St. Marks Place is the East Village’s foremost destination, defining the neighborhood and a must-see for visitors to New York. The three-block street runs from Cooper Square (also called Astor Place), home of the art and engineering college Cooper Union, to Tompkins Square, a lush Victorian-era park that forms the neighborhood’s gritty heart. Along the way, find colorful secondhand stores, dive bars, open-air bazaars, tattoo parlors, stately buildings laden with history, and dozens of restaurants, only some of which are worth visiting — and we’ll tell you which.
The name St. Marks Place was conferred on this stretch of what would otherwise be East Eighth Street by real estate developers to give it cachet for the wealthy around 1830, and the neighborhood was renamed the East Village in the late 1950s to make it seem like a part of the more desirable Greenwich Village to the west (it was originally considered part of the Lower East Side). At that point, the beatniks, hippies, and then punks flooded in as the decades rolled by, each group — along with an enduring immigrant population, including German Jews and gentiles, Ukrainians and Poles, Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Japanese — have given the place the character it has today.
But our tour of the street begins right at Cooper Square, where a cryptic black cube by sculptor Bernard Rosenthal appeared in 1967. Generations of Cooper Union students have grabbed and rotated the eight-foot sculpture, but now it has been braced so movement is impossible. The art and engineering college’s reddish brown original building on the southeast side of the square is famously the site of an 1860 address by Abraham Lincoln, and nowadays students can be found smoking weed in the back courtyard — join them if you feel the urge. The entrance to the 6 train on the north side of the square in the Beaux-Arts style dates to 1904, inspired by Budapest subway kiosks.
From Cooper Square to Second Avenue
The corner of St. Marks and Third Avenue is the de facto gateway to the East Village, and this stretch of the street is thronged with a pageant of pedestrians at any hour of the day and is one of the best places for people-watching in the city. Its many sidewalk cafes are the perfect place to perch, or browse one of its open-air bazaars selling impossibly garish wigs and hats – who buys these things, anyway? On the north side of the block look for several walk-down Japanese stores selling cosmetics, imported candy, anime figures, and housewares. In addition to the restaurants mentioned below, you might select Birria LES (halal birria tacos), Oh K-Dog (Korean corn dogs), and CheLi (Shanghainese Chinese).
St. Marks Hotel (2 St. Marks) – This ancient structure dates from the mid-19th century and has probably always been a hotel. By the late 20th century it was a little better than a flophouse called the Valencia Hotel, but has since changed its name to the current one and become a semi-respectable place to stay. In the early 1960s the ground floor housed a jazz club called the 5 Spot, made famous by Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus. For punk rockers, it’s where GG Allin was staying when he OD’d on the way home from a bar.
Hamilton-Holly House (4 St. Marks) – This was one of the original Federal period townhouses dating from the 1830s built on former farmland that distinguished the early St. Marks Place as a wealthy neighborhood. Read the plaque for historic details.
Gem Bing Shop (9 St. Marks) – This walk-up stall sells Beijing-style bings – a series of ingredients rolled up in a flatbread with an egg and crunchy wafer, with the main ingredient running to things like duck, pork floss, and spam. Stand on the cast-iron steps to eat.
German American Shooting Society (12 St. Marks) – This building dates to 1885, when the neighborhood was largely German. Note the inscription between the second and third floors. No actual shooting was done here, it was more of a rollicking clubhouse bar.
Mine Craft Sushi (15 St. Marks) – In front of a sushi bar is a small shop that specializes in cheap bento boxes, and for as little as $8 you can get fried chicken, rice, pickles, and glazed burdock, though I like to pay two dollars more and get the Japanese beef-pork hamburger smothered in gravy.
The Electric Circus (19-25 St. Marks) – This building housed the Electric Circus, one of the most famous rock clubs during the street’s hippie era. Before that, it was Arlington Hall, a banquet and restaurant space where Theodore Roosevelt spoke in 1895, and much later served as a staging area for Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable.
Search & Destroy (25 St. Marks) – Look up above and see skulls piled in the window of Search & Destroy, a punk boutique that’s a fun place to walk through. Downstairs is the famously kooky Japanese izakaya Kenka, where one of the more challenging snacks is bull penis.
Mamoun’s Falafel (30 St. Marks) – Founded in the ‘70s, Mamoun’s in Greenwich Village popularized the falafel sandwich for cash-strapped students — and this newer branch is no less cheap and much more comfortable.
Suki (32 St. Marks) – If you’re a fan of Japanese curry, this is your spot. Multiple options can get dumped in the sweet and spicy curry sauce (pick pork cutlets); also available are curry udon and not-bad sushi.
