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City Living: South Tompkins Square Park
Nestled within the heart of the East Village, this quaint micro-neighborhood beats at a slightly slower pace beneath the hustle, bustle and foot shuffling of partygoers and tourists.
Defined by its trees, low-rise buildings and a park that serves as a backyard for local families, it offers a welcomed respite for those in search of a more toned-down version of the city — but one that’s not too far from the liveliness, should they ever yearn to return.
We call it South Tompkins Square Park, and it is known for its shady side streets and trendy but laid-back main avenues.
Saturated with everything from restaurants, bars and boutiques to community gardens, art galleries and classic New York delis, the area is a vibrant hub of activity infused with palpable East Village-Alphabet City edginess and charm.
Historic tenement houses and classic three- to five-floor walk-ups line its side streets, with some facades splashed in red, gray and black. And though trees populate many blocks, greenery is all the more present at the 10.5-acre Tompkins Square Park, from which the area takes its name.
The park was once home to squatters ranging from students to the homeless, and served as the site of the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riots. But the green space takes on a different air today.
Basketball and handball courts provide an outlet for neighborhood kids to play, the dog run is an asset to dog owners and, on a typical day, New York University co-eds can be seen sitting on the benches, eyes glued to laptops, while residents catch up a few feet away or visitors stroll through.
“Thirty years ago you’d be afraid to walk through the park,” said longtime resident John Moloney. He has lived on East Ninth Street with his wife since 1967 and raised six kids there.
“Now no one’s afraid to walk home at night; that’s what’s great,” he said.
Tompkins Square Park stretches from East Seventh Street up to East 10th Street and sits between Avenues A and B.
Need to Know
The South Tompkins Square Park area starts at E. 9th St. and ends at E. 3rd St. The avenues go from Second to C. More »
L train to First Avenue; F train to Second Avenue; F, J, M trains to Delancey Street; M8, M21 buses More »
Tompkins Square Library branch of the New York Public Library is the closest, at 331 E. 10th St. More »
P.S. 64, 600 E. Sixth St.; Tompkins Square Middle School, also at 600 E. Sixth St.; East Side Community High School, 420 E. 12th St. More »
USPS Tompkins Square Post Office, 244 E. Third St. More »
The Tompkins Square Park area is covered by the Ninth Precinct, aka “the fighting Ninth,” located at 321 E. Fifth St. More »
An ’80s-era establishment still going strong, Odessa wins the heart of old and young residents alike for the comfort food and 24-hour service on weekends. Dishes range from Eastern European to Greek to American. The vast menu features stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, beef goulash and various sandwiches, pasta and seafood dishes.
This wine bar and cevicheria spot offers a trip to South America by way of the palette. A strip of seating at the bar makes for an intimate setting as patrons dine on ceviches featuring king crab, Scottish salmon and oysters, and wine from regions such as Patagonia, Argentina and the Leyda Valley in Chile. The swaying silk fans above and ambient lighting add to the already cozy feel.
The indoor beer garden serves up an array of German beers on tap or by the bottle. The menu features dishes such as Spinatcremesuppe (creamy spinach soup), Züricher Geschnetzeltes (a sliced veal cutlet in a creamy mushroom sauce), pommes frites (French fries) and a dessert, Kaiserschmarrn (chopped, fluffy German pancakes with raisins served with applesauce).
Vazac’s Horseshoe Bar
Named after an old catering hall, Vazac’s, Vazac’s Horseshoe Bar, also known as 7B for its location on Seventh Street and Avenue B, is that classic neighborhood spot where the old and new (but mostly new) patrons collide. A few things stand out here: the U-shaped bar (another feature that gives it its name), the old-time photo booth, the arcade games and the jukebox — all of which just might give you a back-in-time feel, if only for a few minutes.
No Malice Palace
Don’t expect a grand facade and entryway at the No Malice Palace, but it’s the nondescript appearance that adds to its charm. It’s equipped with a bar, lounge and dance floor where partygoers groove to hip-hop, R&B and other popular tracks. It also houses a backyard garden offering a more laid-back atmosphere. Stop by for the nightly drink specials, the Loose Tuesdays open mic comedy show or the Friday and Saturday night dance parties.
The Pyramid Club
Another leftover establishment from the ’80s that’s still thriving, The Pyramid Club doesn’t shy away from that feat. In fact, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, you’ll be hit with the mellifluous sounds of ’80s tracks perfect for dancing to on the small dance floor until the break of dawn.
Chances are high that Tokio 7 has what it takes to feed the fun fashion side, the vintage side or both — and that goes for men and women. With items running the gamut from high-end to locally designed, one is bound to find dresses, pants, shades and shoes on an affordable price spectrum.
In the market for a courier bag, a backpack or a bag to hold that yoga mat? Love Shine can provide that. Whether your style calls for skulls or bright floral prints, many of the designs are inspired by designer Mark Seamon’s trips abroad. The store is also known to host free public events such as sidewalk fashion shows.
Odin New York
Venture a tiny bit out of bounds and you’ll stumble upon Odin. The high-end menswear boutique carries designers like Thom Browne, Junya Watanabe and Bespoke. The selection of bags, grooming products, trousers, shirts and footwear carry some hefty prices. But it might be worth it for the look.
Tompkins Square Greenmarket
This year-round greenmarket sets up shop at Tompkins Square Park every Sunday, bringing local food to the nabe. Products such as glass-bottled milk, farmstead cheese, orchard fruit and honey can be bought here.
Nuyorican Poets Café
This acclaimed, longtime community spot is prime if you want to spend a Wednesday or Friday night immersed in some spoken-word while imbibing an alcoholic beverage or two. The café also hosts a Latin night on Thursday nights and an open mic on Monday nights. The café normally opens for shows at 6 p.m.
The Community Gardens
The area is known for its vacant lots that have been transformed into mini natural escapes from the urban jungle. Some of the community gardens include the 11th Street Community Garden, located at 626 E. 11th St., between Avenues B and C; the All Peoples Garden, located at 293 E. Third St., between Avenues C and D; and The Creative Little Garden, located at 530 E. Sixth St., between Avenues A and B. Depending on the day, the gardens might not be open, but The Creative Little Garden is open from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, weather permitting.