The architecture of the West Village sets it apart from any other neighborhood. There aren’t skyscrapers and the most desirable homes are brownstones and townhouses which sit next to the famous Washington Square Park. The arts community of the West Village is an integral part of the neighborhood. Home to the father of abstract expressionism, Jackson Pollock, the neighborhood breathes art and holds creative values very closely. Apart from the fine arts, the West Village was also home to many noteworthy writers and poets. Edgar Allen Poe, e.e. cummings, among others. Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg frequented the area often, and in the early 20th century, the neighborhood became a popular hangout for the very creative. Today, writers and artists continue to seek the fast-moving, thought-inspiring landscape of New York City’s Lower West Side.
The West Village is a popular tourist neighborhood because of the celebrities that live there. Calvin Klein, Courtney Love, Julia Roberts, and Leonardo DiCaprio all have homes in the west village, along with dozens of other famous actors and artists. Washington Square Park is another site worth visiting — it has been the site of much civil unrest in New York City in the past 50 years. It was the site of the first ever protest film, as well as the beginning of the gay rights movement in NYC.
There are high-quality restaurants, parks and places to shop here. There are also some special treats the original Magnolia Bakery (get the banana cream pudding!), Dominique Ansel Kitchen, and White Horse Tavern (outdoor seating plus a strong dose of history it’s been there forever and hosted the likes of Dylan Thomas and Jack Kerouac), to name a couple long-time favorites. Bleecker St spans most of the West Village, and has many upscale boutiques as well as local restaurants, bakeries, and record, coffee, and book shops.
All the way west, the Hudson River Park offers magnificent views and bike/running trails (as well as benches for those who just like to watch).
The West Village is known for beautiful townhouses and smaller apartment buildings. There are relatively few large apartment buildings but some of what’s there are quite attractive (such as the Archive, a striking red-brick building on Greenwich St. that was formerly an archive and has extremely high ceilings, and Richard Meier’s towers on Perry St.).
In the 16th century, Native Americans called the area “Sapokanikan” (tobacco field). The Dutch cleared the land and turned it into pasture in the 1630s and renamed “Noortwyck” (North District or Northwich). When the English conquered the Dutch settlement of New Netherland in 1664, and Greenwich Village developed as a hamlet separate from the larger New York City to the south on land that would eventually become Lower Manhattan.
Between 1797 and 1829, New York’s first penitentiary, Newgate Prison, took over the land of today’s West Village. The building was designed by Joseph-François Mangin who also later designed City Hall. By 1821, the prison, which was designed for 432 inmates, held 817 instead, a number made possible only by the frequent release of prisoners, sometimes as many as 50 a day. Since the prison was north of New York City (which at the time was largely below Canal Street), being sentenced to Newgate became known as being "sent up the river", an expression which carried over when it was replaced by the new Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.
The Village is generally known as an important landmark on the map of American bohemian culture. Known for its colorful, artistic residents and the alternative culture they propagate. Due in part to the progressive attitudes of many of its residents, the Village has traditionally been a focal point of new movements and ideas, whether political, artistic or cultural. This tradition as an enclave of avant-garde and alternative culture was established during the 19th century and into the 20th century, when small presses, art galleries, and experimental theater thrived.
The Village hosted the first racially integrated nightclub in the United States. Café Society showcased African American talent and was intended to be an American version of the political cabarets of Europe before World War I. Notable performers there included among others: Pearl Bailey, Nat King Cole, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Lead Belly, Anita O'Day, and Charlie Parker.
The Village Vanguard is an internationally recognized jazz club with 80 years of history. It is credited with transforming the direction of jazz music. 10 years before the Vanguard opened, Chumley’s opened as a speakeasy. Chumley’s was a favorite spot for influential writers such as Willa Cather, e.e. Cummings, and William Faulkner among others. These two sites are integral pieces of the West Village’s arts scenes.
Gay Pride on the last Sunday of June features a parade, a street fair, and all-day parties. The annual Halloween parade on the evening of October 31st is NYC’s largest parade. Crowded and rowdy, the event is best watched from a rooftop or apartment.
Weeknights in the West Village are full of off-beat comedy, music, and theater performances, and restaurants are as crowded as if it were the weekend.