Sunday, March 12, 2017

24 Hours in Greenwich Village and 10 Things To Do

I'm just back from a touristy overnight stay in New York City -- about 24 hours from morning to morning.  I knew that most of the time was going to be spent in Greenwich Village, the iconic neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan, so before going I made a list of ten things to do while there.  Those were:
  1. Walk the High Line
  2. Sip on a Caffeinated Beverage at Cafe Reggio
  3. Sip on an Alcoholic Beverage at the White Horse Tavern
  4. Re-Enact Bob Dylan's Freewheelin' Album Cover
  5. Catch a Set of Jazz at The Village Vanguard
  6. Check Out the Historic Foodie Shops on Bleecker Street
  7. Ogle the Exotic Instruments at Music Inn
  8. Visit Washington Square Park
  9. Walk Out Onto Pier 45 and Look for the Statue of Liberty
  10. Find "Old" New York
Here's how that plan turned out!

Walk the High Line (Success!)
Although most of this this former elevated rail line turned public park is in the Chelsea neighborhood directly north of Greenwich Village, the Southern end of it does put you out on Gansevoort St. in what amounts to the northwest edge of the Village. It's a pretty easy walk from Port Authority (bus station) or Penn Station (train station) to the northern entrance(s) of the High Line.  We found the High Line with no trouble at all and walked a mile plus on it in frigid, windy, 20-degree March weather!  There are even a couple vantage points where you can see the Statue of Liberty off in the distance.  Walking along this above ground urban pathway was a brisk way to start the day.
Laura on the High Line. Statue of Liberty far far in background.

