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Village Life

How the West Village redefines New York's big-city experience for the 21st century.
By Amy Larocca
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West Village Leroy Street

leroy street, west village, new york city leroy street in the west village of new york A row of townhouses on Leroy Street, one of the Village's prettiest blocks.

Christian Louboutin Store New York

christian louboutin, shoe stores in new york the christian louboutin store in new york Shoes are displayed like works of art at the Christian Louboutin store.

Costanza Assereto

Costanza Assereto costanza assereto in the west village West Villager Costanza Assereto.

Silvano Marchetto of Da Silvano's

da silvanos, da silvano's, silvano marchetto, west village restaurants silvano marchetto of da silvanos Silvano Marchetto, Da Silvano's charismatic owner.

Hable Construction

hable construction, west village stores hable construction in the west village Candy-colored textiles enliven bags and more at Hable Construction.

Jacques Torres

jacques torres jacques torres in his restaurant Renowned chocolatier Jacques Torres with a cup of hot chocolate.

Lucien Pellat-Finet

lucien pellat-finet, cashmere cashmere sweaters at lucien pellat-finet Cheeky designs adorn cashmere sweaters at Lucien Pellat-Finet.

Marc Jacobs Bleecker Street

marc jacobs, marc jacobs handbags the marc jacobs store on bleecker street in new york Marc Jacobs's trio of Bleecker Street boutiques helped usher in a new era for the neighborhood.

Morandi Keith McNally

morandi, keith mcnally a diner at morandi A diner enjoys a quiet time at Morandi, Keith McNally's newest restaurant.

Morandi's Bosc Pear

morandi, keith mcnally morandi bosc pear in red wine Morandi's Bosc pear in red wine.

Artist Maira Kalman

maira kalman artist maira kalman Artist Maira Kalman, at home with Pete.

Olatz New York

olatz, new york shopping a display at olatz in new york A small sampling of the sumptuous linens at Olatz.

Richard Meier Tower West Village

richard meier, west village tower richard meier's tower in the west village Richard Meier's southernmost tower in the West Village.

Tartine New York

tartine, new york cafes tartine, a neighborhood cafe in new york At Tartine, a cozy neighborhood cafe, lunch crowds often linger over coffee well into the afternoon.

John DeLucie Waverly Inn

waverly inn, john delucie chef john delucie of the waverly inn Photographed rarely and hard to get into, the Waverly Inn is both clubby and comfortable. Here, chef and part owner John DeLucie.

August Restaurant New York

august restaurant new york the sky-lit back room at new york's August restaurant The sky-lit back room at New York's August restaurant.

Cafe Cluny

cafe cluny, new york restaurants breakfast at cafe cluny in new york Breakfast is served at Cafe Cluny in New York.
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I was not alive in 1953, when, according to lore, Dylan Thomas drank eighteen whiskeys and died quietly on the stoop of the White Horse Tavern. By 1970, when the Weather Underground blew up a stately town house on West 11th Street, a few blocks to the east, my parents had met but not yet married. There are so many West Village legends that precede me: the mannered, codified society of Henry James's Washington Square; Edmund Wilson's proposal to Edna St. Vincent Millay, who was named for the hospital off Seventh Avenue where her uncle's life was saved. I missed F. Scott Fitzgerald slipping through Chumley's secret Prohibition-era doorway for a drink, and those fuzzy, early days of folk, when Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary all called Greenwich Village home.

But when I recently reread the words of Jane Jacobs, the massively influential urban sociologist and longtime West Village resident who died last year, I recognized the neighborhood at once. "I make my own first entrance into it a little after eight, when I put out the garbage can," Jacobs noted in 1961. "...[W]ell-dressed and even elegant women and men with brief cases emerge from doorways and side streets. . . . Simultaneously, numbers of women in housedresses have emerged and as they crisscross with one another they pause for quick conversations that sound with either laughter or joint indignation, never, it seems, anything between."

