The East Village
This Way to the Parade
The clubs, the head shops, the cheap walk-up apartments with bathtubs in the kitchens. Two decades ago the East Village was the last place you'd want to investigate with kids. But then the hipsters living in those tenements grew up—and started alternative public schools for their children, helped transform empty lots into community gardens, and opened galleries and cafés in the former no-man's-land of Alphabet City (where the numbered avenues give way to lettered ones). Today the area just north of the Lower East Side is alive, diverse—and a magnet for people who want to let their freak flag fly. Your teen will be ready to move in.
David Hershkovits, founder and editor-in-chief of Paper magazine, which for two decades has chronicled downtown life.
Brigitte Engler, a French-born artist with a studio overlooking Tompkins Square Park (check out her work at saatchi-gallery.co.uk).
Esther, 9, lover of guitar, yoga, and Webkinz.
Nissim, 5, born to ride his bike everywhere. Learns his tricks from Tompkins Square skateboarders.
Tolerance. "People know this as one of the freest neighborhoods in New York," says David. "You can do whatever you want, look however you want. Within limits, of course."
At refurbished, impeccably maintained Tompkins Square Park (from E. Seventh to 10th Sts., between Aves. A and B; nycgovparks.org), parents—not nannies—mind their kids at the playground, and the patrons of the two dog runs host a hilarious Halloween party attended by upwards of 400 costumed pups.
St. Mark's Place between Astor Place and Second Avenue—the seething strip of music stores, piercing parlors, and T-shirt shops that's a mecca for punksters (and suburban high-schoolers)—is an essential stop. But Brigitte and David's favorite block is Ninth Street between First and A, for local designers' boutiques and a mellower Village vibe.
Of the many quirky community gardens scattered around the neighborhood, El Jardin del Paraíso (Fifth St. between Aves. C and D) stands out. A willow in a far corner holds an octagonal tree house crafted by local artist Roderick Romero, who also built an arboreal hangout for Sting.
Learn about the area's immigrants at the Tenement Museum (108 Orchard St.; 212/431-0233; tenement.org), where rooms have been restored to different periods. Says David: "Show your kids how their grandparents and great-grandparents might have lived."
The Hershkovits family gets kids' presents at Dinosaur Hill (306 E. Ninth St.; 212/473-5850; dinosaurhill.com), which is loaded with wooden trucks, dollhouse furniture, and puppets from around the world. Sons + Daughters (Closed) has organic-cotton T-shirts and fair-trade building blocks. Giant Robot NY (437 E. Ninth St.; 212/674-4769; grny.net) is both a gallery and a shop selling comics, toys, and notebooks designed or hand-selected by the creators of the hip Japanese-inspired magazine of the same name.
At the Little Stinkers Shoe Company (Closed), where Brigitte buys Nissim's shoes and boots, Nissam can doodle on the chalkboard walls while Brigitte browses collections by Morgan and Milo, Pedoodles, and See Kai Run.