Sloane Crosley’s Favorite Spots in the West Village

Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

After nearly a decade of living in the West Village, author Sloane Crosley is convinced the neighborhood is stranger than it looks. Yes, there are the endless blocks of welcoming cafes and shops. “But if you talk to an old person,” she says, “they’ll turn out to be, like, a former Egyptologist or a first violinist or, fuck, Neil Young or something.”

Take into account WestSee the newsthe local paper: George Capsis, well over 90, publishes the monthly, which seems to fill a void outside the internet, with cover poetry and personal essays on local issues (a recent title: “Bullied by Smart Meters: technology that we can do without”). “I have a feeling that it will be sort of the key for me to buy an apartment and break the system”, she says, “even if there is absolutely no real estate section.” Crosley’s new book, Cult classic, is itself a Manhattan story that captures some of the city’s provincial energy. It follows Lola, recently and ambivalently engaged to a man nicknamed Boots, who can’t seem to stop running into ex-boyfriends. The possible explanation involves a cult of personality and a psychology today– like a magazine, but it also has to do with the frequency of accidental skirmishes that occur in a big city.

The West Village, she thinks, can look like a small town – “If you stay in one place too long, you run around with the same people” – although it turns into “one giant photo op” every weekend. The neighborhood is undeniably a tourist destination, but it doesn’t exactly have any distinct landmarks, so visitors tend to wander around. “It’s still idyllic,” she says. “You don’t get those kind of blood clots from tourists that slow everything down.” Among influencers and celebrities (Crosley recently helped Frances McDormand and her Vespa through a garden gate), there are plenty of places a freelance writer can stretch his legs, from a grocery store with bean cake reds to a cobbled lane that is worth risking your ankles for.

Charles Street and Waverly Place

Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

There are all these little birdhouses outside of McCarthy Square, which is a triangle with benches. It’s not so much a park as a rat sanctuary. It’s always been a literal manifestation, in my mind, of “watch the birds so you don’t notice the rats!”

There were more nesting boxes there – I don’t know what happened to them; maybe the birdhouse market has collapsed. The manager of Morandi, a popular spot in Keith McNally on Waverly Place, once told me he thought maybe someone who lived in the building above Morandi made them . When the snow falls on them, it falls like on a house, and it’s so childish, adorable and charming.

28 Eighth Avenue, corner of West 12th Street

Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

I’m sure it’s described in every guidebook as a no frills dinner. It has one of those menus that I associate with my suburban childhood, where you’d go to a restaurant and technically there wouldn’t be a spinach omelet, but you see spinach somewhere else and you know you can ask them to put spinach in your omelet. You can sort of go shopping for the ingredients and put them together.

I have a date with a friend there. Well, not standing, squatting – it’s semi-regular. I have a squat date with a friend who keeps his own maple syrup there because French toast is the best thing to have. Sometimes I leave without him, which is a huge betrayal, and ask for his syrup. And the staff says no.

121 Charles Street, Greenwich Street

Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

There’s a house at the end of Charles Street that’s a few hundred years old and looks like Stuart Little’s house, in the sense that the world was built around it. And Margaret Wise Brown lived there. It’s nice but tiny – I don’t think it could be more than 1,500 square feet, if that’s it, but it’s a house. It’s kind of a microcosm of suburban life with a dog door and all. Nothing says that Margaret Wise Brown lived there. You see people stop and gape, but then they move on because that’s kind of the end.

Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

It’s a small cobbled street, essentially with no entrance, that runs along the back of the brownstones. It’s very short. It runs parallel – as long as it runs – to Charles Street. It is very difficult to walk on it; you have to be prepared to risk your ankles. It’s an accessible version of my neighborhood’s most infamous muse: tiny little pockets of home-garden perfection. There is a vine-covered door leading to the alley that has what looks like a dark brass Venetian door knocker in the shape of a small hand. I was telling someone about it and she laughed and said, “Oh, this is my house. If you ever write and need a walk, come knock on my door.

154 West 10th Street, at Waverly Place

Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

Looks like Joseph Mitchell is smiling at him. It’s not the only game in town, but it does what it does very well. It’s well lit, and it makes you not feel stupid. When you talk to the staff, you feel like they play with your reading recommendations, but never in a way that pushes or intimidates you. You’re kind of swept away from being there. This is why I have two copies of Lawyer Dud in my house.

