New York Travels, Episode 1, East Village

Second Avenue at St. Mark's Place, the heart of the East Village

By Lucas Compana visual storyteller, photographer, filmmaker and passionate about the history of New York city. His filmvacation gives image and voice to passionate travelers' stories in new york city.


fun city, a tattoo shop on the iconic st. mark's place, in the east village, new york city

by lucas compan

today is my birthday. And if you love New York City, this is going to be my birthday gift to you.

starting today, i will be publishing a new story, once a week, about how to enjoy the city where you live in as you were a traveler.

yes, Have you ever thought about traveling where you live, in your hometown? There are so many options and places, perspectives and views to explore. I believe that what gives excitement to it, is when we look at everything with those fresh eyes of a traveler.

the secret sauce is to seeing the same things as if it was your first time, and have the knowledge of a local, an insider. That's when you can get the best out of everything, when you enjoy the city to the fullest – when you can carpe the hell out of every diem.


MY TRAVEL EXPERIENCES


this is the first story i am going to share about my travel experiences. i hope you enjoy this one here, which will be boosting my desire to share my many thousands of other stories and experiences in different cities and countries – starting from new york city. after all, living in new york city is like experiencing a different country every single day – sometimes, more than two countries within 24 hours.

for example: if you are in manhattan's chinatown, you can experience authentic chinese food and culture. then, just by crossing canal street at mulberry street, you will be in italy. Well, little italy.

chinatown, manhattan, new york city – pictured from manhattan bridge

I mean, you can eat authentic chinese ramen for lunch and have handmade italian cannoli for dessert just across the street.

mulberry street: the heart of little italy, manhattan, new york city

Two Different Countries – Even Two Different Continents And completely Different Cultures, One Block Away From Each Other.

This Is New York, And New Yorkers Are Obsessed With New York For Good Reason: It Will Always Surprise You. There Is Always More New York If You Try. Today's Featured Local Travel Is The iconic East Village.


< new york travels, episode 1 >

 A TRIP TO THE EAST VILLAGE: 40-43'45'' N / 073-59'15'' W

Let's get this series started with one of my favorite (if not my top favorite) neighborhood in NYC: the east village. You can find almost anything here: fancy, funky, vintage, kinky, weird, supernatural, underground, mainstream – you name it.

Known and loved for being the birthplace of punk rock, the East Village once was decidedly grungy. Long-time residents fondly remember when the neighborhood was cheap and seedy. for example, an older woman living on East Ninth Street told writer william b. Helmreich ("the new york nobody knows - walking 6,000 miles in the city"):

 
the east village is a strong community, like a small village. we look out for each other. and we care, too. the friction here, when it comes out, is political, not racial or social. but it’s not an ideal world, of course. everybody knows everything just like in a small town. sometimes, I hate to admit it, you just get tired of saying hello to someone you passes by for the seventh time in a week.
— east village resident
 

In 1855, New York had the third largest German-speaking population in the world, outside of Vienna and Berlin, and the majority of these immigrants settled in what is today the heart of the East Village. At that time, the area we call east village was Known as “Little Germany” or Kleindeutschland.

 
St. Marks Place — The Three Blocks Of East Eighth Street That Run From Astor Place To Tompkins Square Park, Has Become A Symbol Of The East Village.
— James Nevius for Curbed New York
 

over the past couple of decades increasing numbers of New York University (NYU) students and newcomers to the city have settled there, bringing with them a more mainstream vibe. Nevertheless, you can always count on finding a glorious dive bar – or a late-night slice. During the day, however, the neighborhood slows down and has a tranquil feel. Meander down a leafy side street, and you'll happen upon plenty of prewar buildings and rusting fire escapes, which lend the East Village its old-fashioned charm.

The heart of this hood is the legendary, historic st. mark's place.


