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.”
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
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!