Sunday, August 10, 2008

Walking Tour: The East Village

Start at Union Square, and walk east along the northern side of 14th Street. You will soon hit a small shop, Russian Souvenirs (227 14th Street), between Second and Third Avenues. The shop has seemingly been there forever, and is a great place for traditional Russian arts and crafts, and Soviet kitsch.

Once you hit Second Avenue, you can walk north one block to Stuyvesant Square (not really part of the East Village, but close enough), where you will find the Byzantine (Ruthenian) Catholic church of
St. Mary (246 East 15th Street), dating from 1964.

Diagonally across the park, at East 17th Street and Nathan D. Perlman Place is a
bust of Czech composer (and Slav of New York, at least for a time in 1892) Anton Dvořák by Yugoslav sculptor Ivan Meštrović

Leaving Stuyvesant Square, the Slavic heart of the East Village unfolds southward down Second Avenue. On the west side of the street, you pass the
Ukrainian Orthodox Federal Credit Union (215 Second Avenue) and then the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (203 Second Avenue), and across Second Avenue on the east side are the diner Little Poland (200 Second Avenue), and the Jozef Pilsudski Institute of America in the Polish National Home (180 Second Avenue).

One of the most important blocks for our purposes is Second Avenue between St. Mark’s Place and 9th Street. On the northeast corner you’ll find the popular Ukrainian diner
Veselka Restaurant (144 Second Avenue), and right next door is the Ukrainian National Home (142 Second Avenue). Though there are no windows, the food inside is top notch. Also in the building are the Karpaty Pub, and Lys Mykyta bar.

A couple doors down is a building with an impressive medallion of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko but no other signage (136 Second Avenue). Inside are the Dibrova Social Club (CYM) and the
Ukrainian Free University Foundation Inc. Across the street you’ll find the last of the great Slavic meat markets, Baczynsky’s (139 Second Avenue, note that it is closed until September 2008).

One more block down, you’ll see the small Polish diner Stage Restaurant (128 Second Avenue), and a few doors down the Ukrainian Sports Club (122 Second Avenue).

From here, cross Second Avenue and continue west along East 7th Street to find the cultural center of the local Ukrainian Community. The landmark
St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church (30 East 7th Street) dates from 1977, but a much older structure, St. George Ruthenian Catholic Church, once stood on the same spot. On the north side of the street is the excellent Surma Book & Music Store (11 East 7th Street), well worth a visit.

Take the short side street Taras Shevchenko Place next to the church down to 6th Street. You’ll find
St. George Academy (215 East 6th Street) on the corner, and walking east toward Second Avenue you’ll find the new Ukrainian Museum (222 East 6th Street). Check out the latest exhibits, and make sure to visit the gift shop (though the selection at Surma is much wider).

Now walk back out to Second Avenue, cross to the east side of the street and walk north a few doors. You’ll see a building with a Cyrillic inscription that is the Self Reliance Federal Credit Union (108 Second Avenue). Turn onto 7th Street and walk east towards First Avenue.

A newcomer to the Slavic world of the East Village is the Polish-themed bar
Klimat (77 East 7th Street), with a wide selection of beer and wine from Slavic countries, as well as traditional Polish food. Next door is the stalwart Ukrainian bar Blue and Gold (79 East 7th Street). If you’re interested, you can continue along 7th Street and pick up the Slavs of New York Walking Tour of Alphabet City to venture further.

Otherwise, on First Avenue between 6th and 7th Street you’ll see the restaurant
Polonia (110 First Avenue), and between St. Mark’s Place and 9th Street is First Avenue Pierogie & Deli (130 First Avenue).

Around the corner is the
Slovenian parish of St. Cyril (62 St. Mark's Place), a reminder that the East Village historically was much more than Ukrainians, Rusyns and Poles. Earlier times also saw vibrant Bulgarian, Czech, Slovak, and, yes, Slovene communities (among others).

Walk back to Second Avenue and continue south. An interesting sight is
KGB Bar (85 East 4th Street), just around the corner. The building in a previous life was the home to the Ukrainian Communist Party in the United States, but today is home not only to the bar but also the Kraine Theatre.

Further down Second Avenue is the Russian
Anyway Cafe (34 East 2nd Street), and between First and Second Avenues is the Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection (59 East 2nd Street). Formerly a Russian-oriented parish, the church today takes in a wider audience. The building was originally the Mt. Olivet Memorial Church, and became an Orthodox church in 1943.

Continuing along East 2nd Street and crossing First Avenue you’ll find the small shop Arka - Ukrainian Arts (26 First Avenue). The store keeps somewhat irregular hours – right now, they’re open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

At the end of First Avenue is
Little Veselka, which operates out of a kiosk in First Park, between 1st Street and Houston Street. Seating is available in the park.

And finally, if you’re feeling adventurous, walk down Houston and you’ll find the apartment complex
Red Square (250 East Houston Street) between Avenues A and B. On the roof is a statue of Lenin rescued from the last days of the Soviet Union.

For some good background on the Ukrainians of the East Village, check out "
Ukrainian East Village: A Shortened Oral History of an Immigrant Neighborhood” from the New York Press back in 2001. And for something a bit more substantial, taking in Ukrainians, Poles, Russians and Carpatho-Rusyns (Carpatho-Russians), try Yuri Kapralov’s Once There Was a Village, documenting the author’s time in the neighborhood in the late 1970s.