Washington Square Park is one of those NY places that I have a long history with, going all the way back to high school when my friends and I would venture into the Village on the weekend from Queens. I graduated in this park too, 13 years ago from grad school at the NYU-wide graduation ceremony. Having had a formal graduation earlier at Carnegie Hall for the Tisch School where most of my classmates and I had family and guests attend, this ceremony was just for pure fun. My friends and I ran around the streets surrounding the park in purple gowns that day, one in a sea of many purple gowns.
But I mostly associate Washington Square Park with summer during my art school days 10 years before that when I was living on St. Mark’s Place. I have one vivid memory in particular of a hot summer evening at a friend’s apartment. We were bored with nothing to do and stuck in that kind of bored state that makes you lethargic and unmotivated to move from the couch. It had been one of those days that was steaming hot, the sun so strong that you just wanted to take cover inside and hide from the heat. By the time the sun went down, we were ready to venture out. After walking aimlessly for half an hour around the village we ended up in Washington Square Park that evening where we spent the better part of the night. I don’t know why that particular night sticks out so much in my mind, but it felt like one of those iconic NYC summer evenings.
Washington Square Park is the kind of urban park that is always packed with people, especially in nice weather. There are sunbathers in bathing suits spread out on blankets in every patch of free grass and you can always find musicians, drum circles, chess players, and street performers in the outer perimeters of the fountain. It’s not the best park for relaxing, but it is a good place to people watch. For whatever reason, the park hasn’t been in my usual routine of places to go since I graduated from NYU. I don’t even think I’ve ever brought the kids there. It seems like we’ll either go to the East Village or the West Village, Soho or Union Square, but we rarely find ourselves in the middle. Funny how that is sometimes, isn’t it?
The girls and I spent all the day Sunday in the Village attending the World Science Festival (more on that to come) and I showed them the fountain at Washington Square Park for the first time. Of course, they wanted to get in immediately. We even ate lunch at Dojo which is closing this summer due to a rent increase (ughhhh). I still think of this Dojo West location as the “new Dojo” even though it’s been around since 1991. The original Dojo on St. Mark’s Place which opened in the 70s was our frequent haunt back in college. The restaurant was divey in that late 80s St. Mark’s Place sort of way and when Dojo West opened, my friends and I always referred to it as the newer, upscale Dojo. Back in the day, you just couldn’t beat the Soy Burger dinner for $2.95, a huge crispy soy patty over brown rice and salad with their famous carrot ginger dressing that has since been copied many times over. There was also the Hijiki Tofu patty for 30 cents more if you got tired of the soy burgers. My friends and I, who were all vegan at the time, ate there at least once a week. It was cheap, convenient (it was down the block from school and my apartment) and you really couldn’t do better than 3 bucks for a filling, healthy meal. When the original Dojo closed in 2007, a little piece of our collective history went with it. Although I hadn’t eaten at either Dojo restaurants in over a decade, I knew I had to go one last time before the West 4th location closed. I always thought I’d go with one of my old friends for old times sake, but I ended up going with the girls, which is sort of fitting in a funny way. And with that last meal (with a soy burger patty, of course) I said goodbye to another little piece of my past.