More Free Things to do in New York City

A group called Free Tours by Foot offers a wide variety of excursions, only suggesting a small monetary donation for their guides.  I was really tempted by their outings to Harlem and Brooklyn, but, because of time constraints, I was happy to settle for the two-hour visit to Greenwich Village.  I met the group, per website directions, in front of the Waverly Restaurant on 6th Avenue.  One of the first things our guide, Derek, did was to give us his cell phone number saying how easy it is to get lost in the labyrinth of the Village.  He explained that when the grid plan was laid out in 1811 to develop the rest of the island there was already a hodgepodge of intersecting streets in lower Manhattan.  Thankfully, our group seemed to manage its way through the maze without any problems.

This historical district, which now contains some of the most expensive real estate in Manhattan, was once a gritty section of town and a haven for many important American authors and entertainers.  Founding Father Thomas Paine, propagandist and author of Common Sense, spent two years living in the area.  Edgar Allan Poe was treated for a head cold at the former Northern Dispensary, which went from being a hospice for the poor to a dental clinic before closing in the mid-1980s.  A long list of poets, novelists, and playwrights—including Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and John Steinbeck—used to hang out at Chumley’s, a pub turned speak-easy during Prohibition in the 20s and 30s.  Over the decades this part of Manhattan has been home to the famous and the infamous: actors such as Cary Grant and John Wilkes Booth lived here.  Many celebrated musicians and comedians got their start in Greenwich Village as well.  Blue Note Jazz Club on 3rd Street saw the likes of Miles Davis, Arturo Sandoval, and Winton Marsalis.  Just around the corner on MacDougal Street one finds both Comedy Central, where comedians like Dave Chappelle have performed, and Players Theatre (1907), one of New York’s oldest off-Broadway playhouses.

Renowned for its “Be and Let Be” motto, Greenwich Village has been at the forefront of several American social movements.  For many years, emancipated African slaves were granted land in the swampy area around Washington Square.  In the 1960s, The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street was acclaimed for being the spot where the gay liberation movement began; this bar was the scene of spontaneous riots against the persecution of sexual minorities.  The Village was also the scene of anti-Vietnam War protests in the 70s.

Derek also pointed out the buildings that served as the exterior in television shows such as The Cosby Show, Friends, and Sex and the City.

There is so much to see and do in the city.  Can't wait for our next trip there!

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