New York City’s five boroughs and diverse neighborhoods provide endless opportunities for exploration, each area with its own set of landmarks and history. The East Village is one of the most famous neighborhoods in Manhattan, well known for its history of beatnik poetry, punk music and Nuyorican literature. As many old-timers in the neighborhood complain about enduring establishments being replaced by banks and Starbucks, I tried to center my last day trip around some more spots commonly frequented by locals and long-time residents.
To start your day (if you’re a coffee drinker), head to Abraço, a quaint yet vibrant espresso bar that also serves a rotating assortment of house-made pastries and small savory bites such as bocadillos. Abraço’s staff and owner pride themselves on their music taste: They run their own radio station and have a wide record collection that they use to select eclectic sounds for their customers to enjoy while they sip their daily caffeine fix. Abraço also serves alcoholic drinks (for those older than 21!) until 6 p.m. For great decor, music, drinks, snacks and atmosphere, I highly recommend checking it out. Make sure to try the olive oil cake, the only unchanging feature of its food menu!
After grabbing some coffee, take a stroll in the East Village’s community gardens. Visible on nearly every street in Alphabet City (stretching from A to D avenues), the East Village community gardens are maintained by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and local volunteers. Each garden has its own flavor and flora but all provide an excellent reprieve from the claustrophobia and intensity of the city. My personal favorite is 6BC Botanical Garden, but all are worth walking to. Just make sure they are open to the public at the time you visit, as some only open while volunteers are actively working on the greenery.
Another good stop for some rest is Tompkins Square Park. Once nearly demolished for its association with crime, the park now serves as a congregation for the old-timers and new faces who inhabit the East Village: Nuyoricans, Ukrainians, musicians, punks, skater kids, students and young professionals.
At this point, if hungry for lunch, stop by Sunny and Annie’s. New York City is peppered with bodegas, a Spanish word for storeroom or cellar. The typical bodega serves the essentials such as a “baconeggandcheese” on a roll, chopped cheese and Arizona iced tea. Sunny and Annie’s’ menu is a bit different: It serves a selection of sandwiches on a hero or roll inspired by mostly Asian flavors. The most popular items seem to be the phở themed sandwich and the bulgogi — but worry not, the deli still serves the classic baconeggandcheese.
Next, head for a stroll on St. Mark’s Place, the most well-known street in the East Village. Throughout time — and especially within the past 20 years — tons of beloved stores have closed their doors (to the chagrin of many locals), but a quick peek at St. Mark’s demonstrates that some echoes of its storied past still remain. People watch punks smoking on stoops, musicians carrying their equipment around and open market vendors corral tourists into their abodes. I would recommend a stop at Physical GraffiTea, a loose leaf tea store located on the ground floor of the building used in Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album cover. I spoke to the owner for some time about her knowledge of tea and her favorite recommendations, and she brewed me some tea samples before I purchased them. There is also a tasting room in the back, which I highly recommend stopping in for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Lastly, for dinner, I recommend a stop at one of Frank Prisinzano’s three Italian restaurants. Frank, Lil Frankie’s and Supper specialize in a variety of Italian food. Prisinzano serves a combination of Italian-American favorites such as chicken Parmigiana with a selection of more classic Italian dishes, including spaghetti aglio e olio and rigatoni al ragu. Lil Frankie’s has a wood-fired pizza oven and does Neapolitan pies, which differ from other styles of pizza in their use of light and almost fluffy dough, sparse toppings and charred crust from a hotter than 800-degrees-Fahrenheit oven. Lastly, Supper is a self-described Northern Italian osteria and serves a rotating cast of Northern classics such as osso buco, lasagne and tortelloni.
It goes without saying that the East Village has many more cafes, restaurants and landmarks worth visiting, but this collection makes up my favorite places to visit. If you ever have the chance to visit Manhattan, I highly recommend taking a day to explore the neighborhood!