broadsideblog

Bleecker Street: cupcakes, coffee and guitars

In beauty, business, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, US on April 26, 2014 at 3:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

When people dream about visiting New York City, they usually think of Times Square, (noisy, dirty and horribly jammed with other tourists), or Fifth Avenue, (now depressingly lined with Big Box retail names, with a line-up to get into Abercrombie, selling the same schmatte you can find in Iowa or Kansas), or maybe 42d Street — all movie theaters and junky restaurants.

I always urge visitors to head instead for one of my all-time favorites, Bleecker Street.

It runs the width of the city through Greenwich Village and goes from a north-south axis on the west side to a west-east, (or vice versa!) route after dog-legging at Seventh Avenue.

Those of us who’ve lived here a few decades remember the old, funky, dusty Bleecker, with the Japanese store and Afghan store, Nusraty’s, filled with jewelry and rugs and Leo Design, now a few blocks west on Hudson Street, which sells a wonderful mix of early boxes, mirrors, pottery and decorative objects, much of it English.

Here’s how bad it’s getting:

Bleecker Street Records was reportedly ousted from their space at 239 Bleecker by a rent increase that would have required the store pay $27,000 a month in rent. Fortunately, the store has found a new place in the neighborhood—no small feat given the escalating rents and the competition from stores intent on replicating the vibe of an outdoor shopping mall or a high-end highway rest stop: the advertisement for Bleecker Street Records’ former space boasted of its proximity to Amy’s Bread, David’s Tea, L’Occitane and 16 Handles.

Here’s an excellent post from one of my favorite blogs, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, detailing the huge and rapid gentrification of this once charmingly bohemian street:

New York Magazine publishes a major profile of the Bleecker boom in an article on micro-neighborhoods: “Soho took fifteen years to become a handbag colony. Bleecker took only three.” One local shopper complains, “I’m not so happy about the Guccis and the Polos coming in here. It seems like we’re losing our neighborhood feel.”

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Today, the western bit of Bleecker is crazy expensive, a long line of spendy designer shops like Ralph Lauren, Lulu Guinness and New York jewelry-maker Alexis Bittar, whose distinctive work is beautiful indeed; here’s a pair of his earrings.

Here’s a blog post naming it one of the world’s best shopping streets; true if you’re planning to drop serious coin. If you like perfume, French perfumer Annick Goutal recently opened a shop on the street.

The original Magnolia Bakery — which opened in 1996 purveying cupcakes — is still there.

But stay with it and head east, and you’ll find the block between Seventh and Sixth a fabulous mix of food to buy and food to eat: Murray’s Cheese, Amy’s Bread, Rocco’s pastry and Porto Rico Coffee and Tea, in business since 1907, with the most wonderful store interior — enormous battered tins of tea and dozens of huge burlap bags of coffee beans beneath a pressed-tin ceiling.

Don’t miss it! You can find every imaginable kind of coffee bean and loose tea, mugs, string shopping bags, even some spices and candy. It’s one of my favorite places anywhere.

And Blind Tiger, an ale house I used to drink in in the 1990s when it was on Hudson Street.

At the east end is this theater, which I recently visited for the first time.

And this elegant restaurant, Saxon and Parole, where Bleecker ends at the Bowery. It’s a great-looking space but expensive; the cheapest entree was a $18 hamburger.

Here’s one of my favorite songs, by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, about it:

Fog’s rollin’ in off the East River bank
Like a shroud it covers Bleecker Street
Fills the alleys where men sleep
Hides the shepherd from the sheep

Voices leaking from a sad cafe
Smiling faces try to understand
I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand
On Bleecker Street

A poet reads his crooked rhyme
Holy, holy is his sacrament
Thirty dollars pays your rent
On Bleecker Street

I head a church bell softly chime
In a melody sustainin’
It’s a long road to Caanan
On Bleecker Street
Bleecker Street

Here’s a fantastic, photo-studded blog post detailing Bleecker Street.

 Is there a street in your city or town that you especially treasure? (In my hometown, Toronto, I like Queen Street, East and West, Kensington and Yorkville/Cumberland.)

Tell us about it!

