I’m partial to the East Village because it’s where I was born and where I’ve lived for most of my adult life. Historically, it’s been a rich hub of avant-garde creative expression, home to everyone from Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring to Madonna and Patti Smith.
Start your day off at Abraço, a hole-in-the-wall espresso joint in the East Village with heavenly olive oil cake, or stop by Juicy Lucy, an unpretentious, tropical-themed shack with smoothies, fresh juices, and breakfast bowls. There’s nowhere to sit at either of these spots so take your order to go and head to Tompkins Square Park, just a few blocks away, where there’s plenty of benches and some of the best people watching to be had in the city. If you’re looking for more of a sit-down vibe, I recommend Russ & Daughters for bagels or Café Mogador for a rustic, Mediterranean-infused brunch.
Once you’re properly caffeinated, walk toward The Strand, a book lover’s nirvana, home to 18 miles of new, used and out-of-print titles. Along the way, pop into the various thrift stores and quirky shops that dot the streets of the East Village. If you have a stationary and office supply fetish like me, you’ll love Casey’s Rubber Stamps on 11th Street, a tiny, eccentric storefront where you can buy stamps or get one custom made. I also love Goods for the Study, which has an excellent selection of pens and notebooks.
One of the things I love most about living in New York City is that it’s full of great writing nooks. Take a good book to Joe Coffee in the West Village where lots of freelancers hang out. The New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room is hands down my favorite place to write from with its long wooden tables, chandeliers, and a breathtakingly beautiful ceiling painted in pink celestial clouds and ornate cornucopias. I like to pack a lunch and from the library I’ll head to Central Park, a 20-minute walk away. Have a picnic on the Great Lawn, or stroll along the winding paths of Shakespeare Garden where the plant and flower species are the same as those mentioned in the works of the playwright.
A favorite journaling spot is the cafe at McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore on the Lower East Side. Café Gitane, a nearby Moroccan eatery does a great lunch. If I’m looking for something quick and healthy, I’ll head to the The Butcher’s Daughter (get the “Brass Monkey” or the “7 Minutes In Heaven”—you won’t be sorry). From there, catch a matinee at the Angelika, an underground indie theater where the movies are often interrupted by the rumble of a subway, all part of the charm.
After a long day spent at a computer, one of my favorite rituals is to head to Chinatown and to go to Zu Yuan, where you can get one of the best, cheapest, no-frills massages in the city and then to go out for soup dumplings. There are dozens of delicious soup dumpling spots to choose from and you can’t really go wrong, but my two favorites are 456 Shanghai Cuisine or Joe’s Shanghai. After you’ve satiated your appetite, head to Apotheke, a Prohibition-era styled speakeasy located in a former opium den that serves killer cocktails and has live music almost every night.
Other favorite bars within walking distance: Forgtmenot, an tchotchke-filled taverna that serves delicious tacos and a mean margarita. The Scratcher, a cozy subterranean cave, is very low-key and does a solid happy hour. KGB Bar has its own reading series where you can catch both famous and emerging writers. (Fun fact: it used to house the local headquarters of a Ukranian socialist party in the 1940s, which explains its name and Communist-themed decor.)
If you like jazz, swing by Smalls in Greenwich Village, an intimate club with topnotch musicians, or head to Fat Cat, where the drinks are cheap and you can listen to great music while playing a game of pool or shuffle board. If you’re looking for more of a literary experience, check out Nuyorican Poets Cafe’s calendar of events or buy tickets to the Moth’s live storytelling slam at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe.
Suleika Jaouad is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, author and speaker whose parents immigrated to New York City in the 1980s. She can be found reading and writing her way through the city’s various cafes, bars and musical joints.