West Village: A Neighborhood Guide

The West Village is changing. For those of you who remember, the neighborhood was once a nesting place for rambunctious youth and artists. But with every Starbucks that opens (I’m looking at you, Bleecker street location), the Village loses a bit more of its history and charm.

Residents of the neighborhood have watched the progression with a mix of appreciation and disdain. Sure, it’s palpably stodgy when an area has more bankers than Baryshnikovs… but it’s also really convenient to have Intermix.

And so the West Village continues the hunt for an identity. Will smoke shops shutter to make way for another Gary Stulman restaurant? Or will the area continue to serve as a local mecca for art, fashion and culture?

Ideally, both. As a freelance writer who can also rationalize spending ten dollars for a single serving of kale juice (skip Organic Avenue and head to Juice Generation), I often find myself straddling the line between the Village’s past and present. The only option is for us to work together, and to define the future for a neighborhood that embraces luxury without forgetting its past.

Here are a few businesses that have helped bridge the gap:

A newcomer to the West Village coffee scene, this is by the far the most idyllic place for a cappuccino. Windows are cast open to create a breezy, relaxed environment, and outdoor seating contributes to the laid-back vibe. The person sitting next to you will likely be working on a script, blog or musical score—yes, there is actually a guy who sits there scoring music—but you won’t be judged for wearing Rag & Bone jeans.

whynotPhoto Credit: Foursquare

In the evenings, WhyNot trades beans for Barolo, and morphs into a (similarly open-aired) wine bar. There’s live jazz in the basement for a mere $10 cover.

The coffee here is some of the best in the Village, but this establishment primarily considers itself a brewhouse. Nestled on the main drag of Hudson street, UpRight seems perpetually right for the occasion. It’s the perfect place for brunch, a mid-afternoon beer or a caffeinated laptop session. I’m almost hesitant to write about it, for this is the last place in the Village where brunch isn’t served with a forty minute wait. But as long as I’m already giving up the goods, don’t miss the breakfast wrap.

Wilfie & Nell
People love to hate this bar. On the one hand, the venue is stylish and the drinks are good. On the other hand, it’s full of finance fiends and the women who date them. Any who fits comfortably into either of those categories will find a delightful evening in the standing portion of Wilfie & Nells.

Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar
Thimble-sized and cheery, this is the kind of bar that makes you wish it were winter. The staff is knowledgable and the food is delicious—I’ve even heard rumors of a chocolate chip bread pudding. Come here with a date, or for any cozy occasion.

The Little Owl
Upscale in a way that’s not pretentious, the Little Owl is a neighborhood standard. Located in a building famous for appearing in the exterior shots on Friends, you might have to fight through a crowd of tourists to simply reach the front door. Your reward, however, is well worth it.

littleowlPhoto Credit: The Little Owl

Once inside, warm lights and limited tables make the place feel like a private supper club. And it nearly is, given how hard it is to make reservation. The best thing on the menu—and you have to trust me here—is the Muscat dessert wine; so delicious and refined, it’s like drinking Anna Wintour’s tears.

The Cherry Lane
Search no longer for good theater below fourteenth street. Now in its 90th year, this humble venue draws big time names: including Jesse Eisenberg, Barabra Streisand and James Earl Jones.