  1. You taught me something a few weeks ago, concerning blog and substance and people who want to make everything all about them. I enjoyed this article because my memories were Brooklyn Naval Shipyards and the Port Authority.

    As an upstate NYer, I feel a need to experience the whole ascetic quality to the sublime works of the ‘flesh’ that make life in a context of the moment.

    In White Oleander the girl was 17 and living in LA. With the idea that she was getting high off harder drugs and a feeling of desperate lonliness. What is redeemable is young Astrid’s love of art and her carnal aspirations that were skewed by all sorts of sexua deviance perpetrated by parasitical men. The fact that she survived is a miracle and the idea that a crowded city might reveal profound truths.

  2. i love the little side streets here in ann arbor, the alley bar (in an alley), the little indy restaurants of all ethnicities, independent hair salons, art galleries, etc. much more fun than main street )

  3. I’m not even a New Yorker and I’ve noticed Bleecker Street changing! When I interned in the city while studying abroad, I remember there being a lovely independent bookstore opposite Magnolia Bakery. When I visited two years later, it was still a bookshop, but had been taken over by Marc Jacobs, which seemed a shame. I do love wandering through Greenwich Village though.

    I don’t really have a favourite street in Stornoway – it doesn’t have that many streets to begin with! – but North Beach Street is lovely. The shop fronts are all painted different colours, and you get a great view of the harbour and the Lews Castle. Plus my favourite cafe is there too!

    • Thanks! It’s nice to know I’m not the only person mourning the old Bleecker. It’s very shiny and very pricey and a quick stop for $$$$ tourists….but few of whom know or care that the West Village is actually a neighborhood where people live, go to school, raise their kids, buy groceries….not just designer products.

      I only know Stornoway (did you know this?) as the name of the official residence of Canada’s leader of the Opposition…

      http://www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places-to-visit/official-residences/stornoway

      • How funny, I didn’t know that at all! A lot of Scottish islanders emigrated to Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries (some were forced to leave in what’s known as the Highland Clearances, and others went voluntarily), so I suppose it’s not surprising that the building is called ‘Stornoway’. Thanks for sharing that with me!

      • It’s unlikely — but not, really. So much of Canada — Eastern, anyway — was settled by English and Scots.

  4. I love that area. A Brazilian friend of mine took me there for the first time.

  5. […] the Broadside Blog, Caitlin Kelly promotes Greenwich Village’s Bleecker Street, in New York City, as her favourite […]

  6. Great review of Bleecker Street. Even though tour buses come through with hoards of tourists, I still love Magnolia Bakery.

    Have you been to the new macaron shop? It’s ridiculously expensive but they have such delicious unique flavors https://www.bisousciao.com/home/

  7. Hi Caitlin,
    Is Radio City Music Hall still there?
    Leslie

  8. Oh, Porto Rico Coffee and Tea sounds like heaven…

    A lot of this sort of gentrification and big-brand take-over is happening here in Toronto, too. Or, nice streets are becoming barren as no one can afford the rent (the block on Yonge St. where our jewellery store was now has 5 empty storefronts in a row–strange knowing that pretty much every house in the area is at least $1 million.)

    As for a neighbourhood I really love, I think back on Le Plateau in Montreal where I first lived in Canada. It has its main streets (St. Denis, Mt. Royal, St. Laurent), but it’s the hidden shops, restaurants and pubs tucked in among the decorated walk-ups on the residential streets that really make it. It’s a magical area to explore with all of these surprises. And the working-class Portuguese are still there, growing grapes and grilling bacalhau. These real neighbourhood people give you the sense that some things will never change, even as the hipsters roll through. :)

    • Love the Plateau! I was back in Montreal in Feb. 2013 for business and always make a point to get there — I lived there 1986-88, but downtown.

      Sorry to hear this about TO; I left in 1986 but am back usually once or twice a year to visit old friends.

  9. Caitlin, your post is sadly incomplete without mention of CBGB’s, which stood for many years on Bowery, across the street from the east end of Bleecker. Gone.

    I also credit this blog post for helping me understanding Bleecker Street in its context: http://capntransit.blogspot.com/2012/01/on-bleecker-stroad.html

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