A Travel Guide to both the West and East Villages of New York City.
After spending a wonderful autumn in New York a couple of years ago, I was over the moon that I was to be going back to round off the summer in my spiritual home. When I lived here I was working for the Arts Education provider Dreamyard in the South Bronx, but most of my social life revolved around the East Village and Brooklyn, where the arts scene is always blossoming. For this trip, my glamorous assistant and I would be sleeping on the Upper West Side and travelling down each day to explore. I’ll begin by showing you round downtown Manhattan.
One of my favourite neighbourhoods in New York is Chelsea in the West Village where there are endless contemporary galleries, bookshops and the High Line to explore. The famous network of Chelsea galleries host anything from high profile blockbuster exhibitions to provocative work from intriguing newcomers. Miraculously, they are all free, so it is such a joy to be able to wander around, liberated from the restraints of the larger museum’s crippling entry fees. The settings of most exhibitions are the vast, converted industrial spaces, which were bought up during the initial gentrification of the area.
The Gagosian Gallery (555 w24th) is a prime example of this at 20,000 square feet. Another fantastic gallery is the Gladstone Gallery (515 w24th) with its philosophical approach to art or the infamous Pace gallery (510 w25th) where some of the 20th century's most celebrated artists are displayed. But, if you’re looking for a more interactive, immersive experience, then the Sean Kenn Gallery (528, w29th) strongly favours performance art. In fact, due to my underlying aversion to much of the contemporary art scene, it has often been the intricate street art, which has captivated me more than the endless rows of minimalist galleries.
Before heading east, you must drop into Printed Matter Inc. (195 10th Av). They describe themselves as, ‘the world’s leading non-profit organization dedicated to the dissemination, understanding and appreciation of artist’s books’. It is like tumbling into heaven. You can spend hours twirling down the aisles, gathering piles and piles of exquisite almanacs and booklets of photography, poetry and philosophy in your arms. The price tags may be extortionate, but given the support they provide for artists, I am always happy to part with the extra few dollars for these technically innovative publications. They have shelves of politically and socially engaged works, which will certainly get me motivated for a hard days protest upon returning to Paris. Please note that if you require a little nibble, the avocado toast Café Gitane in the Jane Hotel is unbeatable.
Given that the High Line is one of New York’s top tourist attractions, you don’t really need my recommendation, but I can’t let it be swept under the carpet as you plan your day. Growing up in a Scottish seaside town, I have to admit that when I moved to New York I found the architectural landscape somewhat alarming. In moments of disarray, this concrete jungle can easily leave you feeling starved of green, desperate to return to a more natural way of living.
But, don't pack your bags just yet, because New York is blessed with extensive organic space. It is not only Central Park and Prospect Park, where you can be swept up and out of the mayhem, but also on the High Line (just not at peak times!). You will wander through romantic tunnels of vegetation, past vegetable patches and under canopies of green all whilst being able to look left over the river or right towards the silhouettes of downtown Manhattan's architectural pride. If you’re lucky you’ll also pass the odd snow cone vendor or an artist staging their own classes, but its more than likely that you’ll pass by film crews setting up for some new rom-com’s iconic scene.
In the East village the dynamic instantly changes. The atmosphere is younger, more artistic and there is enough good food to keep you there for life. Down from the New Museum of Contemporary Art - where you must check out the top floor’s view – is Elizabeth Street where you’ll find A.B Biagi (235), a darling little coffee shop, which sells the most heavenly vegan hazelnut and almond ice creams. The girl serving us was a charming Parisian who then sent us on to the infamous Tacomba at Fonda Nolita (no.267), which is an old white garage drowning in fairy lights with a vintage Volkswagen to serve the food. This very Volkswagen originally sold tacos on Tacombi beach, Mexico before heading north to win the hearts of the citizens of ‘Nueva York’. The menu may be simple with just tacos and sides, but the seared veracruzana fish is supposedly the talk of the town.
Before heading to Brooklyn you must stop by the Parisian perfumer Le Labo for a sensory experience you will never forget. The interior is gloomy, but sultry and resembles a shabby chic speakeasy meets Soho House, New York. They specialize in handmade, personalised scents to suit your character. Having barely crossed the threshold, a dashing gentleman in a cobalt blue apron was already leading me to Rose 31, a sensual scent, which I’d have chose myself given that my daily perfume is Jo Malone’s Velvet Rose and Oud.
The service is excellent; the trouble they take would suggest that you were choosing a husband, not a perfume. The Mahomet quote,
‘beware of those who have no weakness for women and perfumes’,
which adorns the wall rather lingers after departure. Pravda is an elusive Russian vodka bar, which is deep under the street in a smokey basement. They serve homemade infusions like cranberry and cinnamon and the crowd are alarmingly cool, but surprisingly warm. Sadly you’ll have to seek out the address yourselves, lest its popularity increases.
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of Arteviste.com