A lot has changed, of course, in the forty-seven years since Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The West Village is now one of New York's most prosperous and refined neighborhoods, a triumph of urban restoration and preservation. Its streets are lined with appealing shops—small outposts for global brands as well as winning, one-off boutiques—and destination restaurants, drawing crowds from as far as Paris and as near as Park Avenue, which is to say places where they know enough to know. But although the "elegant women and men" tote BlackBerrys rather than briefcases, and young mothers are likely to wear stretchy yoga pants from Lululemon instead of housedresses, in the midst of all this transformation is a unique sense of community.

While New York's downtown real-estate boom has largely taken the shape of sleek high-rises (witness NoHo's Bond Street, home of Herzog and de Meuron's glass house, among others), the West Village retains an enviable intimacy. Granted, there are some glamorous new buildings at the neighborhood's edges, like Richard Meier's glass towers, which anchor Perry and Charles streets. But as a rule, in the space bordered by Sixth Avenue to the east, the Hudson River to the west, 14th Street to the north and Houston Street to the south, the skyline is lower and the blocks are leafier. (The West Village's residents may not always agree on the exact parameters of their neighborhood, but most agree on its charm.) Here, Manhattan's systematic streets give way to a curvier, less predictable arrangement. There is, for instance, the confounding corner where West 4th Street meets West 10th Street, abolishing any lingering hope that the city's grid still applies. It's quite different in feeling from Greenwich Village, which is dominated by New York University and teems with students packed into falafel shops. It's one of the few places in Manhattan where you can get pleasantly lost. In fact, the last time I stopped paying attention in the West Village, when I was caught deep in gossip with an old, old friend, we did get lost but landed in front of a town house turned bakery that was sweetly named Milk & Cookies.

Just as Manhattan's steel-and-concrete architecture relents in the West Village, so, too, do some of the now-outdated ideas about uptown versus down. Such definitions, says restaurateur Keith McNally, make less sense today "than they did thirty-two years ago, when I first arrived." Uptown, once upon a recent time, was the domain of all things fancy and luxurious. It was uptight, well-dressed, respectable. Downtown was where you'd find the artists; it was New York's bohemia, full of youth, daring and edge. It was also the epicenter of the gay rights movement, begun in 1969 during a police raid of a bar called Stonewall, off Sheridan Square.

Stonewall and its legacy endure, and Christopher Street is adorned with quite a few rainbow flags, but the West Village is now far too expensive to stake authentic claims to radicalism; that honor belongs to outer-borough hamlets such as Williamsburg, Brooklyn; and Astoria, Queens. Nevertheless, many members of Manhattan's creative class call it home, including designer Isaac Mizrahi, film director John Waters, artist Maira Kalman and actress Marisa Tomei, all of whom reside in a building off Sixth Avenue. (What fabulous water, one imagines, must run through those pipes.) On a particularly storybookish street is the house where Calvin Trillin and his late wife, Alice, raised their two daughters and from which they walked to the now-gone Shopsin's café. Trillin still lives and writes there. Julian Schnabel has constructed (somewhat controversially, as it is a shocking shade of pink) a large Italianate condominium called Palazzo Chupi above his studio on 11th Street. Richard Gere is rumored to be moving in soon. The West Village's actresses—Sarah Jessica Parker, Liv Tyler, Julianne Moore, Mary-Louise Parker—do not struggle; its artists—Schnabel, Francesco Clemente—do not starve.

Quite to the contrary: the area has begun to lure New Yorkers who in previous eras would never have considered relocating so far south. When Diane von Furstenberg relaunched her fashion line ten years ago, she bought a carriage house in the West Village, smack up against the Hudson River. "People thought I was crazy," she says. She'd been on the Upper East Side for decades, but the cobblestoned streets of the West Village reminded her of her native Belgium. "It has turned out to be a wonderful adventure," the designer says. "Real estate has become the priciest in the city"—town houses carry eight-figure price tags—"and tour buses have made it a destination on their itinerary, but it still feels like a neighborhood."

