New York and its stories.
Never ending stories, linked to a central theme which marks its path across time, in places where these stories were born and in the streets, the buildings and squares that sheltered these stories. Still, to this day, these places reveal periods and stories of all ages, unique and captivating, at times even weird and eccentric, in other words, for “those who appreciate”.
Like a particular area of the East Village, the one that goes from Bowery Street, the picturesque street leading into the 4th street (it was a mistake in translation from Italian version, not 5th Ave), to Alphabet City, the area around Tompkins Square Park, so called for its avenues named with letters (Ave B, Ave C, etc.).
Since forever in new yorkers’ memories, an alternative and original area, a hotbed of rock groups, paintors, fashion and extravagant trends.
In the past, many immingrants from Eastern Europe came here, then it became a favourite place for extremely unconventional bohémien artists and little musical laboratories.
Nowadays it offers a wide range of cultural experiences, certainly to include in the “to do” things in New York.
In particular the Bowery area, which is preferred by famous people looking for anonymity and upper class new yorkers looking for low profile bars and the many ethnic restaurants, and by young people from any origin for the hundreds of pubs, markets and eccentric (and extremely cheap) shops in St. Market’s Place.
This is a walking route, suitable for all and it will take two or three hours at the most. A lot will depend on the time that you choose to spend in the various bars, cafeterias or in the temporary art exhibitions along the way: it is impossible to walk past them without having a glance.
Starting from the Bleecker Street station (green line), walk along this street going East, (East River side), until you cross the Bowery.
Continue north keeping your right, and just after two blocks you will end up in front of The Bowery Hotel, a red brick old building, nothing special at first. You will recognize it also because of the characteristic (and really expensive) Italian restaurant next to it, named “Gemma”.
It is an historical building, extremely luxurious and with real masterpieces in the interior, used mainly by actors and famous people during their stays in town.
You can enter and have a look at the hall and part of the courtyard, so that you can get an idea of the place. The spacious halls are well furnished with fireplaces, sofas, old carpets and gorgeous plants and a breathtaking veranda with a climbing garden.
Once you enter, you have the impression of finding yourself inside some place between a Renaissance castle and a moroccan tent camp, and it won’t be so rare to meet someone famous.
Prices are really unreachable but the atmosphere is unique and, after all, a glance doesn’t cost anything!
Continue north and when you reach Cooper Union Square (where Abraham Lincoln held his most important speech against slavery in 1860), turn right along St. Market’s Place.
This street and the area around it has been the scenary of many eras: New York’s early days, European immigrants from the early 1900s and the period of underground style, rock and punk bands, and still today you can see some traces here and there.
At number 105 on Second Avenue, you can still see Fillmore East, the concert building (more or less 2000 seats) run by Bill Graham in the ’60s and ’70s. This place boasts live appearances of stars like Jimi Hendrix and CSN&Y.
Today the building hosts a bank but the façade is practicly still the same through time. I must admit that it is always a sight when you arrive in front of it, to think about photographs of the seventies and the crowds of young ones waiting to get in to listen to the concerts.
Not far, on the 6th Street between the Second and Third Avenut, at number 222 it is possible (and advisable) to stop and visit the touching Ukrainian Museum.
This exhibition tells the long and tough history of the Ukrainian immigration in this district. The community is still present in the area (if you feel like a tasty snack, you can’t miss the Pierogi and Veselka‘s traditional dishes, at 144 on Second Avenue). In a specific area inside the museum, the new generations will find it interesting to search for information regarding their origins and place of birth of their ancestors, to rebuild stories and experiences interrupted by time and distance.
Going back onto St. Market’s Place, get to the row of working-class buildings at street numbers 96 and 98, cross the road always keeping an eye on cars zooming up and down, and have a glance at them from a distance. Do you recognize them?
It’s the place that appears on the front cover of Led Zeppelin’s album Physical Graffiti, and exactly it’s the place where in 1981 Mick Jagger sat on the steps waiting for Keith Richards, his Rolling Stones companion, in the video Waiting for a friend.
After taking the routine photograph, continue east along St. Market’s Place up to the last stop of our itinerary, Tompkins Square Park.
This park, which is really unknown by tourists and so much lived by locals, is a real institution for the area and, in my opinion, it comes absolutely under my list about what to see in New York.
It’s quite a big area, right in the middle of the East Village and offers a range of equipped pic-nic areas, sport facilities (basket, rugby and soccer), areas for dogs and their owners, games for children and space for summer concerts.
Walking through the park, especially in sunny days, you may come across lively improvised jam sessions (did you know that Jimi Hendrix would play by surprise right here?), and chess tournaments between the elderly of the area. Truly, an unmissable sight.
In September, the Howl takes place, the East Village Festival of Arts, in memory of the great Beat Generation artists. Dance shows, music, performances and movie showings alternate to theme concerts, poetry and cult stories readings. A real gem for entertainment lovers!
At the end of your tour, you can easily head back to Central Manhattan, walking back along St. Market’s Place up to Astor Place station (green line).