Christopher Street Pier (© Sarah Moore)
New York City does not exist entirely in midtown -- Greenwich Village is full of things worth checking out. Yes, I am admittedly biased to the neighborhood that has been my home for nearly four years, but the Village is pretty great. Not only is it full of great Off and Off-Off Broadway theaters (and plenty of great NYU shows), but there is shopping, food, and coffee. Plus, there are often significantly fewer tourists below 14th Street.
Some of the cool Off-Broadway venues in the NYU area include the Lucille Lortel on Christopher Street (currently home to Carrie), the Cherry Lane on Commerce Street (currently Psycho Therapy), New York Theatre Workshop (where An Iliad is playing) , and 80 St. Marks, in addition to the Daryl Roth Theatre (home of Fuerza Bruta) and the Vineyard Theatre on East 15th Street. For information on some of NYU's student productions you can check out this calendar for Tisch or Steinhardt. There is an often confused distinction between these two programs- Steinhardt Music Theatre students receive bachelors or masters degrees in Music, rather than the BFA/MFA in Drama offered through Tisch. It's fun to be able to say you saw someone in an NYU show who might be on Broadway in the next few years!
The Skirball Center is an Off Broadway performance venue that has been used for productions such as the Public Theater's Othello but NYU students can always get $12 tickets to anything showing there (cheaper if it's a student production). NYU GAP productions, within the undergrad Drama department at Tisch, are entirely student run. These are often going on, which I will be touching on next week in an interview with GAP's Songs For a New World producer Catie Davis.
If you're craving some caffeine (and you're not in the mood for Starbucks), there are lots of great cafes downtown. Some of my favorites include Grey Dog Café (with locations on University Place and Carmine Street), Think Coffee (Mercer Street between 3rd and 4th Streets), as well as a new location inside the NYU bookstore) and The Bean on 12th and Broadway. Many of these also have places to sit and hang out to do some reading or homework.
To go with that coffee, there are plenty of bookstores. The north side of Union Square has one of the few remaining giant Barnes and Noble stores, the famous Strand bookstore is on 12th and Broadway, and Shakespeare & Co is right on the NYU campus on Broadway, doors down from the actual NYU bookstore. (Personally, Shakespeare & Co is my go-to place to get my books for my drama lit classes.) Since its recent renovation, Washington Square Park is an even nicer place to hang out between classes, or when you have free time. Other fun outdoor hangouts include Christopher Street Pier (on the Hudson River) or the High Line Park, especially with its new expansion. The High Line is elevated on top of old train tracks, and stretches from Gansevoort and Washington Street in the West Village to 30th and 10th Avenue. Union Square and Tompkins Square Park are also nice places to sit outside and people watch.
Sweet Revenge on Carmine Street has some of the best cupcakes in the city, and they offer wine pairings to go with your treats. And there are many, many delicious restaurants on Bleecker Street, including the original Magnolia Bakery which is really good and worth a visit if you've never been.
Unfortunately for fans of Rent, the Life Café upon which the café in the show was inspired has closed down its East Village location (at the corner of 10th Street and Avenue B) but one can still wander the neighborhood where Mark and Roger live. (In that neighborhood, 7A is a great spot for brunch, on the corner of 7th Street and Avenue B).
Both sides of Greenwich Village have a wealth of culture that is definitely worth exploring. There is always a ton of theater, or just some great places to hang out. Make 2012 your year to explore downtown!