Insider: West Village, New York City
Published: June 2009
By Erik Torkells
Let's get it straight: no one, except the New York Times, ever uses the words Greenwich Village. It's just "the Village," but you're better off being specific. There's the central Village-a.k.a. New York University; the East Village, where NYU students slum after graduation; and the West Village, where East Villagers move once they grow up. The West Village-which extends west of Sixth Avenue to the Hudson River, from 14th Street down to Houston Street-is probably New York's most neighborly neighborhood; something about those charming brownstones and narrow cobblestone streets makes people mellow out. If it doesn't have the crowds of SoHo, it's not because it doesn't warrant them-tourists simply get lost (what can you say about a place where West Fourth Street crosses West 11th?). So don't be afraid to ask for directions. We're used to it.
Imagine the perfect jazz club. You walk down to a smoky nook of a basement; even from the entrance you can hear the bass player humming during his solo. You pay just $10. You check out the musicians, top-notch players who come here to jam after their gigs elsewhere. You don't want to leave, and you don't have to: the music swings till dawn. You're at Smalls (183 W. 10th St.; 212/929-7565; bring your own liquor).
"I interrogate people when they call to reserve," says Steve Austin, owner of the Abingdon Guest House (13 Eighth Ave.; 212/243-5384; doubles from $135). "This is not a wild place." Austin can afford to be picky: visitors will find precious little lodging downtown, and hardly any deals. In two separate town houses, Abingdon has a lot of the things you'd expect at a hotel-private phone lines, cable TV, air-conditioning-and two of the nine rooms are bigger than many New York apartments (okay, so that's not saying much).
well, you really shouldn't sweet things
Trays of pastel-frosted cupcakes line the windowsills at Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleecker St.; 212/462-2572), a Cleaveresque kitchen where the air smells like butter and the employees are slower than molasses. The coconut cake, cut into Stonehenge-size slabs, is unspeakably delicious.
Li-Lac Chocolates (120 Christopher St.; 212/242-7374), hand-dipping candy in the back since 1923, has a serotonin-crazed following: Mother's Day turns the place into a madhouse.
The two Argentine brothers who started Cones (272 Bleecker St.; 212/414-1795) fancy themselves "ice cream artisans." Anyone who has tasted their French vanilla calls them ice cream gods.
The flowers send a signal-if a salon can make sense of a few stems, imagine what it can do with your hair. Both Jason Croy (301 W. Fourth St.; 212/691-8299) and Robert Kree (375 Bleecker St.; 212/989-9547) have flowers that stop passers-by. Croy's is probably the city's prettiest salon, two chairs in a picture-windowed jewel box. You're on display, but you've never looked better. Kree's feels like a private club for the beautiful. Sit in the garden under a willow tree while your color sets-you have to wonder, though, whether the old headstones are those of clients whose hair didn't cooperate.
GOD SAVE GREENWICH VILLAGE screamed a recent New York Times piece on English expats' colonization of the neighborhood. Truth be told, the Brits' influence has been rather civilizing. On weekends, people wait patiently for one of the 10 tables at Tea & Sympathy (108 Greenwich Ave.; 212/807-8329; brunch for two $32), to sip Earl Grey and nibble scones. The restaurant spawned a take-away store next door; it also sells all sorts of English tat (Shirley Bassey CD's, Diana greeting cards). At Myers of Keswick (634 Hudson St.; 212/691-4194), expats-and just about no one else-stock up on clotted cream and tins of treacle. But wait! Are those sacks of herbes de Provence stashed in the corner?
Three Lives & Co. 154 W. 10th St.; 212/741-2069. One of those endangered small bookstores you've heard so much about. The kind, earnest women who work here know exactly what you should read next.
Bookleaves 304 W. Fourth St.; 212/924-5638. "We specialize in what we have," says owner Arthur Farrier, the man hiding in the corner, surrounded by musty used and out-of-print books.
Partners & Crime 44 Greenwich Ave.; 212/243-0440. Where you go when you figure out that you've read every Agatha Christie book. Twice.
rumor has it. . .
