"Let Me Tell You" is a series of columns from our expert editors about NYC living, including the best things to do, where to eat and drink, and what to see at the theater. They are published every week. News Editor Anna Rahmanan’s columns previously argued that Le Pain Quotidien is the best chain in NYC and that being a parent in NYC totally rocks.
New Yorkers love a good argument when it comes to the coolest neighborhood: as some locals extol the virtues of Bushwick as a nightlife Eden, others focus on the apartment sizes in Tribeca. Conversations about the restaurants in Williamsburg also take hold alongside discussions regarding the relative ease in mobility when it comes to midtown Manhattan.
Everyone has a different opinion about the best neighborhoods in New York.
RECOMMENDED: Our pick this year was Fort Greene, Brooklyn
It’s now my turn to chime in and argue that the West Village was, is and always will be the most enduringly cool neighborhood in New York.
There are plenty of reasons behind my position: locals and tourists will never pass up a chance to walk around the West Village, area restaurants are, mostly, hard reservations to get and apartments in the region are some of the most expensive, exclusive and sought-after addresses around town.
Turns out, the everlasting “it” factor of the West Village depends on a confluence of elements, from the area’s architecture to its history.
Let’s start with the charm. Sure, some Brooklyn townhouses boast the same aura of New York authenticity, indirectly heralding back to the days of yore, but there’s something about downtown Manhattan that reeks of all things endearing.
“There are certain neighborhoods that have an ‘it’ factor and the West Village certainly has that,” says real estate agent Noble Black. “The architecture, the beautiful homes, a lot of cobblestoned streets, it’s like you are stepping back in time [when you come here].”
According to Erik Botsford, the Manhattan Borough Director for the New York City Department of City Planning, the area’s street layout greatly influences its character.
“What you’re seeing in places like Greenwich Village is a reflection of what was there in the 18th century in terms of patterns of land ownership,” he explains. “For me as a city planner, there is an undeniable appeal that comes with irregular streets that are winding, they really call to you to explore them.”
While walking around uptown Manhattan, for example, looking out into the distance will put you face-to-face with seemingly endless, perfectly aligned blocks. Beautiful in its own right, the sight is starkly opposite to the downtown scene.
“There is an element of the unknown that draws you in and pushes you to explore what’s around the corner in the West Village,” says Botsford. “The long-term effect of the pattern is the creation of very historic neighborhoods that have long-standing appeal to people as places they want to visit and live in.”
The fact that the vast majority of the area is landmarked and, therefore, inaccessible by developers also plays a big role in the conversation.
“In the past 10 years, the Village has only produced 20 houses,” reveals Botsford. “Contrast that to Chelsea, where over ten thousand homes were produced, and you see the Village is caught in this cycle of becoming more expensive and exclusive.”
Noble Black explains things similarly.
“Scarcity always plays a role in real estate,” he says. “The less available, the more people are willing to pay for it. Geographically, the West Village is more constrained, there is less inventory.”
Botsford argues that things need to change, wishing officials would find ways to preserve the neighborhood’s personality while expanding its home offerings.
Although this West Village lover agrees that the price of real estate has reached exorbitance, I can’t help but wonder whether developing historic districts will end up completely changing the very essence of the area. The exclusivity is part of the glamour of the West Village, after all.
Other city neighborhoods are swanky as well, though, and some even boast the same irregular street grid that defines the Village, like the Financial District.
More practical matters add to the perennial coolness and desirability of the West Village, including access to public transportation.
A bunch of bus lines traverse the neighborhood, the 14th Street/Union Square hub is right there as are the Christopher Street and West 4th Street/Washington Square stops. It’s fairly easy to get to the West Village and get out of it as well.
And then there are the restaurants and bars.
Old stalwarts like Morandi, Il Cantinori and Rafele basically drench your meals in nostalgia while sharing geographical space with relative newcomers like Semma, Via Carota and Nami Nori, which continue to elevate the local state of culinary affairs.
Little Branch, Dante, Bar Pisellino, Julius and Employees Only turn the area into an ideal drinking den while the iconic Broadway piano bar Marie's Crisis and the slew of jazz clubs that call the West Village home simply add to its New York-iness.
Even celebrities love the neighborhood, a fact that, only in the West Village, actually propels the splendor of the zone (true New Yorkers are, after all, averse to star sightings and the chaos that usually comes with it—or at least they say they are).
"What makes it special is the scale, it gets really nice and short here," said Sarah Jessica Parker to Conde Nast Traveler when chatting about the neighborhood she's called home for decades. "The whole city wraps around you, which is just visually really pretty. There's a lot of sky in the West Village. We have this extraordinary local newspaper called Westview, which is amazing. The editor is a neighbor and he's an elderly gentleman who's really looked out for the senior community. Neighborhoods do that."
Bob Dylan has lived here, as have Julianne Moore, Liv Tyler, Daniel Radcliffe and Hugh Jackman, among others, all of them likely reaping the benefits of neighbors who like to live in peace and don’t whip out their iPhones as soon as they see a star grabbing coffee from a street vendor.
Urban planning experts, real estate gurus and folks who call the area home all seem to agree that, although part-and-parcel of what Manhattan stands for, the West Village exudes more of a neighborhood, familial feel than other districts. It affords access to the best things the city has to offer while still allowing you to connect to fellow New Yorkers—a fact that seems to speak to the character of the people even more than that of the area.
Put simply, the West Village feels more like home than other areas might … and I can’t wait to move in one day (a girl can hope, right?).