Public eye walk
Give up that impassive New Yorker schtick for a minute and get nosy: Your fellow sidewalkers are worth an ogle.
Thu Apr 30 2009
Tompkins Square Park
Photos: Roxana Marroquin
Start: Ave A at 7th St
End: 170 Second Ave at 11th St
Time: 2 hours
Distance: 1.6 miles
1 While you may be so over this crossroads of drug-addled vagabonds and East Village lightweights, Tompkins Square Park (7th to 10th Sts between Aves A and B) is undeniably a spot for people-watching—and a surefire place to find an idler with a good story. A recent visit yielded a 23-year-old in a completely shredded shirt (of the $400 boutique variety) lounging next to several authentically tattered getups (of the street-punk variety). Establish a post on the northeast corner of the park and eye the people eyeing the dogs: Humans of all kinds lean over the railing, taking in the scampering pooches like they’re staging some sort of standing-room-only performance.
2 When you tire of the smell of dog doo, make your way down to the blessedly boutique-free 3rd Street for an invigorating whiff of testosterone. On the basketball courts of P.S. 63’s McKinley Playground (3rd St between First Ave and Ave A)—which, paradoxically, was a girls’-school yard when it opened in 1905—shirtless ballers dribble and shoot over the tinny sounds of boom box bachata. If you’re too intimidated to take a seat on the benches inside, get your fill of six-packs and swishes through the chicken wire. Then settle in at The Bean Coffee & Tea (49 First Ave at 3rd St, 212-353-1477), where floor-to-ceiling plate glass affords you great views of a Q-tip-thin lady in a fluffy white hat, a spindly joker bopping to his Walkman, and various other passersby. N.B.: The shop’s cupcakes ($4) are worth momentarily taking your eyes off the humans.
3 If there isn’t a swarm of roaring motorcycles outside the cute little brick facade of the Hells Angels’ HQ (77 E 3rd St between First and Second Aves)—rumored site of drug deals and racketeering since 1969—there’s probably at least a pair of grizzled bikers watching the leggy denizens of nouveau East Village go by. “I lived here 25 years,” croaks one yellow-toothed Angel who declined to give his name before almost literally throwing us off his turf. “What do you mean people-watching? I fucking hate the changes that have happened. I’d prefer drug dealers and criminals to the yuppie shit that goes on here now.” Hurry on to Second Avenue and don’t look back.
4 Smooth your ruffled feathers in the hushed, incense-tinged Dress Shoppe (83 Second Ave between 4th and 5th Sts, 212-533-4568), a gorgeously colorful, family-run haven for Indian imports (Shiva statues, beaded necklaces, bangles) and handmade organic-cotton clothes. Graying hippies, NYU students, Hare Krishnas and celebrities converge here; camp out among the goods and watch them come and go. “Lindsay Lohan was in here recently,” says owner Prashant Goyal. “She tried on dresses for over an hour. I think she was sober.”
5 God sees all and so will you across the street at Middle Collegiate Church (50 E 7th St at Second Ave, 212-477-0666). “Ours is a congregation of characters,” says church elder Ellen Matlach. “Everyone you expect to see in New York you’ll find here.” Indeed, on any given day there’s a sea of Afros, cowboy hats and mullets dotting the pews below backlit Tiffany windows. The place hosts poetry readings, free jazz and African dance classes.
6 Veer off the avenue to pay a visit to consummate people-watcher Anthony Pisano, who sits on a folding chair on the sidewalk (as he has for the past 30 years) and will invite you inside his home (100 E 7th St between First and Second Aves). “What could backfire?” Pisano says of the fact that strangers regularly traipse among the thousands of tchotchkes and antiques that pack his storefront abode—not all of which are on sale. “Only thing that could go wrong is if they took my cat, Ketsue. That would really hurt.”
7 Leaving Ketsue unscathed, stroll up Second Avenue and settle in at juice bar Liquiteria (170 Second Ave at 11th St, 212-358-0300), where you’ll discover that wheatgrass addicts come in all shapes and sizes. On a recent Saturday, this included a 75-year-old woman from Stuy Town, a handful of adolescent ballerinas and Mutaba Holley, a sanitation worker and aspiring baker from East New York who comes here every Sunday. “This is the No. 1 real estate in the city,” says Holley of his favorite corner seat. “I wanted to leave three hours ago but I couldn’t. It’s the eclectic demographic—and the energy in here. Everything just clicks.”
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