...that the Guggenheim Museum is considering building a Frank Gehry-designed behemoth on the Hudson River at Houston Street. Residents don't know what to think: it's both titillating (A Guggenheim in our back yard!) and terrifying (More crowds?No thanks).
brunch The only reason most people leave home on weekends. Tartine (253 W. 11th St.; 212/229-2611; brunch for two $22, no credit cards) is tiny and French; prepare to wait. At the very homey Home (20 Cornelia St.; 212/243-9579; brunch for two $25), you'll find American basics dressed up a bit: the French toast and pepper bacon taste even better in apple-maple syrup. Chocoholics will swoon once they taste the Oaxacan hot chocolate at Campo (89 Greenwich Ave.; 212/691-8080).
lunch Pity the drones in midtown. Light-filled Blue Ribbon Bakery (33 Downing St.; 212/337-0404; lunch for two $30) is packed at night but calm during the day. Corner Bistro (331 W. Fourth St.; 212/242-9502; lunch for two $15, cash only)-bistro, my behind!-is a hair-of-the-dog dive famous for its burgers. Ino (21 Bedford St.; 212/989-5769; lunch for two $25, no credit cards), serves delicious panini—including, for dessert, one smeared with Nutella.
dinner A recent infusion of glamour in the neighborhood has made reservations essential. The ambitious food at EQ (267 W. Fourth St.; 212/414-1961; dinner for two $100-$125)-roast lamb with artichoke mousse and chanterelles-easily transcends the suburban space. The New American food at Boughalem (14 Bedford St.; 212/414-4764; dinner for two $70, no credit cards) packs people in—you'll end up talking to your neighbors. Junno's (64 Downing St.; 212/627-7995; dinner for two $50) stirs up a Japanese-French mix in a sexy, stripped-down room. The shrimp ravioli in mustard-miso sauce is unforgettable.
You can be forgiven for thinking that one must have a dog to live in the West Village. They're everywhere, walking and barking and sniffing up strangers—which makes the cynical among us wonder whether the people here don't use dogs as a social crutch.
New York is notorious for its terrible supermarkets, and the West Village is no exception. But the new Gourmet Garage (117 Seventh Ave. South; 212/699-5980), a branch of the SoHo original, has everything you need for a picnic on the Hudson River waterfront: a demi-baguette, a wedge of Brie, olives galore (or, for you lazy types, terrific sandwiches).
home shopping network
The End of History 548 1/2 Hudson St.; 212/647-7598. Fifties and sixties modern, with an emphasis on handblown Venetian glass in acid hues and funky shapes.
Kitschen 380 Bleecker St.; 212/727-0430. Vintage cooking paraphernalia—Corningware, trivets with silly sayings, outrageous cookbooks (too bad the staff is a drag).
Furniture Co. 818 Greenwich St.; 212/352-2010. Furniture as fetish: the dramatic showroom feels like Design Church, but the sharply edited collection can convert anyone to minimalism (for a price—that sleek linen-and-oak sofa is $9,200).
Papivore 117 Perry St.; 212/627-6055. Exquisite paper from Marie Papier in Paris, in a rainbow of colors, along with photo albums and desk accessories.
Leo Design 413 Bleecker St.; 212/929-8466. All manner of masculine Arts and Crafts objets (hammered copperware, sculptural bookends, fireplace tools, picture frames), half of which is antique, half contemporary. There's a new furniture annex, too (28 Jane St.; 212/627-9982).
Mxyplyzyk 123 Greenwich Ave.; 212/989-4300. Where everyone goes for clever gifts. If the look is a tad tired—stainless-steel this, blond-wood that—the shop is still a barrel of fun.
Gansevoort Gallery 72 Gansevoort St.; 212/633-0555. Mid-century modernism, including chic Scandinavian glass and desk lamps straight out of The Fountainhead.
Amalgamated Home 9, 13, and 19 Christopher St.; 212/255-4160, 212/989-6538, and 212/691-8695. Three little stores with ever-changing furniture and accessories. The "hardware" shop stocks the world's most stylish drawer pulls. Don't forget the details, baby.