It's no wonder, then, that a new restaurant on West 10th Street calls itself BoBo, as in "bourgeois bohemian," the phrase David Brooks coined in his book Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There to describe a kinder, gentler, yoga-breathing brand of yuppie. BoBo captures the experience of the new West Village entirely: it's a place where you can get a glass of red burgundy on the parlor floor of a town house whose walls are decorated with books. It's a different aesthetic from uptown's polish and flash, but it's no less posh. "As a Londoner, I always find uptown that I'm clinging to the sides of highways," says the interior decorator and writer Rita Konig, who recently moved from Notting Hill to Bank Street and found the wide, busy avenues uptown far too impersonal for comfort. "The West Village is a tiny oasis among all of that. It's less faceless." Konig pauses. "And I love that my local deli has espresso."

It's not a question of luxury or quality that differentiates uptown from downtown anymore; rather, it's something psychological. "It's young, but it's not forced," says Mizrahi. "It's both bohemian and accepting of conventional things at the same time."

"Downtown," McNally says, "at least in my mind, is a less hurried, more compassionate place—especially for layabouts like me." He's kidding, of course. The restaurateur's latest venture, Morandi, opened last year on Waverly Place and is packed every night. He claims to love it best because it's just "a one-block walk from home."

Part of what has preserved the West Village's sense of community is the extent to which a lot of these creatively inclined residents have decided, like Keith McNally and Jane Jacobs before them, that work is most happily accomplished close to home.

"I guess I'm just old-fashioned," says Robert Duffy, the president and vice chairman of Marc Jacobs. "I always thought that if I had my own store, I'd want to live upstairs." He doesn't, exactly, but he does live around the corner from the trifecta of Marc Jacobs shops that, since their arrival eight years ago, have led a retail revolution on once-sleepy Bleecker Street. Coach, Ralph Lauren, Cynthia Rowley, Mulberry and James Perse have all followed suit.

Duffy and von Furstenberg are both passionately involved with the micropolitics of these charming, crooked streets as well, donating to local charities and organizations and loaning their spaces for fundraisers for small dance troupes and theaters. The Marc Jacobs windows are often full of not fresh dresses or tops but novels by neighbors like Francine Prose or campaign posters for a local race. "The neighborhood residents tell me what they want," Duffy says. "They stop me on the street if they don't like a particular window. If a sales associate was mean to them, they'll knock on the door of my house to tell me! That's a neighborhood."

West Village Selects

SHOPPING

It can feel as if every walk in the West Village yields another newly opened treasure box. There are no department stores in the neighborhood; even the big names here have small, one-room boutiques. Bleecker Street, between West 4th and Hudson streets, claims multiple Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs and James Perse shops, not to mention Cynthia Rowley, Coach and Mulberry outposts. But the real treats are the one-off shops, where you'll often find the owner minding the till.

HOME

Hable Construction's textiles—bold and graphic—work beautifully on everything from beach totes to sofas to pillows. So beloved are these fabrics that some customers have them stretched and mounted to serve as wall art in their own right. 117 Perry Street; 212-989-2375.

The French-country antiques at Les Pierre span the ages, so you can find a Louis XV commode bed as well as a rustic, painted library cabinet from Provence. 369 Bleecker Street; 212-243-7740.

It's chicken or the egg when it comes to artist–director–member of the beau monde Julian Schnabel and his ubiquitous bathrobes. Is he always in a robe because his wife sells such exquisite versions in her eponymous Clarkson Street linens shop, Olatz? Or did she open the store to cater to her husband's taste? We may never know, but the bed linens, slips and pajamas here are among the most luxurious in town. 43 Clarkson Street; 212-255-8627.

You'll notice this vintage shop, which focuses on midcentury modern, because of its full spectrum of colored-glass vases and lamps. Inside the End of History discover original pieces by Paul McCobb and Knoll. 548½ Hudson Street; 212-647-7598.

CLOTHING

The West Village gets more and more family oriented all the time—just look at the crowd in the Bleecker Street playground any sunny afternoon. Groovy neighborhood parents shop at Yoya for children's clothing hip enough to inspire adult envy. 636 Hudson Street; 646-336-6844.

Designer Juliana Cho is often found manning her own boutique, Annelore. Her collection, made up of quietly chic silk party dresses, blouses and pencil skirts, hangs neatly on two small racks. 636 Hudson Street; 212-255-5574.

