Close-Up on the West Village

This article has been corrected.


Hugo Boss suits, Equinox gym bags, and $9 glasses of wine. This is not the West Village you've read about, or perhaps remember. The Dylan Thomases have been replaced by Arthur Andersons.

Even so, sitting in a caf� surrounded by books and eccentrics, the West Village feels like it is still swathed in its bohemian past, however threadbare its remnants seem. But when nostalgia for cheap rentals and nicotine-enhanced personalities sets in, the present is never far enough away. Adjacent to a favorite bookstore . . . is that a Marc Jacobs shop? Yes, yes it is�one of three on Bleecker�and the existence of such high-end boutiques among the cobblestones and wrought iron-trimmed brownstones exemplifies a new reality: One must be rich to live here.

Are tourists and penny-pinchers welcome? Sure, but don't become lulled by the neighborhood's quaint feel into thinking you can stay. With even studio condos selling at more than $1000 per square foot, downtown's west side is a seller's (or broker's) paradise, but a buyer's purgatory. Hefty price tags exist for good reason�the West Village is one of the only true "neighborhoods" left in Manhattan. Mostly void of skyscrapers and Duane Reades, the pace is slow here. The dominant noise after 11 p.m. is nothing more than a soothing breeze through the trees. And in the morning: birds chirping. To most New Yorkers, such ready solace seems unreal.

But to area tenants and owners, the peace hasn't come easy. Neighborhood associations frequently wage battle against costume, porn shops�some new; some lingering from the '70s�and tour groups, such as the Sex and the City tour, which stops at multiple points around Perry and Bank streets so that groups of mostly British tourists can sit on Carrie's stoop, buy Magnolia cupcakes, and gape at Fantasy World toys.

Due to the West Village's lingering nostalgia for days fueled by literature and coffee rather than stocks and dividends, a day there is enough to make a visitor or urban newbie fall in love with Manhattan as a whole. Dinner or drinks here easily morph into a rambling history lesson or English lit lecture, because an array of West Village restaurants and bars bare their legacies in (or on) their walls. For instance, yellowed paperback jackets and manuscripts of former regulars such as Burroughs, Kerouac, and Ferber paper the walls of Chumley's (86 Bedford St.), a well-tapped pub that opened only as a speakeasy and, despite roaring popularity, has maintained the speakeasy feel. Bartenders are happy to gab about lore or recent sightings. For a less obviously historic feel, check out Ye Waverly Inn (16 Bank St.), a half-underground colonial-style cozy enclave.

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Three Lives & Company, selling books to Villagers for a quarter century
(photo: Holly Northrop/hnorthrop.com)

Boundaries: Sixth Avenue to the east, the Hudson to the west and 14th Street to the north (save a West-side sliver for the Meat Packing district). The south border is fuzzy, but most use Houston as a marker.

Transport: 1 to Christopher Street-Sheridan Square; 1; 2; 3 to 14th Street; A; B; C; D; E; F; V to West 4th Street; PATH train to Christopher Street or West 9th Street.

Main Drags: Greenwich Avenue, Seventh Avenue, and Bleecker Street are taxi havens and nightlife strips, but the treasures of the West Village lie off main streets.

Prices to Rent and Buy: Among the highest prices to buy on the island, West Village condo studios on average sold for $475,000 in 2004; one-bedrooms, $715,000; two-bedrooms, $1.89 million; family units, $3.7 to $4.3 million, according to Douglas Elliman's market report. Co-ops sold, on average, for a few thousand less each. Choice rentals are tough to find, but studios go for $1,400 to $1,800; one-bedroom, $2,100 to $3,500; two-bedrooms, $3,000 to $3,700, and the rest is up and up.

What to Check Out: On summer Saturdays, markets and street fairs dot the West Village�as do sample sales at some of Bleecker Street's swankier boutiques. Genuinely good jazz can be found in some of the many clubs along Bleecker or Greenwich, but only reliably for a price. Gawker-types may want to keep a camera handy�celebrities occupy a disproportionate number of the area's apartments. On the day of the annual Pride Parade, Halloween, or any major civil rights demonstration, the Village is overtaken by festivity, and the transformation is as magnificent to behold as the first time you saw your grade-school sweetheart in drag.

Hangouts, Parks, Restaurants: The free orange juice and fluffy eggs Florentine aren't to miss at Tartine (253 W. 11th St.), one of the area's several reasonably priced brunch havens. For a late-afternoon meal, Mary's Fish Camp (246 W. 4th St.) serves crispy sea fare and mountainous plates of shoestring fries that make braving the cluttered dining room worthwhile. Small parks dot the neighborhood�an especially popular playground seems appropriately plunked on Bleecker near several bakeries. Cupcakes and a swing set�sounds like a great way to distract a tourist away from the street's plentiful shops. Another outdoor suggestion: Stroll from Gay Street south on Christopher Street, pausing at Stonewall Place in the middle and read up on the riots and area's sustained pride.

Crime: Precinct Six, which covers Greenwich and the West Village, seems to be a physically safe place despite the hundreds of reported burglaries and upwards of 1,000 grand larcenies each year. 2004 saw 254 burglaries and 336 robberies. Although these are down 71 and 49 percent respectively since 1993, they shine as neighborhood risks compared to the zero murders and three rapes so far in 2005.

Politicians: Community Board 2, City Councilmember Christine C. Quinn, state Sen. Thomas K. Duane, state Rep. Deborah J. Glick and U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler. All are Democrats.

 
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