Bordering the nearby neighborhoods of the Lower East Side and SoHo, the East Village and Greenwich Village are two Manhattan neighborhoods deeply influenced by the birth of early punk music, inviting travelers to visit iconic coffee shops, discover former artist studios, and search for the spirit of punk intertwined with the neighborhoods present-day surroundings.
For music history enthusiasts, here’s our curated itinerary of both iconic and under-the-radar neighborhood locations to guide your punk journey through Lower Manhattan.
Bonus: If you’re in the mood for an audio tour around the neighborhood, check out our East Village audio tour, which features the suggested locations below and additional neighborhood spots. You can experience the on-demand walking tour at your own pace, whenever fits your travel plans best.
Places to Eat and Drink
Caffe Reggio (119 MacDougal St) is a Greenwich Village staple. Founded in 1927, the easily recognizable green awning welcomes locals and tourists to enjoy a cappuccino. Fun fact, the founder, Domenico Parisi, was the one who introduced the cappuccino to New York. If you’re visiting in the morning, head inside and grab a cup of coffee and some breakfast.
Just a few shopfronts away from Caffe Reggio on the right is an old haunt of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan’s -- Cafe Wha? located at 115 MacDougal St. A great place to watch a performance while enjoying a cocktail and a bite to eat, the atmosphere at Cafe Wha? can be summed up in this one line from their website, “Every night at the Café Wha? is a party.”
Just past Cafe Wha to the right is the Minetta Tavern (113 MacDougal St), which opened during Prohibition as The Black Rabbit. When it became a tavern in 1937, Ezra Pound and Franz Kline were among Minetta’s earliest customers. A different atmosphere from Cafe Wha?, stop by Minetta Tavern if you’re in the mood for a Minetta burger or a soufflé.
A few blocks away in the East Village, you’ll find B&H Dairy (127 2nd Ave), a kosher diner that opened in the 1940s. B&H is a relic of the Yiddish Theater District on the Lower East Side. Peer inside, and check out the original lunch counter, dairy-hued hanging lights, and stacks of challah bread that come with every order.
Entertainment and Shopping with a Historic Twist
You can’t just stroll into the Electric Lady Studios, but it’s worth knowing what’s produced behind these unassuming mirrored windows. Electric Lady Studios was opened by Jimi Hendrix in 1970 and has welcomed many artists over the years -- Patti Smith, Lorde, Led Zeppelin, Daft Punk, and Adele, among many other famous names.
At 315 Bowery, you’ll find the former CBGBs. CBGBs became known as the birthplace of punk, partly because the era’s most iconic bands -- Blondie, the Ramones, the Talking Heads, Television -- got their start here. Even though CBGB’s eventually closed in 2006, John Varvatos, a fashion designer with a punk aesthetic, took over the space and protected many of the sticker and graffiti-covered walls.
La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club (66 E 4th St) is a beloved Off-Off-Broadway venue. Founded by Ellen Stewart, the theatre can be spotted by its red banners in front of the theatre. At La MaMa, there was essentially no limit to how experimental theater could be. Paul Foster’s play, Balls, contained no actors; instead, two ping pong balls flung back and forth across the stage. See what’s now playing if you’re interested in watching a show.
When Trash and Vaudeville opened in 1976, it gained a reputation for clothing icons like the Ramones and Debbie Harry. If you feel like you need to add a little more punk to your wardrobe, stop by and search through their selection of boots, hand studded vests, and ripped sweaters for the perfect East Village souvenir.
Washington Square Park is a treasured Greenwich Village space by locals and tourists alike. There’s also a lot of history that’s occurred here, especially related to the birth of punk, which is why we’ve included it in this itinerary.
Welcomed by the iconic Washington Square Arch, you can spend some time in this space listening to local musicians perform or enjoy a nice picnic outdoors. In fact, Patti Smith spent some time taking in the park’s surroundings just like you are. On a summer day in 1967, Patti Smith at the age of 20 bought a one-way ticket to New York and arrived at a park bench in Washington Square Park with a tiny suitcase of possessions. She didn’t know it at the time but eight years later, she would record her first album just four blocks away from this very park.
Another park in the area is Tompkins Square Park in the East Village. Find a park bench to sit and relax for a bit, experience the energy of the neighborhood, and you might even stumble upon an impromptu concert.
As always, in addition to the above suggestions, wander around and see what catches your attention. You never know which hidden mural, secret alley, or historic former artist studio you might come across.
If you feel inspired to add some punk to your playlist, we've got you covered. You can check out our curated Spotify playlist, featuring songs by artists mentioned on the audio tour.
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