Neighborhood Guide

East Village

The East Village lies east of Greenwich Village, south of Gramercy and Stuyvesant Town, and north of the Lower East Side. Within the East Village there are several smaller neighborhoods, including Alphabet City and The Bowery. The neighborhood was once considered part of the Lower East Side, but in the 1960s began to develop its own culture as the "East Village" when scores of artists and hippies began to move into the area, attracted by the base of Beatniks that had lived there since the 1950s. It has been the site of counterculture, protests and riots. The neighborhood is known as the birthplace and historical home of many artistic movements, including punk rock and the Nuyorican literary movement. It is still known for a diverse community, vibrant nightlife and artistic sensibility, although in recent decades gentrification has changed the character of the neighborhood and of its residents. What is now the East Village once ended at the East River where Avenue C is now located. A large portion of the neighborhood was formed by landfill, including World War II debris and rubble from London, which was shipped across the Atlantic to provide foundation for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. In the 1950s the migration of Beatniks into the neighborhood attracted hippies, musicians and artists well into 1960s. The area was dubbed the "East Village", to dissociate it from the image of slums evoked by the Lower East Side. According to the New York Times, a 1964 guide called, "Earl Wilson's New York," wrote that "artists, poets and promoters of coffeehouses from Greenwich Village are trying to remelt the neighborhood under the high-sounding name of 'East Village.'" Newcomers and real estate brokers popularized the East Village name, and the term was adopted by the popular media by the mid-1960s. In 1966 a psychedelic weekly newspaper, The East Village Other, appeared and The New York Times declared that the neighborhood "had come to be known" as the East Village in the June 5, 1967 edition. On March 8, 1968 Bill Graham opened the Fillmore East in a Yiddish Theatre on 2nd Avenue. The venue quickly became known as "The Church of Rock and Roll," with two-show concerts several nights a week. While booking many of the same bands that had played the Electric Circus, Graham particularly used the venue - and its West Coast counterpart, to establish new British bands like The Who, Pink Floyd, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and Led Zeppelin. CBGB, the nightclub considered by some to be the birthplace of punk music, was located in the neighborhood, as was the early punk standby A7. New Wave and New York hardcore also emerged in the area’s clubs. Among the many important bands and singers who got their start at these clubs and other venues in downtown New York were the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Arto Lindsay, the Ramones, Blondie, Madonna, Talking Heads, the Plasmatics, Glenn Danzig, Sonic Youth, the Beastie Boys, Anthrax, and The Strokes. From 1983 - 1993, much of the more radical audio work was preserved as part of the Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine recording project, which was based in the nearby Lower East Side. Over the last 100 years, the East Village/Lower East Side neighborhood has been considered one of the strongest contributors to American arts and culture in New York. During the great wave of immigration (Germans, Ukrainians, Polish) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, countless families found their new homes in this area. The East Village has been the birthplace of cultural icons and movements from the American gangster to the Warhol Superstars, folk music to punk rock, anti-folk to hip-hop, advanced education to organized activism, experimental theater to the Beat Generation. Club 57, on St. Mark's Place, was an important incubator for performance art and visual art in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Followed by 8BC and ABC No Rio. During the 1980s the East Village art gallery scene helped to galvanize a new post-modern art in America, showing such artists as Kiki Smith, Peter Halley, Keith Haring, Stephen Lack, Greer Lankton, Joseph Nechvatal, Tom Otterness, Nan Goldin, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Wojnarowicz and Jeff Koons. The East Village is the setting for Jonathan Larson's musical Rent, set in the early 1990s, the story chronicles a group of friends over a year in their struggles against poverty, drug abuse and AIDS. The musical Rent chronicled a period in the neighborhood's history that is bygone. It opened at the New York Theater Workshop in February 1996. It described a New York City devastated by the AIDS epidemic, drugs and high crime, and followed several characters in the backdrop of their effort to make livings as artists. The East Village's performance and art scene has declined since its hey-day of the 1970s and 1980s. One club that had opened to try to resurrect the neighborhood's past artistic prominence was Mo Pitkins' House of Satisfaction, part-owned by Jimmy Fallon of Saturday Night Live. It closed its doors in 2007, and was seen by many as another sign of the continued decline of the East Village performance and art scene, which has mostly moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Rapture Cafe also shut down in April 2008, and the neighborhood lost an important performance space and gathering ground for the gay community. There are still some performance spaces, such as Sidewalk Cafe on Avenue A, where downtown acts find space to exhibit their talent, and the poetry clubs.

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