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Exploring the culture of the East Village, a longtime haven for the arts

The East Village has much to see (and

The East Village has much to see (and eat), so let us help you figure out how to spend a perfect day there. Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

If you've gone to the East Village for a night out, you know it has a certain energy. On any given night, you'll find groups of New Yorkers milling around, music pouring out of restaurants and cafes, and shops open late.

The neighborhood, which used to be considered part of the Lower East Side before it was rebranded in the mid-20th century when beatniks and the city's artists migrated there, is bound by the Bowery and Third Avenue to the west, 14th Street to the north and Houston Street to the south.

And while the grit and the edge that once characterized the East Village is being washed away by the influx of higher-end restaurants and retail stores, its history as the birthplace of punk music, a haven for artists, and a home to immigrants, lives on. 

Yes, it is rife with great nightlife options, from bars to concert venues like Webster Hall, but it offers so much more as a neighborhood. It has a rich history that's reflected in places like the Museum of the American Gangster and St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery, shopping for just about anything you are into, from curated vintage shops and collectible toys to meat, wine and hats, and restaurants of all kinds.

There are so many options for spending a day in the East Village, so we put together an agenda of some of the best spots to hit up, from sunrise to sunset.

Start with brunch at The Post 

Post at 42 Avenue B in the neighborhood's Alphabet City enclave has "the kind of food that once you have it, you crave it," according to Pamela Gia, a longtime resident, who was enjoying a coffee at its bar on Tuesday. Post, which is on the smaller side, has some of the very best homemade biscuits in the city offered with a fried egg in several ways — with mushroom and goat cheese; with avocado and tomato; with housemade chicken sausage and cheese (pictured) or white gravy; with bacon, tomato and gouda cheese; and with Carolina barbecue pulled pork and coleslaw. If biscuits aren't your cup of tea, there's a full brunch menu featuring salads, granola, pancakes and more. Pair your choice with a mimosa, a bloody mary or a Post champagne cocktail and you're set for a day of shopping, museum-going and more fun. And, you can walk out without having paid more than $20.

Catch a breath in one of its many gardens 

The East Village has the highest concentration of community gardens in all of New York City with about four dozen spread out among its streets, and you can learn about them at the East Village Parks Conservancy's website. The garden we recommend heading to is just around the block from Post on Eighth Street, between avenues C and D, called Green Oasis Community Garden. With a koi fish pond, a red gazebo, sculptures scattered throughout its beds, a grape arbor and, when the weather has been friendly, beehives, the garden is exactly what the name implies. It's been around for more three decades and has community events regularly, including a solstice celebration in the summer, jazz in the garden, a Harvest Arts Festival and more. Take a breath here while you digest.

Learn about Ukranian history or the American gangster at a museum 

If you're a true crime junkie or just interested in the city's gritty past, the Museum of the American Gangster is your first museum stop on this day trip. Located at 80 St. Marks Place, the museum takes you through the story of organized crime, featuring the likes of Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and John Gotti, who all frequented the neighborhood, and lets you tour a historic speakeasy. You'll see John Dillinger's death masks, bullets from the St. Valentine's Day massacre and more. (Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors).

If you want to find out more about Ukranian culture, as Little Ukraine shrinks, visit what is said to be the largest collection of Ukrainian cultural items, from folk art to fine arts and archives. The Ukranian Museum at 222 E. Sixth St. is a well-curated space with galleries of beautiful art, including pysanky, the Ukranian Easter egg. Exhibitions range from topics like the country's struggle for independence over history to the deportation of Crimean Tatars (a Turkish ethnic group) to the Ural Mountains and Central Asia during the Stalin regime. 

Down at 29 E. Fourth St., the Merchants House Museum awaits. It's one of the best surviving examples of architecture from the 19th century and its staff believe it's haunted. When you are welcomed in, you'll find actual belongings of the Tredwell family who lived and died there. It's like stepping back in time.

Grab a refreshing drink at Spiritea 

So much learning and walking — it's time to get a drink. Head around the corner to Spiritea at 300 E. Fifth St. to be refreshed. When you walk in, you may be intimidated by its minimalist look, but the new store has a laidback cafe vibe with incredibly yummy drinks. We ordered the "Super Combo" green fruit tea, which literally has fruit slices in it. Other drinks include the Bayberry Fruitea, the Super Pom Fruitea and the Cloudtea with jasmine tea, fruit slices and cream. Spiritea is not stingy when it comes to serving sizes, either. Drink up before you head back out for some shopping.

