Puffy bursts of green bounce off the red brick of the rowhouses that line the narrow cobblestone streets. These cobbled paths bend and curve serenely but wildly through the brick and wrought iron jungle, catering to the every whim of the cramped shuttered construction of the turn of the century. There’s nary a sound to be heard – save for a cyclist bouncing past on the cobbles or the clink of the finest China in an open-air café on one of these quiet corners.
It’s not New York – it can’t be. But it is – it’s the West Village – silent, thoughtful, defiant, and so utterly sure of itself that it may be the most quintessentially Manhattan crevice on New York’s central island.
The West Village is bordered roughly by W. 14 St. on the north, 6 Ave. on the east, Houston St. on the south, and the Hudson River on the west. The area is most accessible by the No. 1 train at Christopher St., or by the W 4 St. station, which is served by the A, C, E, B, D, F, and M lines.
A great portion of this neighborhood has been declared a historic district. These areas are mostly centered near Sheridan Square and Abdingdon Square. Since receiving landmark status in 1969, numerous additions have been made to the protected area, leaving nary a change to be made to the built environment here, preserving the distinct character of the area first forged in the late 1800s.
The West Village came to prominence in the 1960’s as the bubbling cauldron that boiled over into the modern gay rights movement. The movement was born on June 28, 1969, when gay people fought back against police at the Stonewall Inn near Sheridan Square on Christopher St. Police were forced to barricade themselves in the bar in order to escape the violence outside. Protests continued outside of the Stonewall nightly for several days, according the Stonewall’s website.
The Stonewall Riots, as they came to be known, are a defining chapter in the history of the gay rights movement. To this day, New York City’s Pride Parade closes with a march down Christopher St., right past the Stonewall, as a sign of reverence for the site that has been remembered as the Boston Tea Party of the gay rights movement.
The inclusive culture of the West Village is palpable, and not just around Sheridan Square; pride flags are abundant throughout the area, and the area also boasts diverse culinary offerings.
A lot of the action in the West Village can be found between 6 and 7 Aves. from Houston St. all the way up to 14 St. The narrow side streets in this part of the neighborhood are lined with cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, ranging from the upscale to the bohemian to the classic hole-in-the-wall Manhattan pizza joint. New York University’s nearby campus adds a collegiate charm to the area, and brings with it an intellectual prowess manifested in the West Village’s thriving art, music, and food scenes.
At the corner of Grove St. and Bedford St. is the apartment building where the N.B.C. sitcom “Friends” was set, and fans can routinely be seen on the sidewalk there taking pictures. The “Friends” apartment is in the heart of the oldest area of the West Village, and the most beautiful.
The streets that run through heart of the West Village are hardly streets at all, but rather are alleyways – canyons of red brick and finely landscaped green gardens that form a maze between 6 Ave. and Hudson St. The architecture is lush and borders on quaint. The street is silent. And everything moves more slowly, as if with reverence for aged stone pavement or the ancient brick lining the cavern walls. But then the block ends, and it’s 7 Ave. And, once again, it’s concrete and asphalt and steel and horns – it’s Manhattan.
But that is the West Village – standing as its own and bucking the trend. Whether it is steel or social intolerance, the West Village has always defied, and its defiance has been immortalized in brick and mortar, and in rainbow stripes. The West Village is the West Village – and there’s nothing that anybody can do about it.