Skip to main content

Postcards from a Walk on St. Mark's Place and W. 8th Street

A walk along the colorful streets of St. Mark's Place in the East Village and west on 8th Street in Greenwich Village offers an overdose of visual pleasures but also a sense of the ephemeral nature of the contemporary urban experience. Like many other streets of the city, favorite places come and go so quickly here that repeating the walk at regular intervals teases with the memory. Where was that Mexican restaurant I visited last year? Where has it gone? Many New York residents and visitors with a strong sense of place must surely share this sense of confusion and displacement; yet, technological changes in how we relate to the city make me wonder. On a recent walk here I also noticed several people walking slowly along the street, heads down, eyes on the cell phone in their hand in front of them. Oblivious to the sights of the street, except maybe for the sidewalk, they seemed to occupy a separate reality.

If the walking residents of cyberspace would look up and observe, they might notice that St. Marks Place, just to the west of Tompkins Square Park, is lined with tenement buildings, intimate shops, and small restaurants that often sport splashy hues of color. A bright rose-colored brick building sits over a storefront cafe trimmed in electric neon green. A little farther down the street, the green restaurant awnings mix it up with storefronts painted turquoise or mustard color and lovely stoops set into arched doorways crowned with carved faces. Mosaics, painted metal storefront grates, round sidewalk tables, a bright blue door, and a street level apartment painted in an intense purple eggplant color, all elements in what could be called an East Village style, give way to a restrained and subtle stretch of buildings with facades in the Italianate style.

After crossing Second Avenue, St. Mark's Place becomes an amusement park. Suddenly, it's all wild hats for sale on the street, Asian and Middle Eastern food, pizza booths, tattoo parlors, yogurt-gelato in all its forms, a chain bourgeois Mexican food place, stores that sell ironic gifts, body therapy and karate studios, an upscale grocery, and yet more Asian fusion restaurants. The block is packed.
Go to this block of St. Marks Place on a warm night, and you'll see many people spilling out into the street. Though many of the scene makers that originally made this block a center of downtown hip-beat-punk-metal culture in the 1970s and 1980s have moved on, the remnants have crystallized into a kind of ersatz living history museum. Yet, the street seems to change constantly with places opening and closing, most notably changing during the most recent housing bubble and its recessionary bust. There's much colorful pre-bourgeois history here, for sure, with stories involving homeless encampments, Leon Trotsky, alternative film, the Rolling Stones, Keith Haring, eggcreams, Andy Warhol, the first cooking school, and Lenny Bruce, but it remains to be seen how long the street's psychedelic reverberations can last. An 18-year-old walking down this street now, staring into the cell phone and in some other world, could be perfectly oblivious of the surrounding pretty colors.


View St. Mark's Place/8th Street in a larger map

The scene shifts dramatically walking into Astor Place, with vistas opening wide to the north and south. Passing the massive Cooper Union building and then the late Charles Gwathmey's tall undulating glassy Sculpture for Living tower, veer to the right of the cubed sculpture, the Alamo, to continue on 8th Street. You know, next to the Kmart. Ahead on E. 8th, postwar apartment buildings and the long row of a bricked shopping mall give the street a far different character and scale than St. Marks Place. Crossing University Place, it's hard not to notice Harvey Wiley Corbett's theatrical village-like 8th Street apartments on the left and beyond, his distinctive setback skyscraper, One Fifth Avenue. It looks like something out of Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

On the other side of Fifth Avenue, older buildings come back into view. The New York Studio School, the former home of the Whitney Museum, is here. Once a bustling bohemian street with popular eateries, the street later picked up the countercultural vibes of the 1960s and 1970s, a kind of hippie counterpoint to the punk sensibility of St. Mark's Place. The blocks have also been known as a destination for shoes, and many of these stores are still in evidence. In 2006 the street suffered from several closures, as rising rents forced longtime business away. Not long ago, the Salvation Army store closed, but the Army-Navy place is still around. Like St. Mark's Place, West 8th still wrestles with how to celebrate its own nostalgia. At the end of the block, where the street intersects with 6th Avenue, Gray's Papaya will be happy to sell you a "Recession Special."

Enlarging the embedded map in Street View reveals the streets on a warm and sunny day. Leaves are on the trees. Walking the virtual W. 8th Street, I can still see the sign for Pio Maya, the Mexican taco place I liked but that is now gone. The image shows it's shuttered. Down the block, rental signs are posted in one or two storefront windows. One is now the 8th Street Kitchen. Walking down the street and looking at a cell phone, it's sometimes hard to notice the instant fading postcard views of the contemporary city. But it is easy to make them.

