Your Destination Guide to New York City

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Greenwich Village

Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village

© Jim Linwood

Charles Street. Perry Street. Jane Street.

Greenwich Village is full of street names like these, often confusing tourists due to the lack of numerical grid structure present in most areas of Manhattan. This section of the city, known also as the West Village or more simply the Village, is largely residential, but houses some of the city's best restaurants and sightseeing opportunities. The neighborhood's boundaries are Broadway to the east (next to the East Village), Houston Street to the south (beginning of SoHo), 14th Street to the north (Chelsea) and the Hudson River to the west.

Any first-timer to the area should start at Washington Square Park, the largest and most well known in the neighborhood. This part of the Village was actually known as Washington Square in the 19th century, due to this landmark. Located at the foot of 5th Avenue, this public gathering place is surrounded mostly by New York University buildings, and is distinguished by its white marble arch (modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris). The large central fountain serves as a seating area, allowing for great views of the hoards of skateboarders, chess players and local musicians that crowd the area.

Historically, the Village is widely recognized for its influence on bohemian culture, progressive mentalities and artistic attitudes. These days, the neighborhood is home to mostly upper middle class families; however, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this section was known as the birthplace of the Beat movement. The Village and parts of San Francisco were made famous as areas where poets, artists and students (known as Beats or Beatniks) became known for rejecting social conformity and traditional values. The neighborhood was also instrumental in launching the careers of folk musicians in the 1960s: artists like Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jimi Hendrix got their start in nightclubs and coffeehouses. Nowadays, the performing arts scene is still vibrant at places like the Village Vanguard (178 Seventh Avenue), the Blue Note (131 West 3rd Street), Café Wha? (115 Macdougal Street) and the Bitter End (147 Bleecker Street).

Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway were two forms of theater that really took off in this neighborhood. The city's oldest running Off Broadway stage, the Cherry Lane Theater created in 1924, still stands at 38 Commerce Street. Once a farm silo, this landmark became a place known for hopeful playwrights to showcase their unknown work. Off Off Broadway began in the late 1950's as somewhat of a response to Off Broadway, rejecting commercial theater ideas and instead claiming venues such as coffees shops. An example is found at Caffe Cino (31 Cornelia Street), a place where aspiring actors came to perform without advance approval from the owner.

If you are planning a visit in the fall, don't miss the annual Halloween parade in the West Village. Taking place on Halloween night, the neighborhood transforms into a playground for circus floats, giant-sized puppets, dancers and unbelievably creative costumes. Spectators are encouraged to dress up as well, as the country's only known night parade takes place in over a mile radius of the city.

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