From Second Avenue to First Avenue
This is the slackest block of St. Marks, and pedestrians use it to hurry from the first to the third blocks, which feel like they’re more scene-y. Nevertheless, it is not without its historic charms and eating opportunities. Places not mentioned below but worth eating at include Palapa (sit-down Mexican) and Jiang’s Kitchen (Uyghur Chinese).
Porto Rico Coffee Importing (40 St. Marks) – Founded in 1907 and named for the Anglicized spelling of Puerto Rico, this roaster with an amazing range of single source and blended beans also sells coffee beverages and is a much better place to patronize than Starbucks.
Osakana (42½ St. Marks) – This carryout-only closet sells premium sushi assortments at bargain prices, but you’ll have to stand out on the sidewalk to eat them.
Club 57 (57 St. Marks) – Club 57 was an underground rock club that wailed from 1978 to 1983 with punk, skronk, and noise bands in a Ukrainian church (both the club and the church are now gone), but even more famous than the club was the roster of organizers, performers, and patrons, including Keith Haring, Ann Magnuson, Kenny Scharf, John Sex, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and yours truly.
Holiday Cocktail Lounge (75 St. Marks) – Though the building dates to 1835 during the street’s wealthy heyday, it has only been a bar for a century or so. Its regulars have included revolutionary Leon Trotsky, poet W.H. Auden, actress Shelley Winters, and singer Frank Sinatra. You can drop in for a drink any time after 4 p.m.
Theatre 80 St Marks (80 St. Marks) – It has alternately been a jazz club where John Coltrane gigged, an off-Broadway theater, art-house cinema, and a comedy club — Billy Crystal was once an usher. Now a gangster museum.
Little Kirin (81 St. Marks) – This wonderful small shop serves up a Japanese Vietnamese hybrid, including a pho sandwich, rice bowls, and breakfast sandwiches more elaborate than the usual BEC. Try the hangover cure, which manages to stuff eggs, bacon, hash browns, cheese, and Spam in one round squishy bun.
Electric Burrito (81 St. Marks) – This San Diego-style burrito joint caused a sensation when it opened in 2021, peddling breakfast and lunchtime flour-tortilla wraps that have eggs and sometimes even French fries in them. Tacos are available, too.
From First Avenue to Avenue A
Funny how each block of St. Marks is so different. The first was a tourist bazaar and fast food mecca, the second a stretch of lodgings and businesses, while the third block specializes in sit-down restaurants and bars favored by locals and destination diners. Stroll with us now down the final block of St. Marks, blocked off on the weekends into a pedestrian mall.
Fun City (94 St. Marks) – This tattoo parlor, founded in 1976, claims to be the oldest in the city, and who am I to question that? Drop by for a tattoo, maybe of the Eater logo?
“Waiting On A Friend” (96-98 St. Marks) – Much of the video for this Rolling Stones song was shot on the steps of this apartment building, and the footage provides a great idea of what the block was like in 1981. As an added bonus, it was also featured on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti.”
Café Mogador (101 St. Marks) – If you’re in the mood for some Moroccan Jewish food (not easy to come by in NYC), this place offers great vegetarian appetizers, meaty kebabs, and tajines of chicken or lamb with plenty of sidewalk seating.
Crif Dogs (113 St. Marks) – Crif Dogs is one of the city’s foremost frank purveyors, specializing in New Jersey-style deep-fried weenies, and it was an early proponent of the tater tots revival. The downstairs premises features tables with nostalgic video games embedded, and there’s a related “secret” cocktail lounge called PDT next door.
Hanoi House (119 St. Marks) – One of the first Vietnamese restaurants in town to feature Hanoi-style pho (very restorative on a chilly day), and now occupying three contiguous storefronts, HH offers other northern Vietnamese fare as well, and some invented dishes, like braised oxtail banh mi and spicy garlic cauliflower.
Empellon Al Pastor (132 St. Marks) – The elaborately decorated dive bar with views of Tompkins Square serves cocktails, beer, and tacos with very good tortillas, including the namesake pork on a spit and the less conventional cheeseburger taco.
Bordered by Avenue A on the west and Avenue B on the east, and running from Seventh to 10th streets, Tompkins Square debuted in 1850. Designed in the form of a circular Victorian promenade, it was once near the East River and its marshes, but landfill has made the river much more remote. Heavy metal musicians often perform on the southern end of the park; there are three children’s playgrounds; and on the west side near St. Marks is a temperance arch installed in 1888 to commemorate the anti-drinking movement of the era, which eventually resulted in Prohibition in the next century.
There are other monuments, too, including a memorial to the 1904 sinking of the General Slocum, an East River excursion boat, which decimated the German population of the East Village and changed the neighborhood forever. In the center of the park is a grassy knoll where people relax and picnic on sunny days. Not a bad place to hang after your tour of St. Marks Place.