West Village

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The eclectic and colorful West Village is located in the western portion of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and is considered the East Coast bohemian capital. A popular hangout for cultural icons such as Joan Baez and Frank Zappa and known as “Little Bohemia,”  the West Village is a great spot to sit outside with an espresso and watch the fascinating mixture of people pass by.

History

Before West Village became a haven for artists, it was the most successful Dutch tobacco plantation in the new American colony during the 17th and early 18th centuries. However, as New York City developed in the late 19th century, more and more affluent residents began to move north into what is now the Upper West and Upper East Side. As a result, the neglected buildings on the lower end of Manhattan Island became far more affordable to immigrants, artists, and other “free spirits.”

All of this culminated at the dawn of WWI when Greenwich Village was seen as the home of rebellion against the “traditional values” of American society. Always a center for artists, dancers, actors, and others, the bohemian movement centered in the West Village casting out those too “up tight” for smoking in the streets or other morally ambiguous activities. “Little Bohemia” was thus born.

Around the 1950s a new movement began to take shape in the West Village brought on by the Beat poets and their intellectually-fueled criticism of society. The “beatnik” lifestyle was based out of Greenwich Village, both East and West, and flowed into the countercultural movements for women’s and gay and lesbian rights in the 1960s and 1970s.

However the co-op lifestyle in New York began to drive up rents in the West Village starting in the 1980s, which drove away many of the artists and musicians who had made the area popular. Homelessness hit New York City terribly in this decade, especially in the Village, yet the free spirited nature of the Village community remained. Today, the West Village is still seen as the more upscale of the two areas with a prominent jazz scene as well as several notable historic districts.

Main Attraction

Bounded by the Hudson River and Sixth or Seventh Avenue (the boundaries are not technically defined) and continues from 14th Street until Houston Street, there is much to do in the West Village. Nearby attractions, such as Westbeth Artists Community, located at 453 West Street, a complex of thirteen buildings houses artists and their families, represent some of the first examples of utilizing vacant industrial space for artistic and cultural growth in the United States.

Other culturally iconic attractions include the Stonewall Inn, infamous site of the 1969 riots, which were instrumental in furthering gay and lesbian rights. Another top West Village pastime is a walk through Hudson River Park. The park, which includes tennis and soccer fields, a dog run and batting cages, also connects with other points of interest like Battery Park and the World Trade Center site. During the summer months, visitors can enjoy live jazz and classical music in the park, as well as special movie screenings and other free cultural events.

Why It’s a Must-See

The West Village and Greenwich Village in general, is not for the faint of heart.  Most of the hottest clubs and edgier bars are found in the East Village. However, the West Village’s status as a cultural mecca for artists, musicians, actors, and other free spirited individuals makes it one of the most unique spots in the city to simply people watch. A truly 24/7 neighborhood, even residential streets and neighborhood cafes in the West Village are crowded at 1 and 2 am, a time when most bars across the country close. For insomniacs visiting New York or even visitors looking for a unique cultural and social experience, a walk, cup of coffee, or drink in the West Village is an experience you won’t soon forget.