What to Do in the East Village Today

This post is a guide of things to do in the East Village, including free and nighttime activities, as well as where to eat, shop, and see art. 

 

 


PLAN YOUR VISIT

The East Village is known for its edgy vibe, vibrant nightlife, inexpensive delicious food, and unique shopping. For history lovers, there is a lot to see in the East Village.

If you do decide to check out this neighborhood like no other in NYC, here’s our guide to the East Village


How To Get Here

The East Village is located within the greater Lower Manhattan District.

It is surrounded by Greenwich Village to its west, the Lower East Side to its south, the East River to its east, and Midtown Manhattan to its north.

Regardless of how you get here, we recommend using this Google Maps link to get directions to the East Village.

 

Where is the East Village

 

By Subway

Multiple subway lines take you to different parts of the East Village. 

  • 6 train to Bleecker Street Station or Astor Place on the western boundary
  • N or R trains to 8th Street – NYU Station
  • F train to 2nd Avenue
  • L train to 1st Avenue 

Take a look at our posts on the subway for helpful tips:


How Much Time To Spend Here

To get a feel for the East Village, including sampling some great (and inexpensive) food, check out some unique shops, and do some people-watching, give yourself about 3 hours.  

If you want to enjoy a sit-down meal instead of snacking, set aside 4-5 hours. 

Add in another 2 hours if you want to see live music, attend a poetry reading or see a performance.


Sample East Village Itinerary 

  • It is best to visit midday as the neighborhood less active in the morning. 
  • Start at Astor Place and use our self-guided tour or explore as you like.
  • Stop for a bite at one of the restaurants recommended below then continue with the self-guided tour if you wish. 
  • Along your way, do some shopping or relax in Tompkins Square Park or a community garden 
  • For those who like a good drink, enjoy great savings during “Happy Hour” (usually between 4 pm and 7 pm) in one of the many bars in the East Village.
  • For an evening out, you can have a sit-down meal or grab a snack then enjoy a comedy show or theater performance.

Nearby Neighborhoods

When you are done visiting the East Village, you can walk west to Greenwich Village or north to Union Square and Gramercy Park

For more of the East Village vibe, but a little bit more laid back, head south to the Lower East Side. From there, continue south to Chinatown for a total change of pace and great, cheap food!

 


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THINGS TO SEE AND DO

1) Experience Three Centuries of History 

Discover New York’s Dutch roots at St. Mark’s in the Bowery Episcopal Church, which was built in 1799.

Walk past the DeutscheAmerikanische Schützen Gesellschaft clubhouse, which was built in 1888, when the East Village was known as KleinDeutschland (Little Germany).

Visit the former site of CBGBs, the club where punk rock was born in the 1970s. Go shopping at Trash and Vaudeville where the Ramones, Blondie and punk bands bought their clothes.

 

 

Whether you are interested in New York City’s pre-20th Century history or its punk rock era, the East Village is for you.

For the punk rockers, check out the Rock Junket’s Rock and Roll Tour or take a free tour of the neighborhood by Free and Funky Tours (runs daily).

For the history buffs, take a look at our self-guided tour below.  


2) See Street Art  

Wall murals can be seen all over the East Village.

The most famous location is the wall on the corner of Houston St. and Bowery. In 1982, legendary artist Keith Haring painted his first iconic large-scale mural. 

You can also walk the Mosaic Trail, a unique and well-known series of street lamp posts decorated with bits of broken china, tile, mirror shards, and other colorful and free found objects.

 

 

TIP: If you love street art, take a look at our post on the best places to see street art in NYC or check out our Lower Manhattan street art and graffiti tours, which take place near the East Village.


3) Check Out the Food Scene

The East Village is known for its wide range of cuisines that reflect the ethnic diversity of NYC. Prices can be unbelievably cheap too! (See our restaurant section below.)

At various times throughout the year, we offer a pay-what-you-wish East Village Food Tour. This is ideal if want just a taste of what the East Village has to offer.

 

 

Check our calendar to see if the tour is running while you are in New York City. 

Another option is to check out Food on Foot Tours. They offer two different food tours of the East Village. Their tours cost around $50 and sample a wide variety of cuisine.

This company’s tours are included for free for holders of a New York Pass, one of the many tourist passes. 

For an in-depth look at the cultural and political history of the East Village, check out Free and Funk Tours’ East Village Tour.


4) Watch Innovative Theater

Blue Man Group 

At the Astor Theater since 1991, this off-Broadway performance troupe has been entertaining audiences of all ages. Tickets are very affordable as well. 

 

 

The Public Theater 

The Public stages a wide variety of top-notch performances by cutting edge playwrights. 

The Public is also the sponsor of New York’s annual Shakespeare in the Park which is a must-do activity in the summer in NYC.

