You may think of St. Mark's Place in New York City as seedy and for college students exclusively. But, after emerging from the #6 subway station at Astor Place, turn your back on the looming Starbucks and K-Mart, stroll east past the tilted black cube sculpture, and walk two more blocks until 3rd Avenue. You'll run right into the area that is brimming with niche stores and amazing eateries. If you’re traveling with kids and would rather tackle this funky strip with some guidance, the recommendations that follow should come in handy.
Bohemian but not too edgy, St. Mark’s Place has a smattering of tattoo and body piercing parlours and off-color boutiques, but any anti-establishment vibe you get from these places fizzles as you notice that Chipotle, Pinkberry, 7-11, and the like have elbowed their way onto the street in recent years. Fortunately you can still get a dose of counterculture that's also kid-appropriate at St. Mark’s Comics (11 St. Mark’s Place), which is packed with sci-fi models, figurines, and comic books of every era and genre. Each of my kids emerged with a favorite comic and I was tempted by a set of Star Fleet Command cuff links, but that's no doubt too much information.
Continuing on to 99 St. Mark’s, all my kids were drawn to East Village Books, where the musty smell of used books had an almost intoxicating effect on them. The store has multiple editions of many classic paperbacks, which prompted a nice opportunity for me and my usually-reticent teen to chat about the dystopian novels she and her friends are reading.
Just as retro and charming is 8 Bit and Up (35 St. Mark’s Place), which I would have missed had my son not darted up the steps. With all due respect to GameStop, 8 Bit is how a video game store should look – orderly but slightly disorderly at the same time, with walls of current games alongside boxes of cartridges for gaming systems gone but hardly forgotten. A highpoint was watching my 10-year-old suspiciously eyeball a once state-of-the-art PC, the Commodore 64. We snagged three Wii games for $25, a bargain.
While we had already begun scouting restaurants, we couldn't resist ducking into Macaron Parlour (111 St. Mark’s Place) for pre-dinner treats including the store’s popular and tasty candied bacon macaron. Almonds are a key macaron ingredient, so if you have a tree-nut allergic kid in your family as I do, the store carries nut-free blondies among its other confections.
Restaurants ranging from small ethnic joints to chains are plentiful in this neighborhood, but the low ceilings, wall-to-wall wood paneling and old world feel of Ukrainian East Village Restaurant (140 2nd Ave, bet. 9th and St. Mark’s) were impossible to resist. The surprisingly delicate lamb chops ($15.95) were a favorite among the kids, and the least colorful plate of food I've ever ordered – boiled beef with horseradish sauce ($14.95) – was as tender as slow-cooked brisket. The crowd was an even mix of twentysomethings and over-60s couples with a few families thrown in, so my brood blended in nicely.
Afterwards we doubled back to Spot Dessert Bar (13 St. Mark’s Place), where we were the only family among a gaggle of twentysomethings and younger. The young patrons and staff are super-friendly, plus everyone is pretty much focused on dessert ($8.75, with combination plates available). Understandably, the top seller is the luscious Chocolate Green Tea Lava Cake, but our personal favorite was the French-toast style Golden Toast, whose not-so-secret ingredient is a lot of butter. When I asked my teen what she thought the secret ingredient was, she said "love" in a uncharacteristically dreamy way, and I think she meant it.
What are your favorite family-friendly spots on St. Mark's?