I'm going to make a bit of a bold claim: West Village is at its best around 5pm on a cool, rainy afternoon. No, not at 8am on a sunny spring morning, or at midnight in the middle of a wild winter storm. 5pm, in between bouts of drizzle and downpour, on a September evening, is when the village is at its most lovely.
I think it’s something about the way rain scatters people — everyone is either huddled under an umbrella or holed up inside, so the streets are hushed and open. You’ve given up on your own umbrella, as it’s not really raining hard enough to justify its use (you know that rain that’s more of a mist than anything else? That’s New York rain) and you’ve passed the point of caring. I think it’s something about the click of your heels against the sidewalk as you round the corner of West Fourth and Charles Street, past the staff having a family meal inside Mary’s Fish Camp before dinner service opens. The sound of your heels mixes with the clinking of glasses of champagne at Bar Sardine, celebratory midweek bubbly best enjoyed inside, but with the windows open to let the cool breeze float in. I think it’s definitely something about the air — fresh and clean in a way New York air never is, and yet smoky with a hint of Santal 33 ghosting past you like a stranger you thought you might’ve known.
West Village in the rain at dusk is the red-lipped woman whose eyes are hidden in the shadow cast by her wide-brimmed black and white hat as she crosses the street in front of you, or is it actually just time that is in black and white when the clock strikes a certain hour? You’re jolted back into color when a bright yellow cab appears seemingly out of nowhere to silhouette you in a shock of white light. Did you look both ways before you crossed?
It’s something about sneakily peering into the warmly lit windows of the monstrous homes that line the cobblestone streets, furniture and art and staircases and back gardens and children setting the table for dinner visible only when it’s just dark enough to switch on lamps all over the house. The children are inside because it’s witching hour, where what is real is not, where men in full three-piece suits wander past you with a tip of their hat, where fuzzy jazz music drifts from what you’re sure is the sky and right down into your palm so that you can carry it in your pocket from block to block. It’s that feeling of having your headphones in and not just feeling like you’re in a movie but knowing you’re in a movie. This can’t be real life. Can it?
West Village in the rain at dusk is pure magic.
I’ve thought about this far too often because, far too often, I find myself wandering through the village on days like this, usually on my way to The Elk to meet Krystal or to just sip coffee and read a book on my own. The Elk is the perfect accompaniment to a rainy West Village afternoon — delicious drinks, incredible food, and a warm atmosphere that relieves that nervous, exciting tension that builds up in your chest, walking there through the enchanted village. Before I even moved to New York, The Elk was actually already on the top of my list of places to visit, and over the years it has never let me down. Be sure to order the egg sandwich (hands down the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had) or the market rice bowl with extra avocado. Hold your coffee tight to defrost your hands, crack open a book about the magic of New York, and begin to figure out what is your West Village.