Fashion editors from New York, Paris and Milan consider Zero & Maria Cornejo a secret weapon. Reasonably priced, its ultramodern clothes are wearable and easily personalized by layering and accessorizing. 807 Greenwich Street; 212-620-0460.

A downtown outpost for the world's sexiest shoes, Christian Louboutin opened on this posh strip of Greenwich Street in 2005. Louboutin's signature scarlet soles are just another way to flirt. 59 Horatio Street; 212-255-1910.

Lucien Pellat-Finet makes extremely fine cashmere sweaters with irreverent motifs: pot leaves, smiley faces and peace signs. 14 Christopher Street; 212-255-8560.

The unmarked door to Maison Martin Margiela is easy to miss, since a lo-fi sandwich board is the only sign you get. But the Belgian conceptual designer's lone New York store is worth a visit for luxurious basics with an avant-garde twist—some sweaters come with an extra sleeve, but they're easier to wear than you'd think. 803 Greenwich Street; 212-989-7612.

Castor & Pollux, with its warmly carpeted floors and antique glass display cases, feels traditional but carries fashions from up-and-comers such as Mina Stone and Phillip Lim, and Swedish denim by Acne (unfortunate name, excellent design), as well as the natty creations of Sonia Rykiel. 238 West 10th Street; 212-645-6572.

Tiny, overstuffed Geminola is a riot of color: vintage dresses, slips and linens are all dyed and reworked by interior designer Lorraine Kirke into fabulously bright, one-of-a-kind pieces. 41 Perry Street; 212-675-1994.

ETC....

The bookshop Three Lives & Company calls to mind an earlier, intellectual West Village, before luxury high-rises and megachains. 154 West 10th Street; 212-741-2069.

Ralph Lauren is a client of VSF Flowers, where arrangements are formal in style and exquisite in quality. 204 West 10th Street; 212-206-7236.

Helena Christensen, the Danish supermodel, developed a unique sensibility during her years on the runway. She recently joined the other side of the fashion world by opening Boutik, a gem of a shop showcasing Scandinavian menswear and women's wear, the odd bit of antique home furnishings and vintage christening dresses. 605 Hudson Street; 212-367-8014.

Greenwich Letterpress offers original stationery and other paper goods. 39 Christopher Street; 212-989-7464.

Aedes de Venustas is a beauty lover's Shangri-la. There are candles from Diptyque and Costes, miracle creams by Jurlique and fragrances from Annick Goutal and Lalique. Employees will sit with you for hours to figure out what suits you and then execute the best gift wrapping in New York, finishing packages with fresh flowers. 9 Christopher Street; 212-206-8674.

Flight 001 stocks everything possible to make traveling more pleasant and efficient: tiny shampoo bottles, extra-soft neck pillows, magnetic sudoku—and the luggage to carry it all. 96 Greenwich Avenue; 212-989-0001.

GALLERIES

Celebrity portrait photographer Mark Seliger founded 401 Projects as a destination for the best noncommercial photography around. 401 West Street; 212-633-6202.

Gavin Brown's Enterprise is a gallery well-known for featuring the works of young artists like Peter Doig and Elizabeth Peyton. 620 Greenwich Street; 212-627-5258.

Maccarone is a small art space opened by a curator from the famous Chelsea gallery Luhring Augustine. A recent show: a pop-up Christmas chocolate shop satirizing the holiday. 630 Greenwich Street; 212-431-4977.

RESTAURANTS

The West Village wasn't always a major dining destination, but in recent years it's become a gourmet Mecca.

Keith McNally mastered the art of the big, warm neighborhood bistro with Balthazar and Pastis. At Morandi, he delivers the same brilliant vibe, but this time with an Italian menu. 211 Waverly Place; 212-627-7575.

Silvano Marchetto has been personally looking after (and occasionally serenading) the city's glitterati for more than thirty years at Da Silvano. Lately, newcomers have given Marchetto a run for his money, but one of the best scenes is the sidewalk in front of the eatery, where town cars idle and patrons table-hop late into the night. 260 Sixth Avenue; 212-982-2343.

