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Ice Cream and a Scoop of History

There’s a particular exuberance in the air as spring gives way to summer in the Village. We love June around here for many reasons: seeing all the people and pets out and about, fountains flowing in parks, rainbow flags in windows of small businesses to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and cafes with tables full of happy diners spilling out onto the sidewalks.

Washington Square Park, photo courtesy Washington Square Park Conservancy

One of the best ways to enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather is to simply walk around and take in the sights, and there’s no better way to do that than with a refreshing treat in hand! And the most wonderful part (in my humble opinion as an architectural historian) is that almost all of the shops in our neighborhoods are located in beautiful, historical buildings, so you can have a snack while learning a little something about your surroundings. There are plenty of businesses and buildings to choose from, but for starters, here’s a guide to some of these scrumptious pairings: ice cream, with a scoop of history.

Van Leeuwen at 48 ½ East 7th Street

Recent view of 48 1/2 East 7th Street storefront / 1940s Tax Photograph

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream was born out of a refurbished ice cream truck in SoHo in 2008, and quickly gained popularity with its enticingly rich flavors, such as Earl Grey Tea, and its vegan options. There are several locations of this local chain (which has now expanded nationally) throughout Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo, but the storefront on East 7th Street is a particularly special one to visit. The ice cream parlor occupies the first floor of a five-story tenement building constructed in 1875-76, and its facade features a bracketed cornice with a decorated frieze, pedimented lintels on the second story, simple molded lintels on the upper floors, and bracketed rectangular sills. A cornice that previously capped the first floor has been removed.

Notably, the building is sandwiched between the two lots occupied by Middle Collegiate Church–50 East 7th Street and 112 2nd Avenue. While the building next door on the corner of Second Avenue had a terrible fire that spread to the church next door in 2020, destroying both, miraculously, this building survived relatively unscathed. You can learn more about this intriguing block via our East Village Building Blocks resource.

Morgenstern’s at 88 West Houston Street

Interior of Morgenstern’s at 88 West Houston Street, including previous tenant’s signage (Spurs), via Eater NY

The flagship location of Morgenstern’s, a “new American ice cream parlor, focused on serving texture-driven small-batch ice creams,” is housed in this late 19th-century building at the corner of Houston Street and LaGuardia Place. The Italianate-style tenement building with a commercial ground floor was designated as part of the South Village Historic District in 2013, for which we successfully campaigned to achieve landmark status.

Historic features include the original molded window lintels and bracketed sills, and a bracketed cornice with dentils. This building also affords insight into the history of immigration and changing streetscapes in this area of the Village in the late 1800s, as it was constructed in 1870 to replace a circa 1828 Federal-style row house. Though the current storefront infill is not original, it retains traces of the storefront’s more recent past, with the signage for Silver Spurs, a 24-hour diner and Village institution for 40 years, still present behind transom glazing.

Cones Artisinal Ice Cream at 272 Bleecker Street

Cones and John’s Pizza, both longstanding businesses located at 272-278 Bleecker Street. Photo by Dena Tasse-Winter, June 2023

Heading northwest to the heart of the Village, we arrive at Cones. A Bleecker Street fixture for the past 25 years, Cones was started by two brothers from Buenos Aires in 1998. The shop features some two dozen flavors, including their legendary corn and dulce de leche options.

272-278 Bleecker Street (aka 1-3 Morton Street), a Renaissance Revival-style tenement building dating to 1903 and designed by the prolific architect George F. Pelham, is situated within the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension II, which was also designated as a result of our advocacy efforts. The building has multiple storefronts, and another longtime Village favorite, John’s Pizzeria, is located here as well.

Rocco’s: though the storefront was redesigned in the 2010s, the business dates to 1974. Photo by Dena Tasse-Winter, June 2023

From there you may choose to head across the street to Rocco’s Pasticceria & Caffe, located at 243 Bleecker Street since 1974, for some Italian ice. While you grab a summery dessert at one of these or countless other options in the neighborhood, take a closer look at the details around you–these buildings have stories to tell!

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