The Best of the West Village

The West Village is a labyrinth of shady brownstone-lined streets, hidden gardens, corner shops, and a mix of sophisticated culinary temples and casual downhome joints. It’s also a place I’m proud to call home.

I often find myself thinking I feel like I’m on the set of a movie while wandering this charming Manhattan neighborhood. Only, in this corner of New York, I actually often do find myself stumbling onto film sets. In fact, some of the movies and TV shows filmed here have become worldwide cultural phenomena, drawing millions of visitors each year to spots like the Friends building and Carrie’s apartment from Sex & The City.

Despite all the rubbernecking, I love my neighborhood and have spent a great deal of time exploring its offerings. I should say getting lost. The West Village’s haphazard streets were laid out before the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 cemented the city’s much-celebrated grid, so it’s very easy to lose your way. It took me years to understand why W. Fourth and W. Tenth streets intersect, and how Seventh Avenue cuts through the streets. But that just adds to the neighborhood’s charm.

Here’s my guide to getting lost in the West Village:

Get Oriented:

Take a walking tour to get acquainted with the West Village’s unique history (I recommend one led by Context Travel), including its rich Native American heritage, the impact Dutch settlers had on the neighborhood’s character, and the Bohemian poets and artists who have called it home over the years.

Bleecker Street has always been the Village’s buzzing main street. If you start at Sixth Avenue and work your way west, you’ll find Amy’s Bread and the famous Murray’s Cheese Shop (they offer classes). Bypassing frozen yogurt and souvenir stores brings you to more sophisticated shops like Reiss London, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Mulberry, Michael Kors, and Ralph Lauren.

Greenwich Avenue, which runs northwest from Sixth Avenue to Eighth Avenue, is rife with vintage shops, casual eateries, and design stores like Jonathan Adler. It’s also a traveler’s dream. Pick up a cool passport cover and luggage tag at Flight 001, then stop by neighborhood staple Per Tutti to peruse the delightful assortment of luggage and umbrellas on offer. Looking for gifts? Myxplyzyk is a gold mine.

Hudson Street is another main thoroughfare that’s fun to wander. Here you’ll find Myers of Keswick for all things British, Beasty Feast for great finds for the furry friends in your life, and some of the West Village’s most popular restaurants and bars.

Other quintessential West Village streets: Grove, W. Tenth Street, Charles, Perry, W. 11th, Bank Street, W. 4th Street, and Christopher Street.

Get Cultured:

The IFC Center shows the best documentaries and independent films around, but it also resurfaces movies we’ve loved for decades. Last weekend, they screened Fight Club at midnight, and soon to come is Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Hudson River Park is a neighborhood gem. On beautiful days, there is nothing better. Pick up a sandwich or salad at Better Being Underground or San Panino, claim a bench, and settle in for some great people watching in this lovely green space.

Jefferson Market was once a courthouse that faced demolition. Public outcry took the 19th-century icon off the chopping block and led to its designation as a national historic landmark. The truly unique building is now a branch of the New York Public Library and opens up its incredible urban garden to visitors in the warmer months of the year.

Shop Smart. Peruse the shelves at Three Lives & Company, a bookstore that teems with soul and creativity, make the short walk around the corner to Greenwich Letterpress for the most appealing greeting cards and invitations in the city, then head to Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks for rare and out-of-print volumes as well as vintage copies of magazines like Gourmet and Cook’s Illustrated. After all that thinking, treat yourself to some sea-salt caramels at Varsano’s.

Get Fed:

For Date Night: Try Barbuto for al fresco dining, dell’anima for killer housemade pasta (just make your reservation well in advance), The Little Owl for a classic, cozy West Village experience (try the meatball sliders based on a recipe passed down by chef Joey Campanaro’s grandmother), or L’Artusi, where every single thing looks and tastes fantastic. Wash it all down with a faux-illicit cocktail at Little Branch, an above-board speakeasy that only lets new people in when others leave.

Try Cafe Ino for a taste of local flavor. (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

Try Cafe ‘ino for a taste of local flavor. (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

For Ethnic Elan: Hit up Buvette, a French “gastroteque” that serves small plates (try the croque madame and fresh-squeezed OJ), Cafe Condesa for delicious, affordable dishes with Mexican flair in an under-the-radar setting, Karahi for an impressive array of Indian cuisine served up in a shoebox-sized space, Kin Shop for a truly unique take on Thai from Chef Harold Dieterle, who took home top honors in Top Chef‘s first season, Tertulia for Spanish tapas that rival the best on offer in Spain, or pick up some falafel at Taim Falafel (it’s the best I’ve ever had).

For Quick Bites: Waste no time getting to
Cafe ‘ino‘ for inexpensive comfort food (try the much-loved truffled egg toast), Joe’s Pizza for one of the best slices in Manhattan,
Patisserie Claude for flaky fare (the pain au chocolate is a neighborhood favorite), then enjoy a mid-afternoon cappuccino, croissant, and great people watching at Sant Ambroeus.

For Neighborhood Favorites: Impersonate a West Village local at Cafe Cluny, a French country bistro that serves a mean mid-week breakfast, Morandi, a spacious, family-friendly Italian trattoria, Pearl Street Oyster Bar for New York’s version of a Maine mainstay (the lobster roll), The Spotted Pig, an ever-popular British/Italian gastropub, or Tavern on Jane, a casual corner place with seriously good food.

What’s your favorite thing about the West Village? Tell me by leaving a comment.