The portrait of chef Kurt Gutenbrunner that hangs opposite the bar in Wallsé was painted by Julian Schnabel as a gesture of gratitude: Gutenbrunner prepared German comfort food for the artist's father when he was sick. The restaurant fare is a bit fancier, with desserts that are out of a Viennese fantasy. 344 West 11th Street; 212-352-2300.

English expats love the West Village, whose town houses and neighborhood rhythms remind them of Notting and Primrose hills. For them, Tea & Sympathy is home base, where shepherd's pies and clotted cream abound. 108 Greenwich Avenue; 212-807-8329.

The lines get long at this BYOB French café, but Tartine is worth the wait, particularly for brunch. 253 West 11th Street; 212-229-2611.

Perry St sits inside the ground floor of one of Richard Meier's riverfront glass towers, which means diners experience lovely light in the afternoons. The fusion cuisine is prepared by Jean-Georges Vongerichten (it's his eighth restaurant in New York), who, in the spirit of the neighborhood, lives upstairs. 176 Perry Street; 212-352-1900.

The defining feature of August is its wood-burning oven, which keeps the front room cozy in winter and the food delicious all year. 359 Bleecker Street; 212-929-8727.

The Little Owl is tiny (just eleven tables), so book well in advance for its Mediterranean-style fare (seafood, risottos). 90 Bedford Street; 212-741-4695.

Before Mario Batali became internationally famous for his orange clogs and love of organ meat, he opened Babbo (followed by Lupa, its nearby trattoria sibling), which is among the best Italian restaurants in a city full of them. With its location by Washington Square, it's a bit out of the West Village, but the extra blocks help satiated customers walk off a big meal. 110 Waverly Place; 212-777-0303.

Chocolate Bar is forever putting chocolate where you wouldn't imagine it (for example, as a substitute for the bread in a peanut-butter-and-jelly "sandwich")—to fantastic effect. The shop works with the local chocolatiers for a large, decadent selection. 48 Eighth Avenue; 212-366-1541.

Jacques Torres continues to inspire cult followings; his chocolate-covered almonds, for example, could easily be the subject of a lyric poem or two. At his Hudson Street shop you can watch it all happen and gulp down the best hot chocolate this side of the Place Vendôme. 350 Hudson Street; 212-414-2462.

The food is green-market fresh and the atmosphere is small-town USA at Westville, where fresh lemonade and homemade Oreos (more like whoopee pies) draw huge local crowds who love the West Village but want, sometimes, to think they've decamped to the Hudson Valley. 210 West 10th Street; 212-741-7971.

Cafe Cluny is arguably Lynn Wagenknecht's (of Odeon and Café Luxembourg) most refined endeavour. With stained-wood floors and big plate-glass windows, it is bright and mellow. The menu is light bistro food: steak frites, salads, perfect omelets. 284 West 12th Street; 212-255-6900.

Contrary to rumor, the Waverly Inn does have a telephone number, but given that it's perpetually busy, it might as well be unlisted. For e-mailed reservation requests, an explanation of your relationship to the owners (Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter is one) helps. The place is clubby and celebrity dense. If you do get in, try not to fill up on the biscuits and honeyed butter that precede your meal, as the food, including fantastic burgers, is cozy and comfortable. 16 Bank Street; 212-243-7900.

Doma is one of those increasingly rare places—namely, a bustling café that is not part of a chain. The coffee is strong, the sandwiches and pastries are good, and the clatter of keyboards reminds you that the neighborhood's literary tradition continues. 17 Perry Street; 212-929-4339.

The Blue Ribbon restaurants, which spread from Park Slope to SoHo, are favorites among off-duty chefs. Bedford Street's combination of Blue Ribbon Bakery and its across-the-street take-out eatery, Blue Ribbon Bakery Market, could tempt the most devoted Atkins-diet follower. The restaurant makes for a mellow night, while the market is ideal for on-the-fly snacking. 14 Bedford Street; 212-647-0408.

Sant Ambroeus is beautiful inside, but the real action occurs at the tables outside. The fare is northern Italian and pricey (the restaurant also has locations on Madison Avenue and in Southampton, an indication of its demographic), and dessert is often the main event: the gelato is famously delicious. 259 West 4th Street; 212-604-9254.

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