Theater for the New City 

Theater for the New City (TNC) was founded in 1971 and is one of NYC’s top Off-Off-Broadway theaters. Their Annual Lower East Side Festival of the Arts is held every May.

Find out more from our post on things to do in May in NYC.

TIP: Find out about discounted tickets from our post on how to get cheap Broadway tickets.


5) Go to a Museum 

Museum of the American Gangster

80 St. Marks Place. This space once housed a ‘speakeasy’ (an illegal bar during the Prohibition era) and local gangsters Al Capone and Lucky Luciano drank here. 

Groupon runs regular discount specials for the museum.

 

 

Merchant’s House Museum 

29 E. 4th St. Built in 1832, this elegant red-brick and white-marble row house was lived in by the same family for almost 100 years. 

Ukrainian Museum

222 East 6th Street. Opened in 1976, it is considered the largest museum in the U.S. that exhibits and preserves artifacts and art of Ukrainian heritage.


6) Community Gardens and Parks 

The East Village is known for its community gardening movement that began in the 1970s when the neighborhood was undesirable to live in. 

Locals turned these lots in makeshift gardens. They were an illegal use of private land but activists fought and won the right to use this land as community property.

 

 

Today, there are 39 legal community gardens in the East Village. One of our favorites is the Creative Little Garden on 6th Street between Avenues A and B.

The largest green space in the East Village is Tompkins Square Park. It’s a full block wide and three blocks long. There’s a big playground inside, as well as a basketball court and plenty of benches.

See our self-guided tour below for more details.


7) Explore Little Ukraine 

The area of the East Village between 6th and 7th Sts. between 1st and 3rd Avenues is known as Little Ukraine because of the large number of Ukrainian immigrants who settled here after World War II.

 

 

Though the Ukrainian population has dwindled, you can still find remnants of the Ukrainian presence at the Ukrainian Museum.

Be sure to try pierogi at Veselka an East Village icon!


8) People-watch on St. Marks Place

The three-block stretch of East 8th Street between 3rd Avenue and Avenue A is also named St. Marks Place (map).  Its energy is undeniable.

There is a buzz here 24 hours a day. This makes it ideal for people-watching, a favorite pastime of locals. 

 

 

Here you can find cheap, but very good restaurants, CD and even record shops, sidewalk vendors selling funky jewelry, rock and roll T-shirts, crazy wigs and so much more. 


9) Have a Drink at a Speakeasy, Pub or Dive Bar

With dozens and dozens of watering holes in the neighborhood, it is hard to pick out the best bars in the East Village. Here are the top spots by type of atmosphere.

 

 

Pubs

Speakeasy/Cocktail Bars

Dive Bars

If you prefer to have someone guide you to the best spots, there are plenty of great pub crawls and cocktail tours in NYC.


10) Shop for Vintage Clothes 

No other neighborhood comes clothes to the quantity and quality of the vintage, thrift, and designer consignment shops. 

 

 

Here are some of the best vintage shops:

  • AuH2O at 84 E. 7th St
  • No Relation Vintage at 204 1st Ave
  • Cure Thrift at 111 E. 12th St.
  • Mr. Throwback at 437 East 9th Street

For vintage shopping aficionados, you can take this highly-rated vintage shopping tour!

For a list of other types of one-of-a-kind shops, see below.

 


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RESTAURANTS 

It is quite a task to choose from among the hundreds of dining options in the neighborhood. Not only is the food quite inexpensive, but the ethnic diversity is also unbeatable. 

Rather than recommend by price point, we have chosen the best of the many cuisines you can find here. 

Note that all these restaurants are kid-friendly for children who like a variety of flavors.

Price range: $5-$20 per person

These restaurants will cost a bit more, between $20-40 per person. They are well worth the cost.

Desserts:

 


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NIGHTLIFE

Theater

 Live Music

  • DROM Live performances of diverse bands playing rock, jazz, electronica, hip-hop, and world music.
  • Parkside Lounge Eclectic array of live music including acoustic and electric performances. 
  • Pyramid Club – Legendary dance club opened in the 1980s.

 Performances and Readings

Comedy 

Movies

 


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SHOPPING

The East Village is known for its one of a kind shops:

Trash and Vaudeville

Downstairs is Trash. This is where the Ramones, Blondie and more punk bands of the late 1970s bought their clothes.  Upstairs is Vaudeville, with cool vintage clothes.

Strand Bookstore

An NYC legend, this megastore sells new books at discount prices, used books at a bargain, and rare books for reasonable prices.

Toy Tokyo  

A small shop jam-packed with anime figures, collectibles & art toys.  

Obscura Antiques & Oddities

A quirky store with curiosities like skulls & taxidermied animals.

Dinosaur Hill

Children’s shop with unusual items, handcrafted toys, musical instruments & apparel.