James nevius nailed it very well, when he says that "St. Marks Place — the three blocks of East Eighth Street that run from Astor Place to Tompkins Square Park, has become a symbol of the East Village." Head shops serve as a reminder of the street's hippie heyday, while stalwart Federal mansions remain a link to the area's more distant—and upscale—past. If something has happened in the East Village in the last two centuries, there's a good chance St. Marks Place has played a role. Yet, the street has never been a perfect microcosm of the East Village; those mansions were an anomaly, and the hippies were, too. still, St. Marks is the most famous street in the East Village.



america's coolest street

St Marks Place: is this America's coolest street? Journalist Ada Calhoun has an unequivocal answer: the coolest street in the country is St Marks Place in New York’s East Village, the street where she grew up and whose history she lovingly recounts in her new book St Marks is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street.

Left: a banner advertises Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable in 1966. Right: the same street today. (Photograph: Fred W McDarrah/Getty Images & Paul Owen for the Guardian)

96-98 St. Marks Place was The cover of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 album Physical Graffiti.

this three-block stretch of Manhattan seems to have been home to the largest number of cultural and historical luminaries per square inch than any other place on earth.

 
One Of My Favorite (If Not My Top Favorite) Neighborhood In NYC is the East Village – and my favorite street is St. Marks Place. You Can Find Almost Anything Here: Fancy, Funky, Vintage, Kinky, Weird, Supernatural, Underground, Mainstream – You Name It.
— Lucas Compan, A VISUAL STORYTELLER, PHOTOGRAPHER, FILMMAKER AND PASSIONATE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF NEW YORK CITY. HIS FILMVACATION GIVES IMAGE AND VOICE TO PASSIONATE TRAVELERS' STORIES IN NEW YORK CITY.
 

Leon Trotsky and W.H. Auden lived here, as did James Fenimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans. Andy Warhol ran a nightclub on the street. The New York Dolls and Led Zeppelin shot album covers depicting one of its street-corner bodegas and its geometrically pleasing zigzag fire escapes.

[St. Marks Place in 1968. (Photo by George Cohen)

The Rolling Stones filmed music videos here. Debbie Harry lived at Number 113; William S Burroughs at No 2.

the rolling stones in st. marks place

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in “Waiting On A Friend” video. the guy next to mick jagger is the legendary reggae star Peter Tosh.

Mick Jagger on the steps of St. Marks Place in the Rolling Stones’ video for “Waiting On A Friend.”

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones pose for a portrait together during the filming of a video for the Rolling Stones song 'Waiting on a Friend' on July 2, 1981 in the East Village, New York City, New York.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones pose for a portrait together during the filming of a video for the Rolling Stones song 'Waiting on a Friend' on July 2, 1981 in the East Village, New York City, New York. (image: Nancy Heyman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty)

With a camera crew grinding away under the guidance of Michael Lindsay-Hogg (director of the BeatlesLet It Be), the action opened with Mick Jagger sitting on a front stoop chatting with some locals. Soon he was joined by Keith Richards, and the two strolled up the street, lipsyncing the song's lyrics along the way. They turned into a "local pub" (Formerly the St.Mark's Bar & Grill, a popular Village bistro – currently V BAR), where they joined Ron Wood, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts — the "local band" — and the group commenced pounding out the rest of the tune. After the filming, the Stones launched into a brief garage-band-style jam for the few patrons in the bar, while a small crowd outside cheered. Further shooting was done later at the Taft Hotel.


andy warhol, billie holiday, beastie boys, leon trotsky

Adam Horowitz of the Beastie Boys wrote the song Paul Revere sitting on the steps of Sounds records at No 20. Jeff Buckley recorded his acclaimed debut EP Live at Sin-é at No 122.

leoan trotsky

andy warhol

billie holiday

Anarchist activist Emma Goldman founded the Modern School here in 1911; one of the students was Man Ray, and novelists Jack London and Upton Sinclair were among the teachers. Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and Miles Davis all played at the Five Spot jazz club on the corner with Third Avenue.


jazz legends in st. marks place

thelonious monk

miles davis

charles mingus

john coltrane

the five spot jazz club

Thelonious Monk and Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter get into her Bentley outside the Five Spot cafe, New York, 1964. (Photograph: Ben Martin/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

in 2017, you find a pizza place where the five spot cafe was located back in the 60s

st. marks place is, indeed, a fascinating sweep through the cultural history of an area that has been at the heart of waves of immigration – Jewish, German, Italian, Polish, Ukrainian – and of cultural movements such as beat poetry and punk.