Get your shop on at Toy Tokyo, Mr. Throwback, Spark Pretty and other stores 

Across from Spiritea, you'll find Toy Tokyo, which is a store full of collectibles ranging in fandoms (Nintendo, Star Wars, the Zelda games, Disney) across all kinds of figures, from Funko Pop! to Kaws and many more. While some things are on shelves to grab, many collectibles are behind glass, like it's a museum displaying the toys of your childhood.

Walk up to 333 E. Ninth St., where Spark Pretty is. The vintage clothing store, which looks like a dream closet from the 1980s and '90s, is chock full of loud, fun, and stylish pieces with fun patterns, old band T-shirts, and artfully reconstructed jean jackets and blazers, among other apparel. 

Head one block east to Mr. Throwback at 437 E. Ninth St., especially if you're a sports fan. The store specializes in 1990s-era sports apparel, including jerseys and hats, sneakers and more. Owner Michael Spitz curates his collection of NBA, NHL and NFL gear himself, and is open to negotiating prices. In fact, he tells us that customers who bring this article into the store will get a discount off what they purchase. It's clear Spitz is passionate about what he sells — he's been collecting since at least 2009 and has been selling in the East Village for seven years. 

The East Village also has a record shop called Turntable Lab at 84 E. 10th St. The vinyl, which ranges across genres, is toward the back of the store, where you can find lust-worthy record players, Hi-fi gear and DJ equipment. Flip through the stacks without judgment — the staff is helpful and knowledgeable.

Grab dinner at Thursday Kitchen 

Surely by now, you've worked up an appetite. It's time for dinner. While you really can't go wrong in the East Village, we do recommend Thursday Kitchen (424 E. Ninth St.), a Korean spot with French and Spanish influences by owner and chef Kyungmin Kay Hyun. Menu items include gnocchi (pictured) made with Korean chili pepper sauce, garlic aioli and a seaweed crunch, a duck confit empanada, eel tacos, kimchi paella, and the angry sweet potato with sriracha goat cheese and cayenne pepper, among other mouthwatering creations.

If you're feeling Italian, head to Tableside Italian Cook Shoppe at 345 E. Sixth St., which is a family-owned and operated restaurant with authentic cuisine including dishes like the "Italian Mother's Love" meat lasagna, the "Tasty Crustacean" tonnarelli pasta with lobster meat and brandy cream lobster reduction, and the "Drunken Golden Bird" parmigiano reggiano crusted chicken breast in a lemon and white wine sauce. 

Other honorable mentions include Japanese restaurant Benemon at 108 E. Fourth St., Upstate Craft Beer & Oyster Bar, Moroccan eatery Cafe Mogador at 101 St. Marks Place and Thai spot Klong at 7 St. Marks Place.

Get something sweet at Spot Dessert Bar or Sundaes and Cones

Spot Dessert Bar (13 St. Marks Place) is one of those places you go to for "the 'gram" because it continues to come up with some of the most innovative confectionary creations, including its matcha lava cake, "The Harvest" potted plant cheesecake, the "King of Fruits" made with durian white chocolate mousse, banana cake, durian chips, banana milk and ice cream (pictured), and many others. 

Or if you're not about waiting (because it can get packed) or just want some good, old fashioned ice cream, stop at Sundaes and Cones at 95 E. 10th St. The creamery is a favorite and has both the classic flavors (cookies and cream and mint chocolate chip are fan favorites) and more adventurous ones, including black sesame and Thai iced tea.

End your night at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe 

Since 1973, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe has been where poets, musicians, performers and artists have come together to showcase their work, especially those from the Latino and African-American communities. And to this day, it has been described as "a buffer against the gentrification of Loisaida [Spanglish for Lower East Side]," according to the cafe's executive director Daniel Gallant. 

"We celebrate and champion works of poetry, music, theater, hip hop, dance, film and literature by rising artists who operate outside the mainstream — particularly Latinx artists and black artists whose work addresses topics of sociopolitical significance," he said. "Though the cafe itself is non-partisan, we encourage politically-minded artists to use our stage as a launching pad for both creativity and activism. The cafe is home to a multitalented network of artists and educators who are devoted to nurturing the artistic voices of tomorrow."

Head over to support them at 236 E. Third St. whether it be during a Friday night poetry slam, Open Mic Night Mondays, Slam Open on Wednesdays, Latin jazz on Tuesdays and more

And if you want to get drinks afterward, check out Please Don't Tell, the secret bar, at 113 St. Marks Place, Death & Co. at 433 E. Sixth St., or Juke Bar at 196 Second Ave. 


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