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City Living: South Tompkins Square Park

Mural of Joe Strummer on wall of Niagara

Mural of Joe Strummer on wall of Niagara Bar at the corner of Ave. A and 7th street. (Linda Rosier) Credit: Mural of Joe Strummer on wall of Niagara Bar at the corner of Ave. A and 7th street. (Linda Rosier)

Nestled within the heart of the East Village, this quaint micro-neighborhood beats at a slightly slower pace beneath the hustle, bustle and foot shuffling of partygoers and tourists.

Defined by its trees, low-rise buildings and a park that serves as a backyard for local families, it offers a welcomed respite for those in search of a more toned-down version of the city — but one that’s not too far from the liveliness, should they ever yearn to return.

We call it South Tompkins Square Park, and it is known for its shady side streets and trendy but laid-back main avenues.

Saturated with everything from restaurants, bars and boutiques to community gardens, art galleries and classic New York delis, the area is a vibrant hub of activity infused with palpable East Village-Alphabet City edginess and charm.

Historic tenement houses and classic three- to five-floor walk-ups line its side streets, with some facades splashed in red, gray and black. And though trees populate many blocks, greenery is all the more present at the 10.5-acre Tompkins Square Park, from which the area takes its name.

The park was once home to squatters ranging from students to the homeless, and served as the site of the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riots. But the green space takes on a different air today.

Basketball and handball courts provide an outlet for neighborhood kids to play, the dog run is an asset to dog owners and, on a typical day, New York University co-eds can be seen sitting on the benches, eyes glued to laptops, while residents catch up a few feet away or visitors stroll through.

“Thirty years ago you’d be afraid to walk through the park,” said longtime resident John Moloney. He has lived on East Ninth Street with his wife since 1967 and raised six kids there.

“Now no one’s afraid to walk home at night; that’s what’s great,” he said.

Tompkins Square Park stretches from East Seventh Street up to East 10th Street and sits between Avenues A and B.

Along the busy retail arteries of First Avenue and Avenues A, B and C, a few longtime establishments comingle with chic restaurants and a variety of bars in a mix of old grit and new glamour.

The seemingly perpetual influx of establishments, the newly renovated condo and apartment buildings, the natural greenery and the liveliness of the area all add to its allure.

“Students, recent graduates, out-of-towners, couples and young professionals are all moving in,” said Andrew Detore, a Citi Habitats real estate agent, noting that the park plays a role in nabbing potential renters, with Avenue A and St. Marks being two very desirable spots.

A typical two-bedroom apartment rents for an average of $2,700. A condo or building sale rakes in $700,000 to $2 million.

Amid the rapid rise of swanky spots, the bohemian feel of the East Village is ever-present.

Art galleries, vintage stores, community gardens and quirky specialty shops dot the main and side streets, each one adding its own charm and character to the area.

“Forget the restaurants and bars. Those are great, but it’s the vibe as a whole that brings people in,” Detore said. “It’s really unique.”

Find it: The South Tompkins Square Park area starts at E. 9th St. and ends at E. 3rd St. The avenues go from Second to C.

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THE BASICS

TRANSIT
L train to First Avenue
F train to Second Avenue
F, J, M trains to Delancey Street
M8, M21 buses

LIBRARY
Tompkins Square Library branch of the New York Public Library is the closest, at 331 E. 10th St.

SCHOOLS
P.S. 64, 600 E. Sixth St.
Tompkins Square Middle School, also at 600 E. Sixth St.
East Side Community High School, 420 E. 12th St.

CRIME
The Tompkins Square Park area is covered by the Ninth Precinct, aka “the fighting Ninth,” located at 321 E. Fifth St.

According to the NYPD CompStat report, the precinct has seen major drops in its murder, robbery and rape numbers in the past 20 years.

There were 23 murders in the area in 1990 compared with one in 2012; there were 41 rapes in 1990 compared with 15 in 2012, and robberies dropped from 1,135 in 1990 to 177 in 2012.

POST OFFICE
USPS Tompkins Square Post Office, 244 E. Third St.

TO EAT
A plethora of restaurants abound in the area. One can be sure to find an establishment to suit any particular taste.

Odessa, 119 Ave. A.
An ’80s-era establishment still going strong, Odessa wins the heart of old and young residents alike for the comfort food and 24-hour service on weekends. Dishes range from Eastern European to Greek to American. The vast menu features stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, beef goulash and various sandwiches, pasta and seafood dishes. 212-253-1470

Desnuda, 122 E. Seventh St.
This wine bar and cevicheria spot offers a trip to South America by way of the palette. A strip of seating at the bar makes for an intimate setting as patrons dine on ceviches featuring king crab, Scottish salmon and oysters, and wine from regions such as Patagonia, Argentina and the Leyda Valley in Chile. The swaying silk fans above and ambient lighting add to the already cozy feel. 212-254-3515

Zum Schneider, 107 Ave. C.
The indoor beer garden serves up an array of German beers on tap or by the bottle. The menu features dishes such as Spinatcremesuppe (creamy spinach soup), Züricher Geschnetzeltes (a sliced veal cutlet in a creamy mushroom sauce), pommes frites (French fries) and a dessert, Kaiserschmarrn (chopped, fluffy German pancakes with raisins served with applesauce). Check out the polka brunch on Sundays from 2-5 p.m. in April and the May Day party on May 1. Both events will feature live accordion music. 212-598-1098

TO PARTY
Dotted with a seemingly endless supply of bars and lounges, you won’t have to travel far and wide in search of a fun night out in South Tompkins Square Park and the surrounding area.