 


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SELF-GUIDED TOUR OF THE EAST VILLAGE

This tour starts at Astor Place. Use this Google map link for directions

This map is interactive. Click on the square icon on the top right of the map to open to a larger view.

 

 


A – Astor Place 

Astor Place East Village

This short two-block street, running east from Broadway to Lafayette Street is named after John Jacob Astor, who was the richest person in America when he died in 1848.

At this intersection is a large pedestrian triangle called Alamo Plaza named after artist Tony Rosenthal’s 1967 sculpture “Alamo” a massive eight-foot-square steel cube painted solid black.

The Alamo is more fondly known by locals as The Cube and is a popular meeting place.


Stop B – Astor Place Theater and Colonnade Row 

Colonnade Row Blue Man GroupHome to the Blue Man Group performance troupe, the Astor Theater is located in what were once the private homes of some of New York City’s wealthiest families, like the Astors and the Vanderbilts back in the 1830s. Originally there were nine Greek Revival mansions known as Colonnade Row.

Of the nine buildings only these four remain and were among the first buildings to gain landmark status in 1965 under the city’s newly created Landmark Preservation laws.


Stop C – The Mosaic Trail 

Throughout the streets of the East Village, you will see street lamp posts decorated with bits of broken china and tile, mirror shards, and any other colorful free materials that the “Mosaic Man” could find.

These lamp posts are the markers of the make up the Mosaic Trail. (Here’s a map of most of the lampposts).

Since the late 1980s, Jim Power, a Vietnam War veteran (nicknamed Mosaic Man by The Village Voice newspaper), has been creating these whimsical mosaics without any financial support other than donations of items to decorate the poles.

Many of them commemorate important events in New York history or people from the neighborhood.

At first, he was a target of the city’s Anti-Graffiti Task Force, but now he is allowed to work his magic with official city permission.


Stop D – Cooper Union

Cooper Union Building

Cooper Square and Astor Place

This highly prestigious and competitive private college was founded in 1859 by industrialist/philanthropist Peter Cooper, who believed that a good education should be available to everyone regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or social/economic status.

He mandated that the school would always be tuition-free and it was until 2015 when a financial fiasco caused the school to lose its massive endowments and Cooper Union now charges $40,000 a year.

The building is most famous for the prominent individuals who have spoken there. In 1860, the then-presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “right makes might” anti-slavery speech.

More recently, President Barack Obama spoke there in 2010.


Stop E – McSorley’s Old Ale House 

15 E. 7th St. bet. Bowery and 2nd Ave

McSorley’s is one of the oldest ale houses in New York, opened in 1854. This bar included in our Self-Guided Historic New York City Bar Tour.

McSorley’s has served up its home-brewed ale to notables Abraham Lincoln, Babe Ruth, and Theodore Roosevelt.

The décor – from sawdust on the floor to the long wooden bar that serves only beer – is like a time capsule.

Whether or not you order a pint of beer, step inside to see the hundreds of photos and memorabilia on the wall. Read our post on McSorley’s.


Stop F – German-American Shooting Society Clubhouse 

12 St. Marks Place bet. 3rd and 2nd Aves.

At the time the DeutscheAmerikanische Schützen Gesellschaft clubhouse was built in 1888, the East Village had a huge German immigrant population and the neighborhood was known as KleinDeutschland (Little Germany).

This building is one of a handful of reminders that the area was once primarily German-speaking. Look up at the façade of the building to see the engraving that reads “Einigkeit Macht Stark” (“Unity provides strength”).


Stop G – Hamilton-Holly House

4 St. Marks Place bet. 3rd and 2nd Aves.

Named for Alexander Hamilton’s widow who lived there in the 1830s, this mid-19th century Federal style building is an elegant standout on what was once one of the city’s fashionable upper-class streets.


Stop H – Ottendorfer Library Ottendorfer Library

2nd Ave bet. St. Marks Place and 9th St

Founded in 1884, Oswald Ottendorfer, editor of a widely read German-American journal helped create one of New York City’s first free libraries.

Ottendorfer wanted to help German immigrants assimilate into American society with access to reading materials.

Next door is the Die Deutsche Poliklinik (German Dispensary), financed by Oswald’s wife, Anna Ottendorfer, to provide poor German-Americans with free healthcare.


Stop I – Fillmore East 

Fillmore East Village

102 2nd Ave bet. 6th and 7th Sts.

From 1968 to 1971, the ground floor of this building (now a bank) was the Fillmore East, the East Coast counterpart to hippie/music promoter Bill Graham’s Fillmore in San Francisco.

Though only opened for four years, dozens of the best musicians and bands of the 1960s and early 1970s appeared on its stage including: Jimi Hendrix, Tina Turner, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Chuck Berry, Miles Davis and so many more musical legends.