THE BEAT GENERATION

Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg in the East Village, 1959. John Cohen/Getty Images

 
A sad park of Autumn, late Saturday afternoon — leaves by now so dry they make a general rattle and a little girl in a green knit cap is squashing leaves by the wire fence and then trying to climb over them — also mothers in the waning light, sitting their kiddies in swing seats of gray iron and pushing them with grave and dutiful playfulness.
 

This excerpt above, from Jack Kerouac’s "Vision of Cody," always brings to mind the early days of autumn, strolling the streets of the east village by Tompkins Square Park. Just like Greenwich Village before it, this neighborhood played a big part in the history of the Beats and everyone in their orbit: Allen Ginsberg lived at 206 East 7th Street from 1952 to 1953 and at 437 East 12th Street from the 1970s to the 90s – both served as literary salons in their respective times. the picture above was taken at harmony bar & restaurant, which was located at east 9th street and 3rd avenue. another joack kerouac's classic about new york is "the city and the town."

also, the legendary "on the road" might be about an epic journey across America but author Jack Kerouac actually wrote his seminal novel while holed up in this Chelsea townhouse – now up for rent – at 454 West 20th Street back


The First to Wash a New Pair of Jeans

A boutique in the East Village called “Limbo” was the first retailer to wash a new pair of jeans to get a used, worn effect. It became new fashion hit.

 

Store owner and designer Khadejha (right) with a customer in her shop on St. Marks Place. Fred W. McDarrah

 

Limbo was a boutique which was opened in 1965 by Martin (Marty) Freedman, originally at 24 St. Mark's Place between Second and Third Avenues in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. The shop moved to 4 St. Mark's Place on the same block in 1967, and closed in 1975.

an extetior shot of the store. Image: courtesy limbo

an ad for limbo. Image: courtesy limbo

In the May 1968 issue of eye Magazine, Norman Steinberg described Limbo as: "...the East Village clothier of the 'tuned-in' generation." He went on to write: "For the uninitiated, Limbo is much more than just a clothing store. It is a social, intellectual, and entertainment experience that appeals to people of all ages, races, creeds, colors and political persuasions." In his 2016 memoir, AMERICAN DREAMER: My Life in Fashion & Business, Tommy Hilfiger recalled: "Limbo was the best clothing store in the world. [I] wanted to make People's Place feel just like it, only even cooler."

A man sifts through fur coats at Limbo. Photo: Fred W. McDarrah

A couple in retro clothing embraces on St Marks Place. Photo: Jill Freedman

In her article, "The Birthplace of American Vintage, How East Village shop Limbo made secondhand Clothes Cool," for New York Magazine, 50th The Cut, Ada Calhoun reported: "Nearly everyone who made the East Village scene in the late 1960s has a Limbo story."


Is the East village dead?

mars bar, at First Street and Second Avenue in the East Village, demolished in 2011

Some say the East Village is dead, Manhattan has been murdered, and New York City has lost its soul. Some say that if you stand in the right place and squint hard enough, it can almost seem like the old city is still alive.

Jeremiah Moss (the pen name of Griffin Hansbury), creator of the award-winning blog Vanishing New York, likes to think of the city as a crime scene, which he is investigating for clues, searching for the cause of death.

In his new book, Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul, Moss sets out to chronicle what, exactly, has gone wrong with New York, where greed, hyper-gentrification, and government policies have conspired to kill off the unique character of dozens of neighborhoods.

I don’t think it’s quite dead—it’s mostly dead. There’s not that many places left that I want to go into, and that makes it difficult. But I do find that Tompkins Square Park is still Tompkins Square Park, and I am often heartened when I go in there and see that the soul if you want to call it that, of the East Village is still alive.
— jeremiah moss

Moss has lived in the East Village since 1994, and is now surrounded by evidence of its demise. Punk bars have been replaced by bank branches. Flophouses have been emptied out and turned into high-end hotels. Artist’s studios have become exclusive restaurants. Pierogi shops are now luxury boutiques, and lunch counters have become chain restaurants. A few plaques are scattered here and there, honoring the cultures that have been displaced, but for the most part, the East Village has lost its vibrant heart.

jeremiah moss in Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, an establishment which has been on Houston Street since 1910.

jeremiah moss, pictured above in Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, an establishment which has been on Houston Street since 1910, making it one of the oldest establishments still remaining in the neighborhood. Countless other stores, restaurants, and galleries have closed in the last decade, as a result of gentrification and rising rents.

