It’s hard to think of a more perfect place for an afternoon stroll in downtown NYC than Greenwich Village. A paragon of cosmopolitan diversity, the Village truly has something for everyone. It was here that the national gay-rights movement got its start in the 1960s, owing to the courageous patrons of the Stonewall Inn.
In the Village, you’ll also find sights dating from Revolutionary times and the hallowed stomping grounds of some of America’s pre-eminent writers and artists. Amidst it all, you’ll find countless cafes, restaurants, and bars, and some of the most vibrant street life anywhere in downtown New York.
Washington Square Park
Start your walk at Washington Square Park, long the focal point of Greenwich Village life. The area served as a gallows during the Revolutionary War, and afterwards, as a burial ground for some 15,000 people, most of them poor and unidentified.
From 1829-1833, elaborate brick houses, which came to be known as “The Row,” were built along the park’s northern edge. The rich and well-to-do moved in here, while poor immigrants lived in tenements on the park’s southern edge. Artists and bohemians later came to populate the southern section, building a highly creative community. Today, the park is filled with chess players, kids, street musicians, and street-food vendors.
Jefferson Market Library
Turn right on Avenue of the Americas/6th Avenue, and cross W 9th Street to the north. Just up on your left, between W 9th and 10th Street, is the Jefferson Market Library. This architectural landmark served as both a women’s prison and a courthouse before being converted to a public library. The garden is lovely in good weather.
Just north of the library, make a sharp left on W 10th Street. Across the street from the library is the small gated alley called Patchin Place. Look for a street sign high up on the alley’s wall. Marlon Brando, E.E. Cummings, and Djuna Barnes all called this alley home at one time or another. It’s still the site of private residences.
Continue southwest on W 10th Street to 7th Avenue S, and turn left. Walk south to the logic-defying intersection of Christopher Street and 7th Avenue S. The modern gay-rights movement started just east of this intersection at 51-53 Christopher Street, when gay patrons of the Stonewall Inn stood up to police who attempted to break up their party.
The original establishment has closed, but you can still toast to the protesters at a new bar of the same name at the same address. On the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, New York’s first gay-pride parade marched up 6th Avenue from Christopher Street to Central Park.
Turn left on Bedford Street, and head southeast. One block down, at 86 Bedford Street, between Grove and Barrow Street, you’ll pass Chumley’s, a former speakeasy and literary hangout that retains its secret feel. Renovated back in 2007, the new Chumley’s keeps the memory of the old one alive with photos of the writers who used to drink there on its walls. Here, you walk in the footsteps of Hemingway, Faulkner, and Salinger.
75½ Bedford Street
Continue walking southeast on Bedford Street across Commerce Street. Just past that intersection is 75½ Bedford Street, the former home of writer Edna St. Vincent Millay and, later, anthropologist Margaret Mead. Measuring just 9½ ft. across, this is the Village’s narrowest building.
The night is young
From here, wandering possibilities abound. If you return to 6th Avenue and walk north to the W 4th Street Basketball Courts, you’ll find some serious pick-up basketball being played almost every afternoon.
Or, head east on W 3rd Street to the heart of the NYU shopping and nightlife areas. Go south on MacDougal Street for a wide selection of restaurants and entertainment venues, or continue east on W 3rd Street to Thompson Street for boutique shopping and more quaint eateries. Feeling bold? Challenge someone to chess in the park and try to establish yourself as chess grandmaster of Greenwich Village!
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