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Posted by on Jun 23, 2014 in Countries, Urban, USA | 2 comments

A New York travel guide to the East Village, NY

A New York travel guide to the East Village, NY

I’ve visited the Greenwich village last week. A neighborhood where the counter-culture of the 19th and part of the 20th century revolutionized the world.

This week I’m heading  to the East Village, where Punk Rock  was born!

Due to GENTRIFICATION, a social form of eviction, the local inhabitants were forced to move out. The absurd rise of renting and propriety taxes, makes downtown NY take another shift. The artists and progressive minded folks moved to the East village, a still affordable area in downtown NY. The beatniks were gone and so were the hippies.

The country sank into a huge financial crisis and unemployment in the 70’s. It’s youth was angry about the social injustices. Punk rock was born of a deep sense of disatisfaction and it took over the world. If you thought punk rock was born in England with the sex pistols, you’re mistaken!  It was born at the East Village.


Astoria Plaza, divides the West and the East Village. This is now a symbol of gentrification


When I found out the punk rock history and all it’s counter-culture scene was so intertwined with the East Village, I knew this would turn into one of the most interesting areas for me.  I’ve spent the last 12 years of my life, deeply emerged into the Punk, squat counter-culture scenes back in Europe. But here, it’s where it was all born.



The expensive high end stores and food chains replaced all the old small family business


I decided to take a free tour of the East village and that was a very wise decision. I’m not a big fan of organized tours, but the guide was extremely knowledgeable and without him, I would have missed all the interesting and complex spots, the East Village has to offer. This was the alternative East Village tour.


Our group



Our tour guide showing us the art spread around the East Village


The art and color is everywhere in this artsy street




The East Village is a very peculiar neighborhood. It’s where the artistic- free minded individuals keep resisting and fighting against the brutal  and overwhelming gentrification taking place in Downtown NY. Once a poor neighborhood and therefore cheaper than the now rich Greenwhich Village, it became a very attractive area for most musicians, writers and artists in the early 70’s.

Alternative fashion stores opened, cafés and the famous venues Like CBGB’S turned many anonymous bands into rock icons.


The New York Dolls in the early 70’s at the Gem Spa and my recent visit to the spot


The Gem Spa, a  newspaper stand located at 131 2ND avenue,  is not only an iconic spot because of it’s NY style egg cream, but also because this is where the New York Dolls  – a hard rock band that influenced the birth of punk in the 70’s – shot the back cover of their debut album.  The Gem Spa has been an important landmark since  1950, offering all sorts of underground newspapers, where the Beats, the Hippies and latter on, the punks enjoyed hanging out.



Sitting at those famous stairs waiting for my friends


The video “waiting on a  friend”, where Mick Jagger sings and dances at the door step of 96-98 St. Marks Place, became very popular on MTV back then.  This is the same spot the Led Zeppelin used for their album cover “Physical graffiti”.






St Marks Place, where all the action was happening. Here the Led Zeppelin’s album cover.





Opened in 1973, CBGB’S which means Country, bluegrass and blues, soon became one of the most famous rock venues in the whole world.  Anonymous singers and bands became worldwide icons of a generation and a symbol of CBGB’S, like Blondie, The Ramones, Patti Smith, The Misfits, The Dead Boys, Joan Jett, the Dictators, The Cramps, the B52’S, Iggy Pop, etc…

CBGB’s became the hang out place for the rising counter-culture and a new movement was born… Punk rock.




In 2003, the corner of the Bowery and East 2nd Street, outside what was then still CBGB’s, was named “Joey Ramone Place.”




Fillmore East now and then


The Fillmore East opened  in 1968 and has featured some of the biggest rock musicians of all time, like Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa, Jefferson Airplane, John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, The Crosby still Nash and Young, etc….

The Fillmore was a reference in the history of rock and roll and the counter-culture who opposed the established values of the time as well as the Vietnam war which was out of control.

Nowadays, the Fillmore is was replaced by a bank, basically an irony of life slapping us with the reality of  gentrification.



In many European countries, squatting is either legal or there’s no laws classifying it as a crime. For many activists, as long as there are thousands of abandoned houses and homeless people living on the streets, squatting should be a right.


One of the oldest squatts in NY


I was curious about the squatting scene in NY and our guide showed us one of the very rare examples of a whole building which used to be abandoned and turned into an active community of like-minded folks. These folks also helped giving life to an environmental and bike friendly neighborhood.



Today, the East Village is NY city’s symbol of resistance and fight for a better community. Nowhere else but the East Village you’ll find the famous community gardens; oasis of green lush trees and flowers in the center of the city.



These pieces of land were originally squatted by the locals, who wanted to keep green areas within their neighborhood. The lack of green spaces and urban community areas where people could meet and hang out, were the motivation behind this amazing gardens.

They’re now legalized and the city made them available for everyone who likes to escape the oppressive daily life in NYC.




“La lucha continua – The struggle goes on”, one of the murals within the communal gardens


One of the most vibrant and artsy areas of NYC, the East Village, is a must for anyone who loves art, small locally owned stores and a local experience.  This is not your typical tourist crowded area, but a place you can still experience a very local feeling.


The tour finished with the beautiful mural dedicated to  Joe Strummer, from the Clash; a band that changed a whole generation. Beneath his image we can read: “Know your rights” the true essence of this amazing neighborhood of NYC… an area fighting to keep it’s soul intact.


A beautiful mural dedicated to Joe Strummer from the Clash


Do you want to know more about the East Village? Watch this really good and short rock and Roll tour!




DISCLAIMER: all the old photos of bands and venues are NOT mine and I have NO rights over them. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the author to give him/her credits.

I apologize for all the grammar errors you might find in this post… I’ve been sleep deprived lately and trying to keep up with traveling, working, not sleeping and writing. I’ll revise the text once I get home :)


  1. Very very nice post!
    I needed this overview.
    Gentrification is happening all over the world, but I didn’t imagined it happened to this extent in ny… I still though that its the cultural capital of the world. Many friends tell me to go visit, but they only mention this high end stores, like it would be a cool thing.
    It doesn’t seem the ny I though about it…. the cultural capital I had in my mind. with social movements, artistic movements, conflict, etc. Now there is only one or two places preserved, but also not with the same life as before. Of course I will still go, but its no more on top of the list!
    Thank you for this enlightened overview!

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