so enjoy your meal on a bench at the Creative Little Garden (E 6th St between Aves A and B, creativelittlegarden.org).
Located on the second floor of a nondescript building, the gallery A Gathering of the Tribes (285 E 3rd St between Aves C and D, second floor; www.tribes.org; free) has showcased eclectic visual and performance art for more than 20 years. Peep the pieces in its current exhibit, 'Paper View' (through Sat 24; free). The show features work by Korean sculptor Gahae Park, who carves tiny windows into layers of sparsely colored paper. East Village artist Jeffrey Cyphers Wright's collages, which take inspiration from graffiti and children's cartoons, are also on view.
Keep an eye out for colorful street art (such as the goofy cat-filled Bad Pussies mural on East 3rd Street near Avenue B) as you walk to Tompkins Square Park (Ave A to Ave B between 7th and 10th Sts) to rest your feet. Afterward, go spelunking for oddities at Archangel Antiques (334 E 9th St between First and Second Aves; 212-260-9313, archangelantiques.com), which is stuffed with vintage accessories (such as cufflinks, buttons and eyeglasses), old photographs and other ephemera.
Tucked behind a wrought-iron gate on Second Avenue (next to a funeral home—go figure), New York Marble Cemetery (41 Second Ave between 2nd and 3rd Sts, marblecemetery.org) offers a pocket of tranquility in the middle of a city block. Built as the first public resting place for New Yorkers, the site is typically closed to the public; however, you can take a peek on Sun 25 (noon--4pm; free), during one of its monthly open sessions. There are no headstones, so you can sit and stretch your legs for a bit.
Stop for an early dinner at Oaxaca Taqueria (16 Extra Pl between Bowery and Second Ave; 212-677-3340, oaxacatacos.com), the latest branch of the Brooklyn minichain. Hidden at the end of an alley, the BYOB restaurant is well worth a detour. Try the spicy braised carnitas tacos ($3.25) or sample one of the rotating specials (add $1), such as a Korean steak taco topped with apple-mango slaw and barbecue sauce.
Get a taste of the area's ever-expanding cocktail scene at Amor y Amargo (443 E 6th St between First Ave and Ave A, amoryamargo.com). The bar's menu is focused on amari and other bitters. Try the Franaise Four-Play ($12), a mix of cognac, Lillet blanc, Chartreuse, Bonal Gentiane-Quina (a gentian- and quinine-based digestif) and Hellfire Habanero Shrub—a syrup infused with the spicy pepper. Make it a crawl and pop into The Beagle (162 Ave A between 10th and 11th Sts, thebeaglenyc.com) for cocktails like the Sherry Cobbler (a mix of sherry, berries and lemon juice; $13).
Head toward Third Avenue along Stuyvesant Street—even in the dark, the tiny block is one of Manhattan's prettiest, lined with 19th-century homes designed by architect James Renwick Jr. End your day by supporting St. Mark's Bookshop (31 Third Ave between St. Marks Pl and 9th St; 212-260-7853, stmarksbookshop.com), a neighborhood staple that's in danger of closing. Scope out racks of indie zines or pick up one of the shop's best-sellers before heading home—Patti Smith's Just Kids (Ecco, $16), which chronicles the legendary performer's early years in New York City, would be an appropriate choice.