The traveller's guide to Greenwich Village

A bohemian district where the streets do have names
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The Independent Travel

Where?

North of Soho, south of Midtown, east of the Meatpacking District and west of the Bowery, Greenwich Village is a district unlike any other in New York. It is also full of surprises, such as the origin of the name - which it acquired from the Dutch settlement of Greenwijck at the end of the 17th century, and was later Anglicised. At first uninhabitable because of its marshes, it became a residential area in the 19th century, as many imposing homes were built around Washington Square. By the end of the century, though, those who could afford it moved northwards, to be replaced by the communities of European immigrants and impoverished writers, who helped give the neighbourhood its bohemian feel.

In this part of Manhattan, most of the streets have names rather than numbers; and there is no grid system, just an irregular network with crossings at awkward angles. There are no signs that mark out the edges of the Village, but its boundaries are obvious: Hudson Street and Broadway to east and west, 14th and Spring to north and south. Step outside this area, and you will sense immediately that the surroundings have changed. The neighbourhood's main thoroughfare is Bleecker Street, which arcs through the Village from the intersection of Eighth and Greenwich Avenues, across Broadway as far as the Bowery. This is one of the Village's main shopping streets, with everything from chic designer stores to small craft boutiques selling ethnic jewellery or accessories. The other main Village street, Christopher, cuts across Bleecker at right angles.

There are relatively few hotels in this part of the city, but if you want to stay in the Village, the family-owned Washington Square Hotel, just off the Square itself at 103 Waverly Place (00 1 212 777 9515; www.washingtonsquarehotel.com) is a good bet. Double rooms start at $189 (£105) and singles at $160 (£89), including breakfast.

The huge choice of restaurants more than compensates for the scarcity of accommodation. Whether you are looking for Peruvian or Indian, Cuban or Italian, you will find it in the Village. Babbo's, at 110 Waverly Place (00 1 212 777 0303) is always crowded, attracting fans to what is reckoned to be one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. Home, at 20 Cornelia Street (00 1 212 243 9579) is another popular choice in a street more crowded than most with eateries. Expect to find a version of roast chicken or pecan pie on the menu. And if you want to venture into the outer reaches of the Village for a really memorable meal, go to Pastis, at 9 Ninth Avenue, corner of Little West 12th Street (00 1 212 929 4844) for excellent French cooking with a bistro feel.

The Magnolia Bakery at 401 Bleecker Street at the corner of 11th Street (00 1 212 462 2572) is a Village institution, staying open late into the night. So popular are the cup cakes, which are made on the premises, that no one is allowed to buy more than a dozen at a time; they cost $1.75 (£1) each. Look out for seasonal decorations, like orange frosting for Halloween and green icing at Christmas.

Why?

Greenwich Village is the bohemian heartland of Manhattan, a quiet, tree-lined residential district by day, which transforms itself after dark into a neighbourhood of lively bars and cafés, centre of the New York gay scene and location for some of the best jazz clubs in the city. Among the most popular are the Blue Note at 131 West Third Street between MacDougal Street and Sixth Avenue (00 1 212 475 8592; www.bluenotejazz.com), and the Village Vanguard at 178 Seventh Avenue South (00 1 212 255 4037; www.villagevanguard.net). The Village hosts the best Halloween parade in the US, during which thousands of people throng the streets to see the weird and wonderful costumes, as the parade weaves its way along Sixth Avenue and into Washington Square Park.

What?

Start at Washington Square and its triumphal arch - the emblem of NYU, the university whose buildings dominate the area. The current structure is a replacement, but it was originally erected to commemorate the centenary of George Washington's inauguration as President, an event which took place in New York's financial district. Washington Square Park's fountain is ringed with trees and proves a popular local meeting point or dog-walking spot. There is even an enclosure where small hounds can bound around in safety and there is usually someone there strumming a guitar or singing. The houses along the north side, known as the Row, are all that survived the early 19th-century property boom.

The narrowest house in the Village is at 75a Bedford Street. It was once the home of the poet Edna St Vincent Millay, who first used the phrase, "Burning the candle at both ends" - a good description of life in Greenwich Village

On Seventh Avenue, between Christopher and Grove Streets, lies a triangle of land known as Christopher Park. Originally part of a 17th-century tobacco farm, it was kept as a green oasis as the Village became increasingly overcrowded. In 1969, though, rioting broke out in Christopher Street when the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay establishment, and Christopher Park became a symbol of the gay liberation movement. A statue in the park commemorates the conflict. You can still visit the Stonewall whose entrance is at 113 Seventh Avenue (00 1 212 647 8258).

The Five Best: Shopping opportunities

Three Lives and Company

154 West 10th Street (00 1 212 741 2069; www.threelives.com)

Stuffed full of fiction and non-fiction, including lots of new publications. Open noon-8pm Monday and Tuesday, 11am-8.30pm Wednesday-Saturday; 11am-7pm on Sundays.

Fat Beats

Second floor at 406 6th Avenue (00 1 212 673 3883; www.fatbeats.com)

Specialist hip-hop and underground store, with an impressive selection of vinyl. Open noon-9pm Monday-Saturday; noon-6pm Sunday

Sonic Groove

41 Carmine Street (00 1 212 243 0500).

The owner will happily root through the stock room for your rare vinyl in this tiny store. Open 10am-5pm Tuesday-Saturday.

Claudine

19 Christopher Street (00 1 212 414 4234)

The most enticing of three shops in the same building that stock contemporary clothes, shoes, bags and jewellery. Open noon-8pm daily.

Christian Louboutin

59 Horatio Street (00 1 212 255 1910)

Right on the edge of the Village, with an enticing stock of the designer's exquisite shoes, which have distinctive red soles. It opens 11am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday; noon-6pm on Sundays.

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