Taken together, the East and West Village form the undisputed core of Manhattan's nightlife scene. Easily accessible by both the outer boroughs and the Jersey suburbs, the influx of partygoers keeps the area moving into the wee hours just about every weekend. There are plenty of features in the East Village, however, that make it easy to distinguish between them.
Originally considered part of the Lower East Side, the area still contains many of the tenements that initially made this the less desirable part of town. It was this edge that made the area so attractive to many of the luminaries of the Beat Generation during the 1950s. And in the '60s, legendary rock promoter Bill Graham brought in the locals at the famed Fillmore East.
The most recent musical movement associated with the neighborhood, however, is punk. Although it has been more than twenty years since punk still began, you're liable to find a few clusters of dyed, pierced, and tattooed teens walking about here.
If you walk north from the Bowery to St. Mark's Place, you'll find the true nucleus of the region. Lined with used record stores, clothing boutiques, cheap eats, and a myriad of students, this is a good place to either people-watch or just browse at your own pace.
Heading west on St. Mark's eventually brings you to Astor Place. The spot is immediately notable for the steel sculpture "Alamo," a large cube balanced on one point. Although it appears immobile, the cube has been designed to rotate if pushed with sufficient force. Be warned, "sufficient" definitely means "more than one person."
Recently, a number of high-rises and converted loft apartment buildings have sprung up in the Astor Place area. K-Mart, Barnes and Noble, and Starbucks all have stores within a block of each other. If you're yearning for something a little less on the fringe, Astor Place may be an ideal spot to reside.
For a much older sight, check out the rather incongruous Colonnade Row just south of Astor Place on Lafayette Street. The buildings were once home to the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt and John Jacob Astor himself. Long since broken up into much smaller spaces inside, the marble Corinthian columns are all the more impressive because of their rarity.
Across the street from Colonnade Row is Joseph Papp's Public Theater. Although Papp was probably best known for bringing Shakespeare to Central Park, the Public is the building that bears his name. There are a number of other Off-Off-Broadway theaters in the area, including the experimental La Mama E.T.C. and PS 122.
The East Village also envelops not one but two small ethnic cultures. A few blocks comprise the "Little Ukraine," and the strip of 6th Street between First and Second Avenues make up what is known as "Indian Row." There are literally a dozen Indian restaurants in a row on this block, and just about any makes a great place for a decent priced meal. Several feature live sitar players to add to the atmosphere.
The rough edge that the East Village used to present to the city has been softened in recent years. Many new residents are now recognizing that the area has a mixture of arts, culture, and commerce that suits them just right