Ah the East Village. A place that seems to be of a certain quality in cultural texts, or even on Google Maps, but is not quite… felt… until you get off at 1st Ave and realize it is a 10 minute walk to anywhere you need to go.
Besides being a pain to get to and around, the neighborhood tends to skew young and be dismissed as a place filled with people in their early 20s existing in as much of the city as they can afford. It’s grimy but not in the cool way it’s been romanticized in the 80s. It’s dirty in a college town kind of way, and on any given night it is infested with people in their early 20s living the life they can barely afford in New York City. Tompkins Square Park is probably the one park that people like to hate on more than Washington Square Park. Alphabet City is just annoying to get to. And it’s actually fun to make fun of Stuytown. Unlike it’s counterpart to the west, the East Village is not really pretty. It does look unmistakably and quintessentially New York, but in a six floor walk up coop kind of way. Character, one might say. So maybe that’s why, despite all its faults, despite the trash in the streets and rats skittering around, we sort of like it.
Meanwhile Noho feels buttoned up, like the part you’d show to your parents when they’re in town. The clean architecture of Cooper Union, the wide streets, calmer retail blocks compared to Soho, restaurants that are busy but never too rowdy.
The one thing this neighborhood really has going for it is good food. The East Village these days is like Lower Manhattan’s favorite food court to Soho’s mall. There are a lot of good restaurants crammed into the blocks between the numbered and lettered avenues. And perhaps none more beloved than Saint Marks Place which has become a burgeoning destination for contemporary Asian restaurants like 886 or Ho Foods, hip enough to be Instagram famous, cool enough to close down the block and spill into the streets. Factor in the H Mart and Japanese restaurants, plus the outposts of many Flushing favorites and it’s basically the Sawtelle of Manhattan. And all this right at home among longtime Ukrainian institutions like Veselka. The food scene on the east side is decidedly more interesting than that of the west. Here it’s less about showing up for the vibes, it’s more about being in the know, the cultured, creative community that craves personality and opinion and experimentation. At the end of the day the East Village remains a bastion for creative culture and community, and no matter how many college students pile into a dive bar on a Tuesday night, the neighborhood will always be there for a good time.