Parallel Lives
Down and Out in the East Village
Bohemians still lurk in the cafes and shops of St. Marks Place, while East 7th Street claims some of the city's cheapest—and grungiest—bars. For character, color, and the occasional Courtney Love rampage, head to the East Village.

Chez Music: Jules Bistro features live jazz every night.

St. Mark's Bookshop
So what if it isn't technically on St. Marks Place? The East Village's best bookstore still shares the name, even if theirs takes an apostrophe. Rock-and-roll manifestos, postmodern theses, D.I.Y. publishers, and sci-fi scribes share well-edited shelf space; the attractive lit snobs in black frames —recently arrived from Kansas?—serve to remind you you're not in Barnes & Noble anymore.
(31 Third Ave., between St. Marks Pl. and 9th St.; 212-260-7853;

Mondo Kim's
Around the corner at Kim's, the staff is even surlier: They make no excuses for a pompous classification system that organizes rental flicks by auteur. But as far as we're concerned, knowledge of every Dogme realist, gonzo pornographer, and New Wave sycophant to ever wield a camera gives these dudes the inalienable right to ridicule us. They also carry a decent collection of indie records—even if true downtown music geeks call East 4th Street's Other Music home.
(6 St. Marks Pl., between Second and Third Aves.; 212-598-9985;

Cafe Orlin
Now that you've grazed on enough intellectual fodder to fight your way through an army of grad students, it's time to drop some esoteric references at this dark, subterranean cafe. They still run a $5.50 breakfast deal (two eggs, homefries, toast, plus OJ and a capuccino; served until 4pm) that'll cure the meanest hangover, even if the menu no longer features the classic potato-pancake-and-a-bottle-of-beer special. Nothing screamed "I'm a drunken, slumming hipster" quite like it.
(41 St. Marks Pl., near Second Ave.; 212-777-1447)

The Left Bank is a lot like the East Village: Just because the cafes are no longer influential doesn't mean they've been abandoned. At this slightly delapidated bistro, you can bash Bush, drink Beaujolais, listen to live jazz, and pat your head while making a power fist—all at the same time. Different bands perform every night of the week, but Sundays are especially jumping when the Choro Ensemble bang out the vintage Brazilian ragtime that predates bossa nova and samba.
(65 St. Marks Pl., between First and Second Aves.; 212-477-5560;

Mogador Cafe
Or you can head east towards Tomkins Square Park to this funky Moroccan cafe that's popular with the locals for its mean tajines and laid-back atmosphere—you might even spot downtown celeb Chloë Sevigny at one of the corner tables. Here, it's possible to spend hours getting drunk on strong and spicy Chimay ale. That—or the Physical Graffiti building across the street—should send you back to your school daze in no time.
(101 St. Marks Pl., between First and A Aves.; 212-677-2226)

Blue & Gold
We're not quite sure how this decrepit den keeps up its cigarette-burn patina now that downtown's smoke-free dwellers have turned to Nicorette gum and hard drugs, but we sleep well at night knowing Blue & Gold's bar-fly patrons somehow manage. Famous for $3 cocktails and little else, it's a pukey testament to 7th Street's divey squalor—especially now that suburban-style sports pubs have staked out Avenue B and beyond.
(79 E. 7th St., between First and Second Aves.; 212-473-8918)

Bar 81 (a/k/a Verc Bar; a/k/a Verchovyna)
A curious characteristic of East Village dive bars is the widespread use of aliases: Even the ones that have been around for eons seem to have trouble settling on a name. Case in point is this dive bar: Although it's virtually indistinguishable from neighboring Blue & Gold, Bar 81 has dropped off the radar—probably because nobody knows what the hell to call it. And it's also why you're liable to find a Stroke here, no doubt trying to avoid the NYU kids next door.
(81 E. 7th St., between First and Second Aves.; 212-598-4394)

WCOU (a/k/a The Tile Bar)
Mere stumbled steps away from Eastern Europe's finest sits this lovely corner bar, which is totally worth visiting for that drink you definitely don't need. For your drinking pleasure, here are two perfectly fine excuses for dropping in: 1) This quintessential neighborhood tavern always manages to feel as cool and lonely and undiscovered as an Edward Hopper painting, and 2), after all those shoddy cocktails featuring who-knows-what kind of Ukrainian moonshine, you deserve a well-made margarita.
(115 First Ave, at 7th St; 212-254-4317)

International Bar
If you stagger right along—meaning you should veer wildly onto First Avenue—you'll discover the International Bar. Not only does this tiny watering hole harken back to the nabe's anarchist roots, it has a cute little "garden" area in back that not too many people know (or at least always forget) about. This piece of information becomes especially useful if you happen to be a rabid cigarette fiend.
(120 1/2 First Ave., between 7th St. and St. Marks Pl.; 212-777-9244)

7B (a/k/a Horseshoe Bar; a/k/a Vazac's)
And finally, for those of you who've found this whole bar crawl way too low rent, there's good old 7B. You won't find any Hypnotique, or whatever Hollywood happens to be drinking these days, behind the bar. But you can take comfort in the fact that about a gazillion movies have been filmed at this dive landmark, including Crocodile Dundee, The Verdict, Serpico, and The Godfather II. Besides a stiff drink, what more could you ask for?
(108 Ave. B, at 7th St.; 212-473-8840)

Published March 25, 2004