Our guest blogger this week is Leslie Koch who blogs at Downtown Traveler.
The East Village is known for its lively arts scene, inexpensive bars and abundance of Japanese restaurants. It’s safe, affordable and easy to reach by public transportation. While I don’t want my street to be overrun by tourists, I encourage more visitors to check out this artistic neighborhood in Downtown Manhattan.
Still not convinced? Here are five reasons that the East Village may just be New York City’s coolest neighborhood.
#1. Every day is an adventure
You never know what you’ll find when you take a stroll through the East Village. I was headed to a Brooklyn art show this September when I stumbled on the FAB! Festival.
On a sunny Saturday, East 4th Street was closed to traffic and filled with dancers, artists and craft booths. Hundreds of New Yorkers crowded around the main stage while dozens of twentysomethings hung out near a moving van filled with art. Across the street, an opera singer performed arias in a giant box. A man in a pink Lycra jumpsuit snaked his way through the crowd while gyrating to a silent beat.
This festival was quirky and artistic, just like the East Village itself. The best part: it was 100% free!
#2. Food is plentiful and inexpensive
Real estate may be expensive in Downtown Manhattan, but food is insanely cheap. Lunch specials abound in the East Village and it’s possible to eat a sit-down meal for under $10. It’s easy to find a restaurant; every street from Houston to 14th is packed with noodle shops, pizza parlors and cafés.
A classic slice of New York pizza at 2 Bros will set you back $1 (tax included). If you’re willing to spend $7, you can feast on a chimichanga and soda at the Sabor a Mexico taqueria or a three-course meal at Bodhi Tree, a popular Thai restaurant.
Whether you crave Indian buffet, Vietnamese sandwiches or an egg cream, you won’t be disappointed in the East Village.
#3. Street art abounds
New York may not have prehistoric rock drawings like Santa Fe, but we boast a thriving street art scene. A stroll from Union Square to Houston Street between Bowery and 2nd Avenue will uncover a dozen works of art.
You might recognize a tile mosaic perched high on a Bowery wall as the work of street artist Invader, who was featured in the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. It’s hard to miss graphic posters by A.S.V.P., which are tacked to walls throughout Downtown Manhattan.
The Cooper Square Hotel on East 5th Street and 3rd Avenue features a massive mural of a Buddhist monk by Shepard Fairey, the creator of the Obama Hope poster. If you continue walking a few blocks south into the Lower East Side, you may find a car or bicycle covered in pink and purple crochet by Polish-born artist Olek.
You don’t need an art history degree to spot creative graffiti in the East Village. Simply look down at the sidewalk (used as a canvas by chalk artists) or building walls (home to murals and spray painted billboards).
#4. It’s a hub of creativity
Admittedly, the high rents in the East Village mean it isn’t the artist Mecca is once was. (Jack Kerouac and the Beats couldn’t afford to crash in the neighborhood these days). However, the East Village still pulses with creativity.
The neighborhood is home to The Cooper Union, a selective art and engineering college that offers free tuition to its students. NYU and the rapidly expanding New York Film Academy also contribute to the booming student population.
If you don’t want to shell out $90 to see a Broadway show, check out the East Village’s emerging talent. East 4th Street is home to 12 theaters and is a popular place to see Fringe Festival performances.
Additionally, film and TV productions are constantly shooting in the neighborhood. In the past year, I came across shoots for Arthur (a remake of the Dudley Moore film), Vamps (a Sigourney Weaver vampire movie) and HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. If you’re brave, stop a star and ask for a photo!
#5. We have the cutest dogs in the five boroughs
The East Village boast creative pups, as well as people. The Tompkins Square dog run features some of the cutest, best dressed dogs outside of Beverly Hills.
The annual Halloween Dog Parade is their time to shine. The 2010 parade featured a Chihuahua dressed as a Transformer, a pug in a Scarlet O’Hara costume and a Dalmatian dressed as Slash from Guns n Roses.
If you love dogs, canine fashion or photography, make sure to stop by Tompkins Square on your next visit to New York City.
Leslie Koch is the founder of DowntownTraveler a blog for city dwellers who crave arts, culture and adventure. In June 2008 she left a corporate career in Manhattan to backpack around the world; she camped in the Outback, hiked down Peru’s Colca Canyon and slept in an elephant tower in Laos. Now based in the East Village, Leslie enjoys discovering offbeat attractions in her neighborhood and across the US. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook. All photos are uses courtesy of Leslic Koch and Downtown Traveler.