Thrift stores and Asian-inspired eateries make up East Village’s eclectic addresses.
East Village is eclectic, electric; emerge from the Lower East Side and notice an immediate shift in attitude. Vestiges of artistic movements like punk rock and the counterculture continue to linger in this neighborhood overrun by the youth, its energy endless particularly during the night. During the day, however, East Village is a little more modest, ideal for a trip for one; I find myself here often for its varied selection of shops and eateries.
In the past if I were craving something, I’d be quick to invite someone so we’d enjoy a meal together. I’ve considered eating a social activity at large: I gather at the dinner table with my family or roommate most nights as a part of routine, and I catch up with friends over a bowl of noodles. There are the Sunday mornings we spend with dim sum – and the more people, the merrier, so we each can have a little bit of everything – and the birthday evenings at the local Chinese restaurant in which my cousin or aunt passes me a dish by turning the rotating tray so that it can reach me. A communication of love. To some degree eating and socializing are inseparable, but lately I’ve also been deriving pleasure from having meals with myself.
Hi-Collar is a Western-inspired Japanese cafe by day, bar by night located along East 10th, a narrow space that seats no more than around 12. It’s ideal for smaller groups or a single person, given that everyone eats along a single, intimate ornate counter, no separate tables. Though small, Hi-Collar is atmospheric and stylish – dim hanging lamps, bar stools, antique dishware on display – and the ambience and plate presentation are top-notch. I went during the afternoon, the menu of the time featuring sandwiches, coffee, desserts, and the like, but what they are especially known for is their omurice, or omelette with rice. I ordered one with rich, savory demi-glace sauce, glazed over a fluffy egg with ketchup rice underneath. From where I was sitting, sandwiched between two groups, behind the counter, I watched the bartender deftly prepare the darkest coffee, idly listened to the conversations of people around me as I placed a spoonful of omelette in my mouth. I quietly left with a fuller stomach.
There’s quite a number of thrift shops in East Village, from chains like Buffalo Exchange to the more finely curated Tokyo Joe to the niche Search & Destroy; an entire day (and perhaps more) can be spent sifting through them all. I tend to frequent No Relation Vintage (a Manhattan subsidiary of L Train Vintage), which consists of two spacious floors – larger than the typical Village thrift shop. Of course, it’s not just the size I like; while a tad more expensive than say Goodwill or Salvation Army (though not exorbitant), the selection is more curated and organized (denim in one section, cargo pants in another, even one for patterned shirts). No Relation’s got jackets and shirts hanging overhead, spunky colors on every rack, and as with any thrift shop, involves a fun little hunt to bring something good home. The summer is cruel in its heat and therefore limited fashion, but I managed to snag two faded graphic tees for five bucks apiece.
After a bit of walking back and forth between thrift shops, my fatigued legs led me to Mi Tea, a chain bubble tea shop with a spot inconspicuously located in St. Marks. It’s easy to miss if you’re not actively looking for it – it’s located on the lower level and hidden behind scaffolding – but perhaps this is the reason for it being frequently rather empty. This isn’t a bad thing though, as shops in St. Marks tend to get quickly congested, and when looking for a place to sit in the area with good drinks, Mi Tea fits the bill. It makes a great study spot – it’s brightly-lit and clean, I can spend hours in there on my laptop or Kindle, and there’s free Wi-Fi – and I’ve been coming back (once subconsciously but now consciously) with my Mi Tea stamp card; I’ve got five so far, five more before a free drink.
Cheese foam – a popular bubble tea topping as of late – is their main specialty, and despite being a person who typically doesn’t like cheese, I am, somehow, a big fan of it in foam form. Initially I was perplexed at the idea (like, what would it taste like?) but it’s sort of like whipped cream, though lighter and with a bit of a salty taste, which permeates the tea. I generally order a milk tea whenever I go to bubble tea shops, but I think I am starting to convert to the cheese foam alternative – it isn’t as heavy, and the slight savory flavor goes well with the sweet. This time I opted for oolong tea, half sugar, cheese foam with chewy little pearls, and drinking it until the end, I caught the last of the savory-sweet with a satisfactory slurp.