Moss has emerged as one of the most outspoken and celebrated critics of this dramatic shift. He has spent the past decade observing and painstakingly documenting this sea change, and in "Vanishing New York," he reports on the city’s development in the twenty-first century, a period of “hyper-gentrification” that has resulted in the shocking transformation of beloved neighborhoods and the loss of treasured unofficial landmarks.

 

former location of nino's pizza on st. mark's place

same location on st. mark's place: now a starbucks coffee

 

"And yet, incredibly, St. Marks Place still feels, in its eternal bounty of drunk teenagers, sunglass hawkers, and vulgar T-shirts, reliably scuzzy," says ada calhoun. Yes, there’s a Chipotle in the Dom’s old building and a new Starbucks on Avenue A. But The Gap, 7-11, and Pinkberry have all closed. On the corner of St. Marks and Second, Chase will soon be replaced by The Swiss Institute, which will offer free exhibits and community events. Many of the street’s landmarks — Gem Spa, Grassroots, St. Mark’s Barber, St. Mark’s Comics — endure. East Village Books on St. Marks and First still has incredibly cheap used books. The performer Penny Arcade, who used to live on St. Marks between Second and Third, told me a couple of years ago that she found it still “magnetic and chaotic”: “Somehow you can’t gentrify that block.”

St. Mark’s Place is still magnetic and chaotic. Somehow you can’t gentrify that block.
— Penny Arcade, a performer who used to live on St. Marks between Second and Third Aves.

search & destroy: a vintage shop on st. mark's place, opened 25 years ago. photo: lucas compan

 

And there is still one vintage shop left there: Search & Destroy. When asked if the store, which opened 25 years ago, had any plans to leave, Maya, a laconic manager sitting on the steps out front, deadpanned, “I hope not.” Back inside, she said the street isn’t what it once was, but she didn’t have time to elaborate. Kids were waiting in line to buy used jeans — just like their grandparents did across the street 50 years ago.


to keep this conversation going, LET's GET A DRINK!

st. mark's place is one of the buzziest spots in the city. you still can find some of the best new york city's bars and speakeasy establishments in the east village. In the days of Prohibition (1920-1933), a speakeasy was an illegal booze bar hidden in an unlikely spot behind a heavy door, its location – and often a secret password – known only to a select few.

during the prohibition era, tens of thousands of protesters would gather and demonstrate against prohibition. women turned out in large numbers for anti-prohibition parades – this one in the east village. (image: AP)

"Please, don't tell"

a popular speakeasy bar among new yorkers is a place hidden behind a phone booth. PDT (short for Please Don't Tell) is one such well-hidden gem. Although the address is on St. Marks Place, no matter how carefully you search, you won't find its front door. You enter through a hot dog joint – Crif Dogs – under an eye-catching wiener-shaped sign with "eat me" mustard-scrawled on it. Discreetly step inside a vintage telephone booth, follow instructions posted on the wall, then dial number 1 (one) on a rotary phone to reach the hostess.

if you are interested in exploring the prohibition era in new york city, you should definitely get your copy of "Wicked Albany: Lawlessness & Liquor in the Prohibition Era"


the oldest irish tavern IN NYC? It's in the EAST VILLAGE

McSORLEY'S OLD ALE HOUSE was ESTablished in 1854. Abraham Lincoln once visited McSorley's, the oldest "Irish" tavern in New York City. Located at 15 East 7th Street in the East Village, it was one of the last of the "Men Only" pubs. Yes, that's true. Women were not allowed in McSorley's until August 10, 1970, after National Organization for Women attorneys Faith Seidenberg and Karen DeCrow filed a discrimination case against the bar in District Court and won. The case decision made the front page of The New York Times on June 26, 1970. Barbara Shaum was the bar's first female patron. With the ruling allowing women to be served, the bathroom became unisex. Sixteen years later, a ladies room was installed.


