Having a Riot at Tompkins Square

On the 20th anniversary of the mayhem, a walking, talking tour of the neighborhood in honor of the decades-old mayhem

I round the corner and pass the Life Café, where the gratingly cheerful awning reads: "More than good food, enjoy life every day," and a sign invites Rentheads to explain why they love Rent to a video camera. East 10th is mostly residential, and the locals certainly have strong views: In one window, a tenant has placed a picture of the president with the word "Thug" (like 90 percent of Americans—who live far from the East Village—don't agree with this by now?). Further down the block, a sign says: "Farm animals have feelings too!" (Maybe they do, but so what?)

At 147 Avenue A, the former headquarters of the East Village Other—a salty underground newspaper of the hippie era—is now occupied by a store where you can purchase "Respect Your Mother" tote bags (Earth, get it?), 100 percent unbleached coffee filters from a company called If You Care, and even an indoor-composting worm bin for $65. (I mean, I'll buy anything, but really. . . .)

I'm happy to report that—carbon footprint be damned—on this steamy day, the shop has the A/C going full-blast.

Burning issues at the park in the '80s
Tompkins Square Park by Q. Sakamaki/powerHouse Books

Burning issues at the park in the '80s

I decide to take a peek in the park itself before heading home. Lucky for me, it's early, since a sign on the gates lists a raft of forbidden activities, including rummaging through trash bins—like anyone does this by choice?—along with the news that the park closes at midnight, or a whole hour sooner than the 1 a.m. curfew the community so bitterly resisted 20 years ago this week.

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