The Metropolis: Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan, East Village

Greenwich Village

This neighborhood that is often referred to only as “The Village,” has always been an artistic and cultural hub. It gave rise to several cultural movements including civil rights, women’s rights, gay liberation, and the literary Beat Generation.

Always bucking norms, Greenwich Village rejected commercial theater in the 1960s and created the very first Off-Off Broadway show. Its legendary coffee houses, cabarets, nightclubs and galleries gave many iconic musicians, comedians and artists their start.

Although the best way to experience The Village is through simply walking around and discovering its treasures on your own, we offer the following suggestions for getting started:

Washington Square Park

The park has also been a sanctuary for artists, poets, musicians and socially-conscious groups. Today, it is surrounded by many NYU campus buildings and performance centers. With the park’s legendary outdoor chess plaza, dog runs, iconic fountain, performance space, lawn games, greens, and walkways, it’s an iconic place to relax, play, meet, and people watch.

Before Washington Square Park became a public park in 1827, it was originally a marshy land inhabited by Indians, and then “Potters Field,” where traitors were hung during the Revolutionary War. The 300-year-old “Hangman’s Elm” tree remains in the park to this day.

The park named after George Washington served as Washington Military Parade Ground and the site where Samuel F.B. Morse first demonstrated his telegraph machine. Many architectural and landscape designers and sculptors have beautified and improved the park over the centuries, including erecting its iconic massive marble archway and other statuary.

Cherry Lane Theatre  

The Off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre continues to be a relevant and thriving contributor to the New York theatre scene. Since 1924, they have built a reputation for creating and producing American theatre that “transforms the spirit” through labs, performances, mentoring programs, master classes, discussions and more.

Its two landmark performance spaces have produced ground-breaking work and fostered the careers of many legendary playwrights including Fitzgerald, Stein, Eliot, Shephard, Beckett, Albee, Mamet and more.

Café Wha?

From its beginnings as the birthplace of folk music, to being the epicenter of beat culture, to nurturing the careers of iconic rock and comedy royalty, Café Wha? is legendary.

The lineup of stars that began their journey in the entertainment business at Café Wha? is impressive: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Richard Pryor, Woody Alan, Lenny Bruce, Alan Ginsberg, Bill Cosby, Peter, Paul & Mary, and many more.

But the relevance and vibrancy of this tiny club on the corner of MacDougal Street and Minetta Lane doesn’t live in the past. Live performances of rock, funk, R&B, tribute shows, revues, along with the Café Wha? House Band (“The best damn band in New York City”) rock the house nightly. Sit back, enjoy a bite from the Café Wha? kitchen, and see if you can spot the next superstar.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Site (the Brown Building)

In 1911, the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (at Washington Place, between Washington Square East and Greene St.) locked their doors to hold labor unions at bay, while keeping their young, female, mostly immigrant workforce at their sewing machines. This proved disastrous when a raging fire resulted in 146 of these women (some as young as 13) perishing either in the flames, or by jumping out of windows.

This tragedy led to legislation improving safety standards and working conditions of sweatshop laborers, along with helping to establish the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. 

There are annual remembrances at the site, which is now NYU’s Brown Building, and efforts are underway to erect a memorial on the façade.

Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan is the oldest part of New York City, and is where this great Metropolis began.

Many battles were waged on its cobblestone streets (many of which exist to this day) between original Native American inhabitants and the Dutch, the Dutch and the British, and the British and George Washington with his troops.

Here are just some of our favorite spots in lower Manhattan:

Schermerhorn Row/South Street Seaport

Schermerhorn Row (circa 1811) is named after its original owner, Peter Schermerhorn—a shipowner and merchant. This block of 14 red-brick Georgian-Federal architectural buildings was originally constructed as a complex of counting houses and warehouses during Manhattan’s shipping trade heyday.

Today, Schermerhorn Row is part of the South Street Seaport Museum, where New York City’s beginnings as a port city are explored through its historical building tours, its fleet of 5 ships, harbor cruises on an 1885 schooner, interactive exhibits, demonstrations, live experiences and events.