Vazac’s Horseshoe Bar, 108 Ave. B.
Named after an old catering hall, Vazac’s, Vazac’s Horseshoe Bar, also known as 7B for its location on Seventh Street and Avenue B, is that classic neighborhood spot where the old and new (but mostly new) patrons collide. A few things stand out here: the U-shaped bar (another feature that gives it its name), the old-time photo booth, the arcade games and the jukebox — all of which just might give you a back-in-time feel, if only for a few minutes. 212-677-6742

No Malice Palace, 197 E. Third St.
Don’t expect a grand facade and entryway at the No Malice Palace, but it’s the nondescript appearance that adds to its charm. It’s equipped with a bar, lounge and dance floor where partygoers groove to hip-hop, R&B and other popular tracks. It also houses a backyard garden offering a more laid-back atmosphere. Stop by for the nightly drink specials, the Loose Tuesdays open mic comedy show or the Friday and Saturday night dance parties. 212-254-9184

The Pyramid Club, 101 Ave. A.
Another leftover establishment from the ’80s that’s still thriving, The Pyramid Club doesn’t shy away from that feat. In fact, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, you’ll be hit with the mellifluous sounds of ’80s tracks perfect for dancing to on the small dance floor until the break of dawn. 212-228-4888

TO SHOP
Many of the boutiques in the South Tompkins Square Park area reflect the neighborhood’s charm and its mix of characters.

Tokio 7, 83 E. Seventh St.
Chances are high that Tokio 7 has what it takes to feed the fun fashion side, the vintage side or both — and that goes for men and women. With items running the gamut from high-end to locally designed, one is bound to find dresses, pants, shades and shoes on an affordable price spectrum. 212-353-8443

Love Shine, 543 E. Sixth St.
In the market for a courier bag, a backpack or a bag to hold that yoga mat? Love Shine can provide that. Whether your style calls for skulls or bright floral prints, many of the designs are inspired by designer Mark Seamon’s trips abroad. The store is also known to host free public events such as sidewalk fashion shows. 212-387-0935

Odin New York, 328 E. 11th St.
Venture a tiny bit out of bounds and you’ll stumble upon Odin. The high-end menswear boutique carries designers like Thom Browne, Junya Watanabe and Bespoke. The selection of bags, grooming products, trousers, shirts and footwear carry some hefty prices. But it might be worth it for the look. 212-475-0666

TO DO
You’ll never run out of things to do in and around this East Village hub. From art galleries to walking tours and everything in between, here are some of our fave in-between’s.

Tompkins Square Greenmarket, Ave. A and E. Seventh St.
This year-round greenmarket sets up shop at Tompkins Square Park every Sunday, bringing local food to the nabe. Products such as glass-bottled milk, farmstead cheese, orchard fruit and honey can be bought here. 212-788-7476

Nuyorican Poets Café, 236 E. Third St.
This acclaimed, longtime community spot is prime if you want to spend a Wednesday or Friday night immersed in some spoken-word while imbibing an alcoholic beverage or two. The café also hosts a Latin night on Thursday nights and an open mic on Monday nights. The café normally opens for shows at 6 p.m. 212-780-9386

The Community Gardens
The area is known for its vacant lots that have been transformed into mini natural escapes from the urban jungle. Some of the community gardens include the 11th Street Community Garden, located at 626 E. 11th St., between Avenues B and C; the All Peoples Garden, located at 293 E. Third St., between Avenues C and D; and The Creative Little Garden, located at 530 E. Sixth St., between Avenues A and B. Depending on the day, the gardens might not be open, but The Creative Little Garden is open from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, weather permitting.

THE BUZZ
According to The Wall Street Journal, developer Gregg Singer’s longtime initiative to turn the landmarked former P.S. 64 and CHARAS/El Bohio community center building into a space for university dormitories has finally succeeded.

An investment group signed on to convert the space into a 500-bed dormitory called University House. The group plans to spend $40 million to convert the building.

Singer bought the property, located at 605 E. Ninth St. just off of Tompkins Square Park, in 1998 and was trying to convert it into a dormitory since.

Over the years he faced opposition from residents who want to see it used as a space for local community groups or low-rental apartments.

The rooms will be made available to students from various New York colleges. Singer says the rent will be about $1,550 per month, per bed.

University House is expected to open in fall 2014.

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Q&A with Steve Rose: Thoughts from a long-time resident

Steve Rose first moved into the Tompkins Square Park area in 1976 and has lived on East Sixth Street ever since.

He has served as president of the Creative Little Garden since 2008.

What was this neighborhood like when you first moved here? When I moved in there were about a dozen boarded-up buildings. Nobody wanted to live here. But it was a neighborhood where everyone knew each other. We were like family.

What are your thoughts on the changing neighborhood? The neighborhood is better maintained and cleaner now. But I feel some of the new residents don’t care about their neighbors; there’s less involvement. We have many people sign up to be volunteers at the garden, but only five or six remain involved throughout the year. We’re always seeking new volunteers who will put in more than a few days or weeks.

What do you see for this area in the future? I think the prices will keep increasing. The Laundromat I go to is still there, thankfully, so hopefully some of these old businesses will still be around.

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