now grab a beer and watch this video highlighting the top 5 oldest bars in nyc


a CUP OF JOE with the beastie boys

Mud Coffee is a New York City-based coffee company that started by selling its own blend out of a converted van known as the Mudtruck in 2000. On weekdays, it frequents the intersection of Astor PlaceLafayette Street, Fourth Avenue, and Cooper Square in the East Village.

if you're Looking for a great cup of coffee in New York, head to the east village and Try Mud Coffee. It also happens to be where the Beastie Boys recorded their first album, Polly Wog Stew. That's clearly a distinguishing mark. just a sip of mud café and it immediately boosts your gud mud. Mud Coffee is an "anti-establishment" coffee company and can be described as a shot across the bow to Starbucks. the company started by selling its own blend out of a converted van known as the Mudtruck in 2000. On weekdays, it frequently can be seen the intersection of Astor PlaceLafayette Street, Fourth Avenue, and Cooper Square in the East Village.

mud coffee is a husband and wife team operation: Nina Barett, a former advertising professional, and greg Northrop, a rock musician. the company name was chosen because Greg's Italian grandmother called her coffee mud.


new yorker gangsters in the east village

the museum of the american gangster is a place that even native New Yorkers don't even know exists. at the Museum you can explore artifacts, guns, smuggling tunnels and newspapers. Also, This Mobster Museum Was Once One of New York City’s Most Notorious Speakeasies.

Lorcan Otway, owner and operator of the Museum of the American Gangster, was 10 years old when he used to dig out the basement of 80 St. Mark's Place. He and his father, who had bought the property from gangster Walter Sheib, were exploring the new house at that time.

For people who worry that the East Village has lost its flavor, Lorcan Otway is your man.
— T.M.Rives, author of the book 'Secret New York – An Unusual Guide

In a space next to the beer cooler they found a safe. When they opened it, surprise: there was US$2 million in cash. The family kept none of the money. Sheib hauled it away in a duffel bag to launder through Eastern Europe. However, this brush with the wiseguy life kicked off Otway's obsession with lawlessness.

"For people who worry that the East Village has lost its flavor, Lorcan Otway is your man," says T.M.Rives, author of the book 'Secret New York – An Unusual Guide.'

Otway hopes that his collection of artifacts will instill visitors with an appreciation of a counter-narrative in American history: the story of people who, in their own way, challenged existing structures of class, money and race. Among their ranks were second-generation Italian immigrants like Al Capone, Jewish mobsters like Murder Inc.’s Dutch Schultz and Meyer Lansky.

Today, the Museum of the American Gangster receives a slow stream of visitors. Some are attracted to the glamor of Prohibition, others to the sensationalism and “guts” of the period. Is the legacy of the American gangster heroic or just sordid? Either way, the American obsession with the era’s underbelly is as alive as a bomb in a gangster’s basement.


books to explore the east village to the fullest


NEVER STOP EXPLORING AND LEARNING

if on one hand, some of the coolest things of new york are not around anymore, on the other hand, the city is much safer and cleaner than before. New York In The 1980s Was An Altogether Different City From The Safe, Clean (For The Most Part), Cosmopolitan Urban Playground It Is Today.  Homicides Were At Near-Record Highs, The Crack Epidemic Was Raging, And NYC Had Not Yet Experienced The Wave Of Gentrification That Has Marked It In Modern Times. The Following Pictures Tell A Fascinating Story Of A Gritty, Graffiti-Strewn City That Just 20 Years Later Would Be In The Thrall Of Gentrification. to experience it all, Take this fantastic tour in new york city and in the east village back in the 1980s

 STREET (AND SUBWAY) graffiti

STREET (AND SUBWAY) graffiti

Golden Age: The Late 1970s And 80s Signaled The Beginnings Of Street Art As We Know It, With Subways Like This One In 1986 Covered In Tags By Illicit Painters.

EAST "GARBAGE" VILLAGE, back in the 1980s

During The '80s, It Was Possible To Captured Stunning Images Of New York Streets And An East Village Made Of "Abandoned Tenements, Drug Raids And Overdoses, The Homeless On The Bowery, Social Change Without Social Media."


experience st. marks place and the east village, local style



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