5 reasons why NYC’s East Village is the city’s coolest neighborhood

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.

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21 Responses to “5 reasons why NYC’s East Village is the city’s coolest neighborhood”

  1. Leslie
    January 19, 2019 at 2:49 pm #

    Thanks for inviting me to write for Santa Fe Travelers! I’m sure the headline will be a bit controversial, but I stand by it. The East Village rocks!

  2. Billie Frank
    January 19, 2019 at 3:58 pm #

    The thanks is all ours.
    As I grew up a few blocks north of the EV and spent a lot of time there, I love that it has totally changed its spots and it spots (as in a lot of the old hood is gone). I got to see some change while I was still in NY. It tickles me that this area that was once all mom and pop businesses and held the cultural and business remnants of the huge wave of Jewish settlement in the late 1800s and early 1900s is now a trendy, high-rent district. When I was young, some of the old Burlesque theaters were still there. But then, these days Harlem is chic once again.

    • Leslie
      January 21, 2019 at 10:53 am #

      Actually, burlesque is back! It’s very popular in NYC and there are several burlesque shows in the East Village and Lower East Side.

  3. Ted Nelson
    January 20, 2019 at 11:17 am #

    I visited New York in 2005, the last time the Bears were in the Super Bowl. It was a whirlwind weekend, and I was all over the place, but not sure if I was in the East Village or not. Next time I will make a point to visit there due to this recommendation.

  4. Abby
    January 20, 2019 at 4:06 pm #

    Aww I love it!! I called St Marks and Second Avenue home for four years. I miss it so much!

    • Billie Frank
      January 20, 2019 at 10:00 pm #

      I grew up in Stuyvesant Town. You and I live in parallel places.

  5. Mark
    January 21, 2019 at 9:14 am #

    Great post of my favorite NYC neighborhood! I was there a couple of years ago and still remember having some superb Italian food at Lil’Frankies and then strolling over to D.B.A bar with their ginormous beer selection…What a great place! Thanks Leslie for writing such a great piece and bringing back some fond memories!

    • Leslie
      January 21, 2019 at 10:55 am #

      My pleasure :) New York City had a record year for tourism in 2010 but many travelers don’t make it to my ‘hood. I don’t want to bring hordes of tourists here but I think they are missing out!

  6. Suzy
    January 21, 2019 at 11:34 am #

    Well, if the pizza prices are right, I’m there. I haven’t been to NYC in years, but I would love to explore the East Village again.

    • Leslie
      January 21, 2019 at 5:06 pm #

      You’re in luck- they just opened a second $1 pizza place on St Marks! The East Village is becoming the capital of the cheap slice :)

  7. Hella @ Wiford Gallery
    January 21, 2019 at 1:36 pm #

    LOVE the East Village! I lived on the lower east side and then on 5th between B and C in the late 90s until 2003. It is amazing place. Place come visit the gallery if your travels bring you to Santa Fe. Similar spirit to be found here.

    • Leslie
      January 23, 2019 at 10:54 pm #

      Santa Fe looks amazing! Seems like there is a strong foodie culture and amazing art scene. I’d love to visit one day.

  8. Charles Higgins
    January 21, 2019 at 9:23 pm #

    Would like to ( and will) visit this area sometime..


    • Leslie
      January 23, 2019 at 10:55 pm #

      Hope you make it out here Charles! We don’t have casinos like in your hometown Vegas, but we have plenty of arts and culture to keep you busy :)

  9. Rob
    January 25, 2019 at 9:05 pm #

    My favorite neighborhood in New York is Chinatown and “courthouse row” along Centre street. Then of course you can go visit the area that all the East Villagers move to when they make it: Tribeca. The thing I like about Chinatown is that it really is the only neighborhood in NYC that doesn’t have to try so hard. Geez, even Harlem is becoming a bit trendy at the north end of Central Park. Chinatown is dirty, full of rats, skinny sidewalks and roads, dead animals hanging in the window, and smells that will take you weeks to forget. Yet people flock there. It’s vibrant and full of great and varied restaurants. A throwback to the old days. And if you have a craving for a super-touristy neighborhood you just need to walk a few blocks to Little Italy (what’s left of it).

    • Rob
      January 25, 2019 at 9:06 pm #

      Don’t think I’d live there though.

      • Billie Frank
        January 25, 2019 at 9:53 pm #

        Don’t think I’d want to live anywhere in NYC anymore. As they say, you can’t go home again.

    • Billie Frank
      January 25, 2019 at 9:52 pm #

      Sounds like Chinatown has remained the same, Little Italy has gone down the tubes and there’s a new Harlem Renaissance. Interesting cycle. I have found memories eating at Luna’s on Mulberry St. before it was discovered.

      • Leslie (of Downtown Traveler)
        February 2, 2019 at 12:31 pm #

        Chinatown is becoming chic… there are trendy bars there too, although it’s not on the level of the East Village or LES. It retains the Chinese shops, restaurants and smells you are used to from your time in NYC! ;)

  10. KB
    August 14, 2019 at 3:19 pm #

    West Village > East Village

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