Hey, man, walking down a real street is cool. It's so retro. It's so analog.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from the morning of January 19, 2010 created with the iPhone app, Lo-Mob. For a longer trip, the self-guided walk illustrated here can easily be stretched from the East River, via a walkway on E. 6th Street over the FDR, to the Hudson River, via Christopher Street.





Popular posts from this blog

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers.

Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.  

Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been frequently occupied, as in Occupied, with crowds protesting police violence. This week, NYPD officers in riot gear remove…

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors. 

At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020. 

With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out. 

It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and happy. Thanks to the city’s gardeners and landscapers, the city parks are looking particularly lush and splendid this summer. The grounds of Battery Park feel…

A Morning Walk from Pandemic Station to Pandemic Square

Penn Station to Times Square
New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after. 

After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle. 

I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months. 

After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds. 

Yet, I had been here before. A long time ago, I road my bike a few times through Times Square at dawn on a Sunday morning in summertime, and just a few people were there. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I remember wandering around a brightly lit Times Square near sunset and then looking down the avenue to…

A Time of Soft Reopenings and Cautionary Travel

As the pandemic crisis lessens in New York State, several NYC attractions are scheduling their reopenings. What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements.
UPDATED July 31, 2020. With the state of New York currently ahead of the class in the pandemic outbreak across the US, many places have started to reopen. The rollout is designed to be gradual, with geographic regions advancing according to a fixed set of metrics. 
New York City, the hardest hit area in the first months of the crisis, entered Phase 4 on Monday, July 20. The local exception: indoors of malls, restaurants, and cultural institutions.

In NYC, some offices are bringing back their workers, and many restaurants, at least the ones that have survived the economic onslaught of the past few months, are commandeering the sidewalks for outdoor dining. Some commercial sightseeing boats have announced future dates for sails (see full list below).  
Before the pandemic, a “soft op…

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City.


The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington.


First, catch a Metro-North Hudson line train to Dobbs Ferry, a village in southern Westchester C…

Delacroix’s Cats

Following its record-breaking debut at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the blockbuster Delacroix exhibit has opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. While not all of the works could travel, as some are intrinsic to the Louvre, the big cats made the trip to the city. For the Delacroix exhibit poster, the Met has selected Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, the artist’s great and surprising painting from 1830, as the signature and defining work of the exhibition.


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863), known as the leading Romantic painter of his era, loved cats. His many notebooks show preparatory sketches of lions, tigers, and several charming domestic cats. The big cats, for the most part, made it into big paintings. At 52 x 76.6 in. (130 x 195 cm), Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, 1830, is astonishingly large for an animal painting of his time, a size normally devoted to a history painting. His most famous work, La Liberté guidant le peuple, dates from the same year.�…

Starstruck at MoMA

(Update July 31, 2020. Please note: After reopening in 2019, MoMA is currently closed as a result of the pandemic. MoMA has not announced its reopening.) 
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan is undergoing a significant renovation and expansion that will increase gallery space by thirty percent upon completion in 2019. In the midst of renovation and following a long hot summer, the museum may currently look a little rough around the edges and even disorienting for longtime patrons. For starters, you’ll need to enter the museum on W. 54th Street instead of W. 53rd Street while the work is taking place, and the museum store is now currently on the second floor next to the coffee bar which has also moved.


This state of affairs didn’t stop visitors on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend from making a pilgrimage to the museum to gaze at treasures of modern art. In an age of quickly disposable digital imagery, the original and cherished works still exude their aura. Ironically,…

From Manhattan to the Bronx: A Walk Over the Henry Hudson Bridge to Henry Hudson Park

At the tiptop of Manhattan Island, Inwood Hill Park offers picturesque views of the Hudson River. For one of the best views, follow the marker at Shorakkopoch Rock (see map at the end of the post), the legendary place where Peter Minuit was said to have bought the island for 60 guilders, and follow the ridge up the slope. The path leads gently higher and higher, with views of the Salt Marsh down below and then the underside of the Henry Hudson Bridge above. This spot along the ridge is well known among birders, as the height and the proximity to the Hudson River allow access to treetops and places where birds like to go. 

Keep going around the bend and past the bridge. A few spots of open pavement at the edge of the hill provide good views of the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, a swing bridge that carries train traffic to and from Penn Station. The bridge was recently upgraded. On the opposite shore of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, you’ll likely see Metro-North trains coming round the bend, either he…

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge: 
"The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apro…

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters.

As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk.



One such essay, "Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer, Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the advantag…