I have known the owner, Toby Cox, for almost 20 years because a friend of mine used to work at the store. I walked in recently and they all started laughing because I guess an hour before one of the booksellers pounced on another dark-haired girl in a mask, thinking it was me. I had to stifle my desire to ask them if she was extremely beautiful.

450 6th Avenue, at West 10th Street

Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

This is a Japanese grocery store that opened during the pandemic. It has every possible noodle and rice grain and batter and sauce and snack, and it also has my favorite red bean cake. In the back, after all the shopping, there’s a cornucopia of puffy stickers, scented erasers and cat-shaped sponges. It has a Wonka-esque density. I feel a sense of reversion when I go to the back of the store. You have to be your own parent, by that I mean before you come in, you have to say to yourself, Alright, I’m allowed to go out with only three things. I recently bought a cat-shaped chip tongs there.

414 Avenue of the Americas, at West 8th Street

From left to right : Photo: DeSean McClinton-HollandPhoto: DeSean McClinton-Holland

From above: Photo: DeSean McClinton-HollandPhoto: DeSean McClinton-Holland

You can get the best hair ties and French hair clips here. It’s a great place for a minor indulgence, like a fancy body scrub or terry cloth headband, and over-the-top housewarming gifts. The only other place in New York where I have the same sense of security, as if I was in good hands, is in the medical offices on the Upper East Side. You know, where you feel like, These are the same products and people that treat the rich and powerful. They kind of cater to the idea that you might need comfort – and there might be someone over 20 shopping there.

56 7th Avenue South Morton Street

Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

Their exterior decor is keys, a kind of trippy art project made of keys. I don’t want to criticize whoever did it, but it kind of feels like a freshman in Ann Arbor in the 90s setup. It’s just swirls of overlapping touches.

The owner’s name is Philip Mortillaro, and he’s owned the place for over 40 years. There is something charming and perplexing about him. He is a purely helpful person but not obsequious. If there wasn’t a “Talk of the Town” about him, I’d be surprised. For a while people stayed at my house or watched the cat or just watched the house when I was away, so I was there quite often to get the keys done. And what is incredible is that he never must look up my name, and he knows where I live and my super name.

325 West 11th Street, at Greenwich Street

Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

My secret favorite in this neighborhood is Orient Express. It is named after the famous passenger train. They make a great cocktail, they make a nice sconce, the chairs don’t wobble, and the bathroom is clean. The cocktails are sophisticated but no frills, and they’ll put candied ginger in anything. And you can have as many as you want. People used to go here more when there were spinoffs from the Spotted Pig or the Rusty Knot, but those no longer exist. Or maybe it’s just a blind date: people go there and they have a bad date and they never come back even though the cocktails and the atmosphere were good. But it’s not old and therefore not cool, and it’s not new and therefore not cool. It kind of works in the space in between. Somehow there is always a seat, but it is never empty – that is such a rare and great quality.

92 Hudson River Greenway at Spring Street

Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

There are only three courts on which you line up to play. And if your partner is a minute late, you can sit on the bench and eat a sandwich by the water. What’s hard is that a minute late represents an hour. So you can meet someone to go to the movies and if they’re a bit late, you give them a hard time. Its good. But if someone is late to meet you to play tennis and someone else takes your court, you’re an hour late, maybe two. It’s a very jovial place, though; there are usually kids practicing and it’s fun to play. It has a nice view of the city.

There’s a couple – this old man and woman I started talking to a long time ago – and they go there almost every day. They use it in the way you tell yourself you’re going to use the city but don’t. It seems quite rare that these people play tennis every day, as if they had a private tennis court. But you too could have this life. It seems somehow inaccessible, but it is the most accessible.

1. McCarthy Square, 2. La Bonbonnière, 3. Margaret Wise Brown’s Writing Cottage, 4. Charles Lane, 5. Three Lives & Company, 6. Yamadaya, 7. CO Bigelow Chemists, 8. Greenwich Locksmiths, 9 Orient Express Cocktail Bar, 10. Hudson River Park Tennis Courts.
Photo-Illustration: Bordered

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