Me on the High Line. Not crowded on 20 degree day!
Sip on a Caffeinated Beverage at Cafe Reggio (Success!)
Caffe Reggio is the oldest coffee shop in Greenwich Village, circa 1927.  It was also the first place in the United States to serve cappuccino. I'm willing to bet this historic caffe stays pretty busy, so we were fortunate to walk in and find a nice, cozy table straight away on a super cold morning.  Classical music was playing softly over the speakers.  The poetic atmosphere was everything one could have hoped for and we lingered for quite some time over latte and espresso.  That was exactly the experience I was hoping to have here.
Latte and Espresso at Caffe Reggio.
Sip on an Alcoholic Beverage at the White Horse Tavern (Success!)
Poet Dylan Thomas once drank 18 shots of whiskey at this establishment...and then died shortly thereafter.  Jack Kerouac was also kicked out of the bar several times.  And, oh yeah it was built in 1880.  Lunch time was a good time to duck in for a drink.  It wasn't crowded yet and, surprisingly, hardened regulars outnumbered the few tourists that walked in.  I sat at the bar, sipped on a well poured Guinness, and took it all in.  This time the house music playing was pleasant jazz.
Too cold to sit outside today at the White Horse Tavern.
Re-Enact Bob Dylan's Freewheelin' Album Cover (Somewhat Success!)
The cover of Bob Dylan's second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, depicts the songster walking down a wintry New York street in a light jacket with then girlfriend Suze Rotolo clutching his arm.  The photo was taken in Greenwich Village on Jones Street between W. 4th Street and Bleecker (facing W. 4th Street).  The street hasn't changed that much in the 50+ years since.  It was probably about the same temperature (25 degrees) during the Dylan photo shoot, but instead of thin jackets we were bundled up with several layers.  There was also no photographer handy so a selfie it was.
Standing on the street where Bob and Suze stood in 1963.
Catch a Set of Jazz at The Village Vanguard (Definite Success!)
New York is still the hub of jazz in America, if not the entire world, and the Village Vanguard is arguably the most prestigious jazz club in the world; certainly the most famed in New York.  This was pretty much the whole point of going to New York for just one night.  On short notice I had seen that Bill Frisell was doing a two-week residency at the Vanguard so off we went.  Did I mention that it was cold this day?  That probably prevented most people from lining up early, so when we arrived 15 minutes before doors there were only about 4 or 5 people in line in front of us. This meant that upon entering I was able to select THE BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE for seeing one of my all-time favorite musicians in THE MOST legendary jazz club.  A dream-like dream come true.  Bill played in a trio format with the drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Thomas Morgan.  Let me just say, Royston is a kick-ass drummer.  Bill was in peak form, but some of that credit goes to Royston for help taking him there.  I got what I needed from that set!
My view for Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan and Rudy Royston at the Vanguard.
Check Out the Foodie Shops on Bleecker Street (Success!)
This list is out of sequence, because after walking the High Line we made a B-line to Bleecker Street to sample the little cluster of venerable food shops between 6th and 7th Avenue, offering cheese, meats, coffee, tea, sweets, baked goods and more.  The $1 arancini (stuffed rice balls) at Faicco's Italian Specialties are the stuff of legend and deservedly so, as we found out.  Yeah, yeah...everybody talks about those and now I do too.  After walking around and adding some tea, bite-sized Bantam bagels and a NY pizza slice to that mix my stomach was feeling pretty sated.
Bill Frisell stood behind these pedals. I sat right in front of them. 
Ogle the Instruments at Music Inn (Fail)
This music shop on West 4th Street opened in 1958; a true holdover from the bohemian folk age.  Within its walls are hundreds upon hundreds of exotic instruments from around the world.  I was looking forward to seeing what they've got but then totally forgot to look it up when in the area.  Oh well, not everything could go exactly as planned.
Stone Arch. Washington Square Park.
Visit Washington Square Park (Very Brief Success!)
Washington Square Park - with its stone arch and fountain area - is a focal point in the Village.  On nice days people gather all over the park, but on this cold, cold day it was quite barren.  We were there just long enough to say we saw it.  I made a point of seeking out the "Hanging Elm".  Located in the northwest corner of the park, this urban-legendary tree remains the oldest tree in New York city.  Fun fact: over 20,000 bodies are buried under Washington Square Park.  The area where the park is now was once used as a burial ground for the unknown, the indigent, and victims of the yellow fever.  Creepy!
Hangman's Elm.
Walk Out Onto Pier 45 and Look for the Statue of Liberty (Fail)
This pier and green space juts out about 850 feet into the Hudson river, offering views of Hoboken, New Jersey as well as the Statue of Liberty.  That's all well and good but it was too damn cold to fool with trying to do that on this day.  Briefly taking off my gloves to take the above pictures was battle enough against the freeze.  Maybe on a nice summer day, yes.  Besides, we had already seen the Statue of Liberty off in the distance from the High Line and we didn't need to walk out on the water in that wind.

Find "Old" New York (Success?)
It may be cliche to go to Greenwich Village in search of wistfulness, but I would call this a successful attempt.  Yes, the folk scene that hatched Bob Dylan is long, long gone, although a few stubborn jazz clubs, cafes and vintage pubs do remain.  And unfortunately (?), after about 3 or 4pm it seemed like every formerly quaint restaurant or quiet pub had suddenly turned into a boisterous scene with club music playing at volumes that anyone over 40 is probably not going to appreciate.

However, in the morning hours (you know, "brunchtime"), in the just the right light, the Village does seem to retain its classic hue of days past.  You can almost imagine encountering a Welsh poet drinking his final whiskey, or a jazz musician playing with fierce passion, or crossing paths with an old folkie on Macdougal street.  Wait a minute...I did cross-paths with an old folkie on Macdougal street!  Village resident Steve Earle was walking by himself, minding his own business, when I managed to stammer out "Hey Steve, big fan of your music" as he passed by.  To which he replied "I appreciate it man" and then just kept on walking to wherever he was headed. Probably the gym.

It's amazing what 24 hours in New York can do for you.  It would be impossible to ever replicate this experience but I'd be willing to give it a try all over again, fully expecting different results.