NYC’s Gay History in West Village
Manhattan’s West Village’s winding, tree-lined cobblestone streets, beautiful brownstones buildings, trendy boutiques, and cozy restaurants are commonplace in this intimate neighborhood below 14th Street. Birthplace of the modern gay rights movement and home to the narrowest house in NYC, the West Village is steeped in fascinating history. For a more intimate travel experience, visit in winter when you can unlock a quieter side of this lively neighborhood.
Here are some tips on how to live like a local in the West Village:
As the birthplace of the gay liberation movement, Stonewall Inn—a National Historic Landmark—is a must see; the gay tavern/bar is located in the heart of the West Village on Christopher Street, just outside the Christopher Street subway station of the 1 Line. The bar was raided by police on June 28, 1969, which sparked the beginning of the gay rights movement. In June 2015, Stonewall received official landmark status from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission because of its unique connection to LGBT history. Nearby Christopher Park features real-life sculptures of gay couples, commemorating the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion.
Farther north on a street dotted with brownstones is The LGBT Center (the LGBT Community Center) offering health and wellness programs, arts (don’t miss the Keith Haring mural), entertainment, performances and cultural events. A welcome center is open to residents and visitors, and Think Coffee is its resident coffee shop.
Walking, Running and Biking:
The West Village neighborhood is perfect as a backdrop to walk and explore its winding, tree-lined streets—the area between Greenwich Avenue and Bleecker Street, from Christopher Street to Bank Street, offer a particularly stunning glimpse into the unique beauty of this iconic neighborhood.
Among beautiful brownstones, visitors can find the narrowest house in NYC at 75½ Bedford St., just south of Commerce Street, as well as the Friends Apartment Building (90 Bedford St.), which includes the Little Owl restaurant on the ground floor. Don’t forget to stop in The Gardens at St. Luke in the Fields, a “hidden gem” park that guarantees a serene and reflective experience in the middle of an otherwise bustling neighborhood.
For those seeking an invigorating run or bike ride, try Hudson River Park on the western edge of the West Village, along the Hudson River. In the warmer months, Pier 45 at Christopher Street becomes an urban “beach” experience with wide open green space for lounging under the sun (minus the sand and swimming). Don’t forget to take in the stunning views of the City and its diverse mix of gorgeous architecture.
The West Village offers plenty of attractive shopping options. From the tony boutiques along Bleecker Street and Christopher Street—James Perse, Cynthia Rowley, Brunello Cucinelli and Rag & Bone, to name a few—to hidden treasures like the City’s only Monocle Shop on Hudson Street, Three Lives & Company (books!) on West 10th and Greenwich Letterpress (for stationery aficionados) and Doodle Doo’s (kids’ toys and salon in one) on Christopher Street, the downtown neighborhood complements the department store shopping experience farther uptown.
When you think of the perfect New York City date, there can’t be a more appealing backdrop than the West Village. From cozy restaurants like Buvette to hidden options like the speakeasy-style Hudson Clearwater and Decoy (beneath dim sum favorite RedFarm) to popular dining establishments like Keith McNally’s Morandi and Ristorante Rafele (both Italian) and April Bloomfield’s Spotted Pig, the neighborhood has no shortage of delicious and memorable dining experiences. For a more casual setting and especially delicious burgers, try either Westville or Corner Bistro. Coming soon is the walk-in Commerce Sweet Shop on Bedford Street from famed chef Harold Moore. Cheese lovers should hit Murray’s Cheese on Bleecker Street. For a delicious dessert, don’t overlook Big Gay Ice Cream, located at the corner of Grove Street at Seventh Avenue South; the Magnolia Bakery, where Carrie Bradshaw once cooled her famous heels on Sex and the City, at Bleecker Street and West 11th Street; or for chocoholics, Li-Lac Chocolates, featuring handmade confections, located at Eighth Avenue and Jane Street. Don’t forget the out-of-this-world almond croissant, brioche or individualized quiche from one of the best bakeries in New York City, Patisserie Claude, along West 4th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Excellent coffee experiences can be had at The Elk, Joe or Jack’s Stir Brew.
Entertainment & Nightlife:
For jazz lovers, head to the very intimate Smalls Jazz Club or try the Village Vanguard, sometimes called the “Carnegie Hall of Jazz.”
Off-Broadway theater lovers can take in great options at either the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street; the Cherry Lane Theatre on Commerce Street (currently playing Colin Quinn The New York Story, directed by Jerry Seinfeld), or the Bank Street Theater, home to the Labyrinth Theater Company, on Bank Street.
Gay bars abound in the West Village including the longest-running neighborhood gay bar Julius’, Pieces (karaoke fans, step up!), The Duplex, The Monster, Stonewall Inn (play pool or see a drag show) or piano bar Marie’s Crisis (show tunes, anyone?). The longest-running lesbian bar in the country is here, Henrietta Hudson, or try The Cubbyhole further north.
For those seeking a great speakeasy for dinner or drinks, go to the retro-looking, Prohibition-style bar Employees Only, which is masked by psychic readings in its entry foyer, on Hudson Street.
NYC & Company is debuting a new short documentary film highlighting the neighborhood’s draw, particularly its thriving LGBT history. New York City is made up of five distinct boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Details on more neighborhood highlights can be found at nycgo.com/insiderguides.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto with a focus on tourism, lifestyle, entertainment and community issues. He has written several travel articles and has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He’s willing to take on any assignments of interest, attend parties with free booze, listen to rants, and travel the world in search of the great unknown. He’s eager to discover the new, remember the past, and look into the future.