Just as the pandemic hit New York City, Tori Mattei, a publicist who lived in the East Village with a former Fairfield University roommate, got a new, higher-paying job. She decided it was time to upgrade to a place of her own. She finds the move from the East Village, with its college town-like feel, to the more sophisticated vibe of Gramercy Park, is worth the extra rent. Here’s her comparison of the two neighborhoods.
Our walkup in the East Village was above a pet store, and our windows overlooked a backyard that the store used for dogs, which was cute, but annoying. Worse, garbage was stored under the staircase behind a piece of wood on a hinge meant to function as a door—it made a racket whenever it opened or closed. The noise and odors were a constant aggravation.
Our apartment was a two bedroom, one and a half bathroom, up one flight. Even though the kitchen was old and small, we thought it was great because it had a small dishwasher. The luxury! The $3,295 rent was half of what we paid for a small beach house for four on the coast of Connecticut during college. The living space was decent and had an exposed brick fireplace. The previous tenants left two AC units for our use, which was helpful.
[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Transitions” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to move from one New York City neighborhood to another—or outside the city. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]
The fact that the two bedrooms were not the same size was a pain point. My roommate’s room was small—her full-size bed filled the entire of the room and you had to squeeze to walk between the end of the bed and the good-sized closet. My room was much bigger, and I paid more in rent. Still, I felt guilty. I could fit my bed, a small vanity, chair, and a set of drawers in my closet.
But there were some advantages and unexpected perks to this arrangement. My room was near the full bath; hers was near the half bath outside of the kitchen/living room, which was convenient for getting ready when we showered on different schedules. The entire length of the apartment, from my end to the kitchen, was noticeably sloped—when I pulled out our bar cart and it rolled back into place on its own.
A building in sad shape
The worst part about living there was how old and neglected the building was: We lost power, we lost heat, we lost hot water, we had bugs, and we had a mouse problem—twice! It was terrible to live like that, but at least our super was a kind and smart guy. Sadly, he was always overworked and in turn, always kept us waiting.
We were close to the L train which, although annoying because of construction issues, it got us to Union Square and pretty much anywhere we wanted to go. I worked in Soho and took the L across town and then the A, C, or 1 downtown. Overall, the commute wasn’t all that bad. I was only two avenues from the subway and my office was right outside my stop, so I really couldn’t complain. I could do it in 30-35 minutes.
The corner bodega, B Cup Café (such a hidden gem where I loved everything on the menu and they had a printer I could use!), the local liquor store and the laundromat became regular spots for me. I became friends with the employees. Some other neighborhood haunts I enjoyed included: Gnocco, a favorite Italian restaurant, Roost Cafe for the coffee in the front and the whiskey bar in the back, the Brazen Fox, which played Villanova basketball (my twin sister went there), the Wayland for listening to music and all the thrift stores & jewelry stores on Avenue A. Target and Trader Joe’s are also on 14th between First and A, which was super convenient.
There was a vibrant bar scene and venturing down to the LES to meet up with friends was quick and easy. My friends and I love Kind Regards, Hotel Chantelle, No Fun, the DL, One and One, The Grayson and 13th Step for that one last drink. Oh, there’s a jazz bar on Ave B that’s super cute too.
Although the East Village could feel a bit like still being in college, our immediate area had a cozy neighborhood feel because we were on a very quiet street. I liked that homey vibe, especially at that time in my life, being truly on my own for the first time.
Ready to make a move despite the pandemic
As the pandemic hit and my lease was up, I was ready to take the next step: Move out on my own. I had received a significant promotion in February, then I got a new, higher-paying job, so it felt like the timing was right despite the fact that the city was shutting down in many ways.
Even though I would be spending more on rent and utilities, I felt it would be worth it.
A broker showed me a Gramercy studio that was clean, updated, and cute—perfect for one person. I immediately went to the broker’s office (which he snuck me into because of the pandemic) to do the paperwork. I got approved the following morning and felt a huge weight lift off of my shoulders. I even got the rent for $50 a month less than I offered!
At the end of March, there was hardly anyone in the city. The movers and I didn’t wear masks because it wasn’t the norm at that point. I had no help from friends or family due to the situation, and my old roomie wasn’t exactly too eager to volunteer. Even though it was stressful handling it alone, I was really happy to say I tackled moving on my own with just a little help on the heavy lifting. And during a global pandemic!
What I love now
This is also a walkup building that’s 100 years old but much nicer and renovated. It has a virtual doorman and double-door security with special keys, which is definitely a big deal for my parents now that I live alone. The best part is it has a private courtyard where the garbage goes—no more smelling trash or waking up to the sound of dogs barking. My studio is probably about 300 square feet. The kitchen is its own little alcove and the bathroom is in a corner next to it, so it doesn’t feel like I’m staring at my sink all the time. The appliances are new. I have a dishwasher and the natural light during the day is incredible—that might be my favorite thing about the place.
I’m nestled between Stuy Town and Gramercy Park, which is so awesome. I’m not far from my original East Village neighborhood so I don’t have to miss too much. First Avenue is busy and has all of my stores for running errands, and being closer to the park is quiet and idyllic. The townhouses covered in ivy give me such real estate envy. I love walking around the park and looking at all of the carriage houses and feeling like I’m in a totally different city than when I’m hanging out in Midtown. It’s much quieter overall than the East Village and my neighbors are definitely older than me. I’m not sure how many new friends I’ll make once people go back to socializing.
While Trader Joe’s is farther away, laundry is even closer! Thankfully I’m near two other stores, Gracefully and D’Agostino, that I love. They’re a little more expensive, as is laundry, but it’s all fairly comparable.
There isn’t much socializing to do right now, so exploring my new nabe at least occupies my time.
I’m still dependent on the L to get to the other side of the city, but given the pandemic I don’t have to think about commuting much right now. My new job will have me working out of Soho House, so the commute should be about the same, other than my walk to the subway being a little longer. And the walk is a scenic one so it’s not one I’m dreading.
In many ways, I appreciate feeling a little more established and less like I’m on a college campus.
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