Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Village

On Monday morning we woke to the news that Obama had announced "We got him"; Osama Bin Laden that is. In New York I would say that news was greeted quite soberly. Apparently some tourists staying around Times Square streamed out of their hotels and high fived it with the locals when the first announcements were made. But the main news coming out of this city is that people are mounting candle vigils in the parks and the various memorials and laying wreaths and bunches of flowers as they remember those who died in 9/11. I watched a bit of TV last night and in other parts of the country it's obviously stirred quite a bit of patriotism.

If nothing else it's been a good week for Obama. The images of him up against Donald Trump (he with the dead fox on his head) and announcing the long awaited news about the death of Bin Laden should be very positive for his campaign.

So we started our day with a walk up 8th Avenue to 31st to the James A Farley Post Office, opposite Penn Station (and Madison Square Garden) to post some cards which will hopefully arrive in time for Mother's Day in Australia.

On the magnificent colonnaded facade of this Beaux Artes building is the famous slogan: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

I took this interior shot because it is so unusual to have such an opulent facility provided for the public (paid for by public money) of NYC.

From Penn we caught a trusty 1 line train downtown to Christopher St-Sheridan Square Station, in Greenwich Village. We found the beautiful upscale boutiques on Bleecker Street very quickly. I would love to have the time and the suitcase space and the money to do some serious shopping here!

We turned right into Perry Street, one of the tree lined streets of beautiful brownstones in the village and easily found the famous number 66. How many times have we watched Carrie emerge from this door in some fabulous outfit? It is someone's home of course so they must get heartily sick of the stream of girls taking pictures of their famous stoop (so much so they have put a no trespassing sign up). It takes away from the street ambiance a bit.

We found Taim at 222 Waverly Place, just a little hole in the wall, hip little Israeli felafel shop. Great for a lunch stop and a drink of their pomegranate & honey iced tea.

I wanted to try a cupcake from the famous Magnolia Bakery at 401 Bleecker Street on the corner of W11th Street - where the worldwide craze started back in the nineties.

They were "quite nice" as my mother would say, but not as good as from the Primrose Hill bakery in London. I tried the famous red velvet flavour, Rob tried to pick the one he thought Ella would pick (with pink icing!).

We wanted to know more about the West Village than just the SJP links and the cupcakes so we joined a NYC by Foot walking tour at 2.00pm meeting up with the group at the Waverly Restaurant at the intersection of Waverly Place and 6th Avenue.

Renee, another garrulous New Yorker with a wonderful Brooklyn accent and mannerisms, gave us a great introduction to the district: it's early settlement by Dutch farmers, the reasons for its distinct village character, why the Village refused to be a part of the new road grid system that makes the rest of NYC so easy to find your way around and why it was always said that "the Village is a place of high art and low rents".

One of our first stops was the unprepossessing Stonewall Inn in Christopher Street. Renee explained to us the amazing story of its central role (as a mafia run bottle club for homosexuals in those days) in the worldwide Gay Liberation movement of the late 60s. The legendary Stonewall rebellion started here on June 28, 1969, becoming the impetus for gay rights movements around the world. Originally the Sydney Mardi Gras was staged in June to commemorate the Stonewall rebellion in NYC (it was only later moved to Summer because it suited the partygoers better and attracted more tourists!).

This is the only remaining wooden house left in the Village. There was a huge fire through here in the 1830s when most of them were burnt down. Any remaining were faced with bricks. This is the only one left with its original Dutch style timber plank walls.

The photo below is for Jody who should recognise it as Rachel and Monica's apartment in Friends. Its at 90 Bedford Street on the corner of Grove St. We were also shown Phoebe's apartment block and houses used in lots of other films and TV series. It's a very photogenic village.

The Cherry Lane Theatre at 38 Commerce Street is NY's oldest, longest running off Broadway theatre. Originally a brewery in the 1830s, and part of a farm earlier than that. The theatre was established in the 1920s by a group of writers and artists including Eugene O'Neill and F Scott Fitzgerald. John Malkevich made his acting debut here (among many others). If Claire is reading this....... an episode of Glee was filmed here last Friday. It will be screened as the final episode of the current series. Apparently there was a dance sequence filmed on the street too.

And this (below) was the Huxtable family home in the Bill Cosby Show. It's at 10 Leroy/St Luke's Street. It's one of the few streets in the Village with houses on only one side, facing a park so film makers get plenty of light for their location shots. Renee reeled off quite a long list of films and TV series that have used houses in this street for location shots. The park was once a cemetery and local legend has it that the heir to the French throne (Louis 14 and Marie Antoinette's eldest son) was buried here:Le Roi; and that is how the street got it's name.

Walking up to Macdougal Street, between Bleecker and W3rd streets, we come to the area of the Village that was the hangout of the early Beat poets, writers and early rock and rollers and folk singers. Cafe Wha is famous for being where Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan were discovered (among many others).

..and the nearby Comedy Cellar is where Jerry Sienfeld, Robin Williams and Bill Cosby (and many others) all played in their early days.

The tour ends around Washington Square, considered by the nearby NYU as university grounds, but open to all New Yorkers to enjoy, including the many chess players who have taken over much of the NW section of the park (playing for MONEY!). Do you remember that Harry dropped Sally off in New York in front of this arch? It was built to commemorate the first centenary of George Washington's inauguration as President. Washington Square was also the site of Obama's biggest rally in his 97 campaign- this really is a Democrat city!

We both really enjoyed this tour. NYC by Foot tours are free; any payment is considered a "tip". We think Renee has really earned her tips today - it's been quite a performance, and for over two hours!

We need a reviving beer (even though today has been quite cold in NYC) so head back to the Taverna on Bedford Street for a Greek beer (and WC stop), before we tackle the walk back to 23rd Street.

Heading up Washington Street on the western edge of the Village, at number 681, we come to the shopfront of Collette's Cakes, cakemaker to the White House, Sting and the Rolling Stones etc etc. I have never seen such cakes!

.......and then at the intersection of Gransevoort St (another Dutch name) we climb up the stairway to the High Line Park.

The High Line Park was opened in June 2009, a beautifully designed remodelling of the old elevated freight train track that was constructed in the 1930s to serve the warehouses in the district then.

It's one of the very few open elevated areas left in New York. The rest of Manhattan has been leveled flat and covered by high rise buildings so it gives people a view of the city and across the Hudson to New Jersey that they never experienced before.

The park has been sensitively landscaped and is dotted with art works and sound scapes - all very intelligent and sophisticated.

There is a great area of decking and seating so people can experience one of the best sunset views in the city.

We step off the High Line at the nearby Chelsea Markets for more delicious seafood before heading back to 23rd Street.

1 comment:

Maxine said...

Another exciting day! Wonderful reading all about the food, history (I enjoyed all that celebrity history too)and reassuring to hear the acknowledgement of the bin Laden news was actually more restrained than our media has dwelt on.

(That guy in your last photo (reading a map?) looks eerily like Rod)