St. Mark’s Place
Bull McCabe’s v. San Marcos
San Marcos is as close as the East Village gets to the Tex-Mex party bars where the boys of “Real World: Austin” ran wild. For a quieter scene (well, as quiet as St. Marks Place gets), grab one of the tables outside of Bull McCabe’s slightly-below-street level patio.
Who You’ll See: At Bull McCabe’s, you can gawk at the hip Japanese kids waiting for a table at the yakitori shop next-door and punked-out street urchins strumming their guitars on the stairs of the mini-mall nearby. At San Marcos, you’re more likely to watch fannypack-wearing moms trying on funny sunglasses to impress their teenage kids.
Snagging A Seat: There are much fewer seats at Bull McCabe’s than at San Marcos, but hold out for one of their occupants to hit the pool table or the backyard garden that’s decorated with the shell of a Cessna.
Ninth Avenue (Meatpacking District)
Vento v. Pastis
Pastis is the classic choice for outdoor dining in the Meatpacking District, but for better or worse, the row of potted greenery prevents a full view of the action. For people-watching, the best spot is Vento, especially if you can snag one of the handful of seats at the intersection of 14th Street and Ninth Avenue, where you can watch new arrivals spill into the belly of the Meatpacking beast.
Who You’ll See: From Pastis, you can gawk at the people clustered outside of the Gansevoort, waiting in line for bedspace at Ono. Fourteenth Street is a notoriously democratic street, so from Vento you’ll see a little bit of everything, including the trannies and bike cabbies making fun of it all.
Snagging A Seat: Pastis seats around 100 while Vento seats about twice as many. The restaurants don’t take reservations for outdoor seats, but Pastis will try to seat you faster (usually within twenty or thirty minutes) if you have a dinner reservation— without one, it’s almost impossible. At Vento, the Friday night wait can last up to two hours.
West 4th Street
The Slaughtered Lamb Pub v. The Four Faced Liar
The Slaughtered Lamb is the more established and prodigious place for West 4th people-watching, but the tables outside of the younger, rowdier Four Faced Liar are perched on a slab of concrete that rises slightly above street-level. Who doesn’t like looking down on people from on high?
Who You’ll See: Hip hoppers just back from catching some street ball at the West 4th Street courts and college kids wearing Polos with upturned collars and hats with perfectly curved brims. The real freaks gravitate to the Four Face Liar’s side of the street, since it’s located smack dab in between two sex shops that are open late.
Snagging A Seat: Definitely easier at the Slaughtered Lamb—Giving up one of the few seats outside of the Four Faced Liar would be like surrendering a prime parking spot.
Toasties v. Coffee Shop
Leave Coffee Shop to the Euros and fresh-off-the-bus models who still think it’s a hot spot— there’s never a wait for one of the dozen tables outside of the deli next door. They’ve ingeniously installed a mini tap bar and the mugs are ice cold. Thursdays and Fridays, beers are 2-for-1 from 6pm to 8pm.
Who You’ll See: The usual Union Square mix of sweatpants-wearing, iPod-toating students and not-ready-for-Meatpacking-District players. At Toasties, though, be prepared to unglamorously share space with laptop users tapping into the free WiFi access.
Snagging A Seat: The wait for Coffee Shop’s outdoor seat on a Saturday night can be up to half an hour. Although the seats at Toasties are less coveted, there are half as many, so it’s about even during rush hour.
Best of All
The #1 spot for people-watching isn’t on the sidewalk, it’s on the Coney Island boardwalk. Many know Ruby’s Bar & Grill only as the best place to use the bathroom during the Siren Festival or the Mermaid Parade, but the picnic tables out front are worth a trip any day of the summer. From there, you can see a man carrying his pet boa around in a canvas bag, the Puerto Rican Schwinn Club out for a ride, and big guys with lots of chest hair and gold chains wearing their tighty whities as bathing suits— all set against the loveliest backdrop of all, the great Atlantic.