When you walk through Greenwich Village its sense of freedom invites you to get lost within it. The Village doesn’t abide by the rules of the typical grid system of Manhattan instead it is laid out with winding streets that even leave the locals scratching their heads lost in the surrounding brownstone buildings. The Village has always been a place that breaks the rules and has been so for over a hundred years, in the past its cheap rent prices and free and exciting vibes allowed The Village to be the home of some of the biggest evolutions in art, music, theatre and the LGBT movement. Now with gentrification to blame The Village has become one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in the country. While these rent influxes have caused many of the unique venues and spaces to close, some still remain keeping Greenwich’s charm and history alive in this ever changing city.
One of the oldest and most famous spaces in the Village is Washington Square Park, which was originally a burial ground for the unwanted. The space was bought in 1826 to be made into a military parade grounds and public park. In 1917 artists Marcel Duchamp, Gertrude Drick and John Sloan gathered a group of bohemians and famously snuck onto the Washington Square Arch and claimed Washington Square free in the name of unconventionality. They let balloons and Chinese lanterns free in celebration. With their declaration they were right, the park has always been a free space full of performers, musicians, artists, skateboarders and has been featured in countless books and movies.
Greenwich Village’s path to creativity was paved with the building of the Tenth Street Studio. The building was revolutionary, and was an alternative to the institutions that served only the elite, it provided studio space and exhibition space to many artists. Quickly the Tenth Street Studio started attracting artists from all across the country. William Merritt Chase was an artist who resided there and who would later open what is now known as Parsons School of Design. Cherry Lane Theatre was also established around then in 1924, as an alternative theatre that has pushed the envelope in groundbreaking performing arts. While the Tenth Street Building was sadly demolished and turned into apartments, you can still see a show at the Cherry Lane Theatre which is the longest off Broadway theatre in the city.
Marie’s Crisis, opened in the early 1800’s named after the owner Marie Du Mont is another historical spot in the Village. The space has lived many lives once a brothel, a speakeasy serving alcohol in the prohibition era and a gay bar. Now you will probably hear Marie’s Crisis before you see it as regulars and newbies pack into the basement bar and crowd around the piano to sing Broadway songs. Often you will see the odd actor and Broadway star popping in for a sing.
You can still find many watering holes which many famous writers frequented in Greenwich such as Kettle of Fish built in 1950, which was a place of choice for writers of the beat generation with the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The bar has changed locations but still resides in Greenwich Village and still caters to its literary roots. Kerouac was also a visitor of The White Horse Tavern built in 1880 and is the second oldest bar in New York. The White Horse Tavern was the main haunt of Dylan Thomas, the tavern was infamously the place he drank 18 shots of whiskey before he collapsed outside and died in his home in the Chelsea Hotel. The bar gets many visitors who want to pay homage to Dylan.
Folk and rock music from the sixties had some of its greatest moments in Greenwich. Cafe Wha? One of the music staples of the time can still be found on McDougal street. Cafe Wha? helped launch the career of Bob Dylan where he had his New York Debut, back when a hat was passed around the audience to pay the entertainers.
The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street is a gay bar and a national historic landmark in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots, a pivotal moment in the LGBT movement. Established in 1966, during a time when serving members of the gay community alcohol or even dancing at these spaces was prohibited. Police raids of gay bars and arresting it’s patrons was unfortunately the norm, but on the night June 28, 1969 the attendees of a raid fought back against this violent mistreatment. During the arrests of patrons, people gathered and protested leading to riots. These riots lead to large scale protests, marches and picketing that paved the way for activist groups to form in the city, around the country and also internationally. Now the Pride Parade is held around the world on the anniversary of this riot in The Stonewall Inn.
During the 90’s Greenwich saw the launching of another artist Jeff Buckley who worked and played Monday nights at Sin-e a tiny late night coffee shop. The intimate venue allowed Buckley to work out his craft, and soon Monday nights started to bring in huge crowds, Buckley released his first album of his live performances at Sin-e, and was quickly signed and touring non stop. Tragically Jeff Buckley passed away during the recording of his second studio album. Sin-e closed and the owner opened Arlene’s Grocery in the East Village on the Lower East Side.
This is just a very small example of the history and spaces that can be found in Greenwich Village, hopefully the next time your walking threw Washington square park you will think about Marcel Duchamp, Gertrude Drick and John Sloan setting balloons free or the next time you pass Marie’s Crisis you might even pop in for a quick singalong!