Living in the West Village
Formerly the gathering place for New York City bohemians, young artists used to reside in the West Village for its cheap rents, artsy energy, and center-of-it-all feel (Bob Dylan was a resident before he hit it big). While cheap rents are certainly no longer a feature of its neighborhood and most of the young artists have headed for Queens and Brooklyn, the West Village still feels like the place to be. With narrow streets that have flowering trees in the spring and antique brownstone buildings, the West Village is charming. Its borders are 14th Street to the north, Houston Street to the south, Sixth Avenue to the west and the waterfront to the east.
Rents in the West Village are some of the most expensive in the city. While occasionally one can find a studio or one bedroom for under $2,000, most places rent for $3,000 and up. Three-floor and four-floor brownstones line many streets in the neighborhood, although there are several luxury buildings and multi-apartment dwellings.
As an area with a particularly high number of celebrity residents (and plain old rich people) the vibe in this otherwise neighborhood-y area is a little less friendly than it might be if it wasn't such an elite zip code. Given the high cost to rent (and there are many new and long-time homeowners in the area), there aren't as many young people who live here, although the youth do pour in to shop and hang out at some great local bars. It is also a very gay-friendly area, even more so than other NYC neighborhoods.
The West Village is a generally-safe neighborhood. While it would be ill-advised to walk near the waterfront alone at night, the bar scene and the number of professionals walking their dogs after a late day at work mean that there are still people out and about, even after 11pm on weeknights.
Parks and Recreation
The jogging paths next to the West Side Highway offer some of the best views in Manhattan, and there is some grassy space to sit and take it in. The Bleecker Street Park on 11th Street is frequently littered with cupcake wrappers (due to its proximity to Magnolia Cupcakes, see below), but it is a great place to give your feet a rest, enjoy the scenery, and watch kids play on the playground. On the eastern border of the West Village is Washington Square Park, the largest park below 14th Street. Washington Square Park, formerly a seedy locale of drug deals and homeless residents, is now a sweet place to catch some rays, watch the dogs in the dog park, and listen in on NYU guitarists' jam sessions.
Pubs, Clubs and Entertainment
If you're looking for things to do in New York, the White House Tavern is a popular watering hole among locals who long for the neighborhood's bohemian roots (567 Hudson Avenue); it serves good drinks and solid pub fare. Fiddlesticks (56 Greenwich Avenue) is a favorite pub among fratty, recent grad types, and just across the street, Maracas is a high-energy Mexican restaurant/bar with good food, drink specials, and decor. Splash, a gay bar, is a favorite of many with great drink specials and dancing, on 17th between 5th and 6th Avenues. The Meatpacking District (which some say is the northernmost part of the West Village, whereas others say is its own neighborhood) is home to some of the city's swankiest nightclubs. It is important to book your hotel in New York early, see here now how you can save money and get the best room available.
For those who feel fraudulent frequenting chain movie theatres in NYC, you're in luck: the West Village has a number of independent movie theatres, most notably the IFC theatre on 6th Avenue and 3rd Street and the Film Forum on 209 West Houston Street.
Shopping and Eating
Greenwich Avenue is peppered with trendy, high-end boutiques that will put a sparkle in any fashionista's eye, but the neighborhood is also home to some funky independent bookstores and thrift shops. The West Village Thrift Shop, owned and operated by Housing Works, a non-profit organization dedicated to "ending the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness" is one of New York's best kept secrets: generally speaking, wealthy women drop off their expensive things they no longer need, knowing that the proceeds go to charity, and shoppers can buy incredibly inexpensive designer clothing, accessories, and furniture, among other goods. (This writer bought a pair of yellow leather Aldo stilettos for $5!)
Any discussion of West Village eating and shopping wouldn't be complete without mentioning Magnolia Bakery. Opinions of this place are mixed: some love it and keep coming back, whereas long lines, harried staff, sugar-high tourists, and often-dry cupcakes make some visitors wonder, What's the big deal about the place? After Miranda and Carrie munched on cupcakes outside this bakery during a scene on Sex and the City, women have been flocking to this small storefront bakery for its icebox cake, cheesecake, and of course, pastel-frosted cupcakes.
The West Village is serviced by several subway stops: 14th Street (A,C,E,L), Christopher Street/Sheridan Square (1 train), West Fourth Street (A,C,E,B,D,V,F), and Houston Street (1 train). The West Village is serviced by the M8, M14, and M21 buses. Because the West Village is a generally wealthy area, cabs are fairly easy to find. The PATH train to and from New Jersey has stops at Christopher Street and 9th Street.