A Punk Tour of the East Village

Leafy and desirable it may be, but the East Village is also steeped in a gritty punk past—from its appearance on iconic album covers to the lost music venues where punk pioneers cut their teeth. Here, we visit some historic spots close to EVGB‘s East Village rentals—and see how punk lives on in 2023.

East Village Settings for Album Covers

Back in the mid-1970s, the East Village was the thumping heart of the US punk scene, with everyone from Television to Suicide hanging out along St. Mark’s Place and its surroundings. Naturally, then, the neighborhood wound up featuring on albums; flip to the back of the New York Dolls’ eponymous debut release, and you’ll see them posing by Gem Spa—a punk hangout that was still open as late as 2020. Fans of the Ramones will be familiar with the band’s third album, Rocket to Russia, and its cover depicting the leather-clad foursome nonchalantly leaning in an alley. That alley was Extra Place in the East Village, and it wasn’t a random spot for a photo op—this was where the back door of the legendary CBGB club opened out.

East Village Punk Venues

CBGB—which hosted anybody who was anybody in the world of punk and insisted no cover bands—was one of a slew of infamous East Village punk venues where you could catch musical legends back in the day. Seek out the mural of Joe Strummer on the edge of Tompkins Square Park, and you’ve found Niagara. Back in punk’s heyday, this was A7, a sweaty dive bar where bands like Cardiac Arrest, Agnostic Front, and Lost Generation played and where a warning was spray-painted outside: “Out of town bands remember where you are!” Also, seek out the site of Mercer Arts Center, which was frequented by the likes of David Johansen, Johnny Thunders, and Sylvain Sylvain until it unexpectedly collapsed in 1973.

Punk Lives On in the East Village

You may not be able to catch impromptu sets from Blondie or Johnny Thunders anymore, but punk lives on in many forms in the East Village. At legendary boutique Trash and Vaudeville, you can look the part by splashing cash on biker jackets, tartan pants, and pleated skirts. Then go put some Patti Smith on the jukebox at punky dive bar The Library, which also features graffiti-slathered walls. You can also sign up for guided tours—including the Birth of Punk Tour, which hones in on the punkiest aspects of the neighborhood, from the place where Bowie first fell in love with Television and the Velvet Underground to punk’s roots in NYC’s LGBTQ+ community.

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