Stop J – George and Ira Gershwin home 91 2nd Ave bet 5th and 6th Sts.

This was the childhood home of these brothers, two of the great song composers of all time. Their individual and collaborative pieces include the overtures Rhapsody in Blue, Strike up the Band, and musical Porgy and Bess. (image to the right)


Stop K – New Middle Collegiate Church 112 2nd Ave bet. 6th and 7th Sts. 

The congregation was founded in 1628, and is one of the oldest continuous Protestant congregations in North America. The church was built in 1891 and known for their Tiffany stained-glass windows.


Stop L – Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame 

Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame

corner of 2nd Ave and 10th St.

In the 1880s to 1920s 2nd Avenue between 10th Street and Houston Street was known as the ‘Yiddish Rialto’ because of the in nearly two dozen theaters that put on dramatic plays, operettas, and comedies performed in Yiddish.

Yiddish Theater was enormously popular in the East Village and many of the performers went on to have successful careers outside the Yiddish Theater.

The Walk of Fame, which are plaques placed in the sidewalk, commemorates some of the most beloved Yiddish Theater.

In the sidewalk are plaques with the names of the great Yiddish theater performers including Fyvush Finkel, known for his role on the TV series Picket Fences.


Stop M – St. Marks on the Bowery

St. Mark’s on the Bowery

131 E 10th St.

This is one of the oldest sites of continuous worship in the city, built in 1799 on the Stuyvesant estate.

Peter Stuyvesant was the last Dutch colonial governor of New Amsterdam before the British took control of the colony and renamed it City of New York.

Stuyvesant is entombed in the church’s graveyard. The church itself shares space with several arts organizations, including Danspace and the Poetry Project known for its Annual New Years’ Day Marathon Reading — 24 hours of poetry readings by such luminaries as Eric Bogosian, John Cage, Yoko Ono, Amiri Baraka, Patti Smith and Philip Glass.


Stop N – Tompkins Square Park Ave A to Ave B and E. 7th St. to E.10th St. 

The heart of the East Village, this park is named for Daniel D. Tompkins, once Governor of New York (1807-1817).

This piece of land was part of the massive Stuyvesant estate during the 17th century. By the 19th century, Tompkins had purchased the land and it was marked for development as a public square.

The Square was the site of two serious New York City protests, in 1857 and again in 1875, over the bad economy and lack of jobs.

In 1878, the square was landscaped into a park that was enjoyed by the primarily German residents of KleinDeutschland.

By the 1980s the East Village had become a dangerous neighborhood and the park was a safe haven for the homeless who would sleep in the park in a small make-shift community.

At the same time, the area was becoming gentrified and the radical, open-minded spirit of the East Village was being replaced by greed and high rents.

On July 31, 1988, the police suddenly and unexpectedly enforced the park’s 1 a.m. essentially telling locals, homeless or not, ‘get out of your park now.’

A week later a protest was held against the gentrification of the neighborhood. Clashes between protestors and the police became two days of rioting, with the police being blamed by newspapers, activists and local politicians, for the escalation of violence. Over 100 complaints of police brutality were filed.

The Tompkins Square Park Riot has been commemorated in a scene in the musical Rent and a song by famed musician Lou Reed.


Stop O – Charlie Parker’s house

151 Ave B bet. 10th and 9th St.

Legendary jazz saxophonist lived with his family in this landmark brownstone from 1950 to 1954. It was here that he composed some of his most influential works.


Stop P – Former site of CBGBs (John Varvatos shop)

315 Bowery bet. 1st and 2nd St.

At this located in 1974, a live music venue opened and it was called Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers. This became known by the now-famous acronym CBGB and OMFUG.

CBGBs is the birthplace of punk rock, at least in the United States. It all started with The Ramones, a group of long-haired, leather-clad guys from Forest Hills, Queens.

Other bands that got their start at CBGBs are Blondie, the Talking Heads, Patti Smith and dozens of other punk/new wave bands.

By the 1990s the neighborhood had become gentrified with new luxury boutique hotels and restaurants. Rents sky-rocketed and CBGBs wasn’t turning a profit. It was forced to close in 2006. The site is now a John Varvatos menswear boutique.

Knowing that the site would be a shrine to CBGBs, the store covered its walls with original memorabilia, posters and albums of the bands that performed at the club.

Step inside the shop, they are very welcoming of people who want to say they stood on sacred ground. Just for fun, here’s a video of Blondie performing at CBGBs in 1977.

 


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About the author

Courtney is a lifelong New Yorker fascinated with the city’s history, culture and cuisine. She loves exploring the world, as well as sharing her travel expertise with others.

She joined the Free Tours by Foot team in 2011, first as a guide and then as a writer. She has a law degree, a teaching degree and a worn-out passport. Her motto is “Have backpack, will travel”.

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