Federal Hall National Memorial and Museum

The site of Federal Hall and the building itself is essentially the birthplace of American government.

America’s first president, George Washington, was inaugurated there on April 30, 1789. The original building (built in 1700) served as the nation’s first capital until 1790. The building also served as the first Offices of the Executive Branch of the United States, the Supreme Court, Congress, a US Customs House and Sub-Treasury, and was eventually demolished in 1812.

The current Federal Hall building is part of the National Park Service. It has a gorgeous Greek revival façade and impressive columns, with a bronze sculpture of George Washington himself at the entrance. Inside, the museum houses many collections such as the Washington Inaugural Gallery, which usually has Washington’s actual inaugural bible on display. There are also guided tours, films, events and a fabulous museum store.

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum beautifully honors all those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001.

The reflecting pools and marble memorial walls bearing the names of those who perished border the footprints of the original two towers.

The 9/11 Museum offers a moving and enlightening three-dimensional experience. Through a variety of media, personal accounts, artifacts and more, the events of that day along with the recovery efforts are respectfully presented.

The East Village

Considered as some to be the epicenter of New York City’s counterculture scene of the 60s, the East Village is as lively and diverse as it ever was.

With beginnings as a largely immigrant neighborhood (it contained the most urban Germans outside of Vienna and Berlin at one time), the East Village’s make-up changed dramatically starting with Beatniks in 1950. Students, artists, musicians, hippies, and others drawn to the anti-establishment climate, followed suit and moved to the East Village in droves.

The East Village continues to contribute significantly to American arts, culture, and social change.

The Museum of the American Gangster

It’s appropriate that The Museum of the American Gangster is housed in an actual Speakeasy from the 1920s. All manner of memorabilia and artifacts, photographs, weapons and more tell the story of organized crime and the 20th century American gangster.

Visitors to the museum get a broader perspective on the lives and dirty deeds of some of America’s most infamous gangsters and mafia bosses. There is also a tour of the historic Speakeasy in which the museum is located.

St. Marks Place

The East Village has a proud legacy of spawning countercultural movements in music, art, and society—from punks and beatniks to hippies to anarchists. A three-block stretch from Tompkins Square Park to Astor reflects this neighborhood’s bohemian vibe, and is essentially the heart of the East Village.

St. Marks Place is a strip of historic stone and brick buildings that now house eclectic boutiques, hip eateries, alternative shops, record shops and jewelry stores.

You may recognize the tenement building from Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album cover at 96-98th St. Marks Place. Or, perhaps the stoop where Rolling Stones shot their “Waiting on a Friend” video will look familiar to you.

Check out the “CBGB 73” etching in cement in front of 315 Bowery. This is all that remains from the legendary concert venue CBGB where acts such as Blondie, Madonna, Patty Smith, and The Ramones were regulars. Also, walk past #4 St. Marks Place. This Federal-style building was once the home of Alexander Hamilton’s widow Eliza.

The Public Theater and Joe’s Pub

The Public Theater is one of the most well-respected Off-Broadway theaters in New York City. With a 60-year history of providing theater that explores “some of the most important ideas and social issues,” The Public Theater has supported the most innovative artists and productions of our times.

55 shows that began at The Public Theater have moved on to Broadway, including Hamilton, Fun Home, Chicago, The Normal Heart, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Hair, and The Merchant of Venice. The Public Theater has won dozens of Tony Awards, Obie Awards, Drama Desk Awards, Outer Critics Circle Awards, Pulitzer Prize Awards, and more.

Joe’s Pub is a cabaret venue and restaurant named after The Public’s founder, Joe Papp. It offers both headliner acts and rising stars in music, comedy, and dance such as Elvis Costello, Amy Winehouse, Melissa Etheridge, Dolly Parton, Pete Townsend, Prince, Lady Gaga, Amy Schumer, Adele, Sinead O’Connor, Wynton Marsalis, Sarah Silverman and so many more.

Look for the next installment in our “Metropolis” series to discover must-sees in Hell’s Kitchen, Hudson Yards, and Chelsea.