Meet 7th Street
The art of offering personalized services has been perfected on this side street. 7th Street – where legendary guitars are customized, hats are designed to specification (Barbara Feinman Millinery), where one can try on vintage clothing in boutique after boutique or eat and drink to your heart’s content. At the end of our first walk across 7th Street, we all understood that this side street is a prime example of why we are walking, east to west, across Manhattan: to explore the unexpected, the interesting, the curious, the exciting, and the hidden gems.
Every street offers its own adventures and fun-filled stories – some we share, others we keep to ourselves. However, this is one we thought we should include just for our readers. If you are lucky enough to catch the gentleman who often sits outside of the storefront marked “It’s Time on 7th,” he might introduce himself to you as Anthony, and you might get an invitation to peek inside, as we did. With his encouragement, while he remained outside perched on his wooden chair, we ventured in. It is impossible to mention all of the items that fill every nook and cranny of Anthony’s space – there are entire collections of old suitcases, chairs of all shapes and sizes, cameras and photography equipment. Making our way back further we found a full bedroom set, and as we kept going we walked right past a magnificent piano. It was not until we reached the bathroom that we realized It’s Time on 7th is not a store at all. It is dear Anthony’s home of thirty-three years, and everything here is a personal memory. We adored the old black and white photographs of what Anthony refers to as “the good old days,” many of which are photos of himself as a handsome young man.
It is hard to believe this lovely street was once full of tenement houses, cholera, and squatters. This is where Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States, treated her patients who were mostly European immigrants arriving in this part of the city en masse to make 7th Street their home. Hints of their legacies can still be seen here if you simply take a stroll. Our research uncovered that Blackwell’s infirmary was located at No. 207 and No. 206 is where Beat Generation writers Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Gregory Corso shared an apartment for a few years in the 1950’s.
It becomes clear as you make your way across 7th Street that the Ukraine continues to have a presence here. There is a Ukrainian handicrafts shop (Surma) that has been “serving the Slavic community since 1918” with authentic, traditional merchandise straight from the old country. There is also the family-owned Ukrainian dive bar (Blue and Gold) that was established in the 1960’s and is still a grungy neighborhood favorite. On the weekends, several Ukrainian women serve the kind of heart-warming, home cooked food only found at grandma’s house (Streecha Ukrainian Kitchen). The profits from their fine cooking benefit St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church across the street. This is also where to find Taras Shevchenko Place, a side street off of a side street that is named for a Ukrainian poet. Of course, we would be remiss not to mention the annual Ukrainian Festival that takes place on 7th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues every May 17th. With all of the interesting Ukrainian influences here, it is not surprising that this area – bordered by Houston and 14th Street from north to south, and Third Avenue and Avenue A from east to west – is often referred to as Little Ukraine.
Hands down, the most famous institution on this side street is McSorley’s Old Ale House. John McSorley opened this saloon 158 years ago when it was called The Old House at Home where it still lives today. Despite the fact that a woman owned the saloon from 1939-1974, McSorley’s did not allow women customers until 1970. Out of respect for a promise once made to her father, the owner herself would only visit the saloon on Sundays after closing time. The day McSorley’s finally opened their doors to female patrons, 4th Street’s Barbara Shaum was one of the first to be served their famous ale.
In the heart of the East Village is Tompkins Square Park, a little respite in the middle of this ever-changing neighborhood. There is an entrance at 7th Street and Avenue A, although the main address is 500 East 9th Street. Originally marshland owned by Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch Director-General of New Amsterdam (later known as New York), the property opened as a park in 1834 and was named after U.S. Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins. It has been enjoyed ever since by children on the playground, basketball players, handball players, chess players, sunbathers, dog lovers, fans of the myriad of cultural events held here, and most recently by those who are taking advantage of the free WiFi service available.
In addition to having some of the most interesting diversions in the city, this relatively short side street is quite picturesque and has its fair share of places to worship – each of them with a rich, distinct history. 7th street truly gives reason to the work we do.