New York City’s Lower East Side (LES) is a blast from the past and a trendsetter for the future. Spend an afternoon walking through its crowded streets and you will find cozy outdoor cafés, century-old synagogues and pricey boutiques. The LES is also well-known for its abundance of music venues that feature classical ensembles as well as up-and-coming artists. Museums, historic landmarks and outdoor markets make this area of Manhattan the perfect place for anyone looking to discover the past and appreciate the present.
The demographic is rapidly changing in this multifaceted neighborhood. Gentrification has led to the construction of new luxury apartments in places where immigrant shops and pushcarts once stood. Young professionals are moving in and tourists are ever-present on East Houston Street. The area is gracefully evolving as the melting pot of cultures and remnants of years past uniquely come together in the LES. What results is an atmosphere that is both charmingly historic and excitingly hip.
Blast from the Past: Exploring the History, Culture and Traditions of the Lower East Side
At the turn of the century, the LES was home to a flourishing Jewish community of Germans, Eastern Europeans, Russians and Greeks. Allon Schoener’s Portal to America accurately describes the time period: “The Lower East Side symbolizes the epic of Jewish adaptation to America. Life was a panorama of hardship, misery, poverty, crowding, filth, uncertainty, alienation, joy, love and devotion” (10).
In 1901 the LES was the most densely populated working class and immigrant settlement in the world. Immigrants mostly lived in tenements, which were defined by a 1901 law as “3 or more unrelated families living under one roof” (The Tenement Museum). Residents made a living working in the garment industry, opening shops and directing pushcarts of produce and goods. In fact, the stores and markets on Orchard Street once made the LES the busiest commercial district in Manhattan. Since that time, an influx of Chinese and Latino immigrants have moved in, along with various high-end boutiques and cafés.
Summer in the City: Discovering the Sights, Sounds and Tastes of the Lower East Side
I have visited New York City numerous times since I was a child. From the Statue of Liberty and Times Square to Wall Street and Central Park, I thought I had seen it all. That is, until I stumbled upon the Lower East Side. Not necessarily a highly-advertised tourist area, the LES is a hidden gem when compared to its "NYC Hot Spot" counterparts. This is surprising when one considers all the neighborhood has to offer, including:
1. The Tenement Museum
• At 97 Orchard Street between Broome and Delancey.
• The most visited landmark in the LES since 1988.
• View restored apartments of past residents from different time periods.
• 97 Orchard St. has been home to 7,000 people from over 20 nations from 1863-1935.
• Purchase tickets at the Museum Shop at 108 Orchard St. ($13 students; $17 adults).
2. The Eldridge Street Synagogue
• 12 Eldridge Street between Canal and Division.
• A historic landmark built in 1886 that served as the first great
place of worship built on the LES by East European Jews. It remains a
symbol of religious freedom and economic opportunity for many
• Tours available Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.
3. The (former) Municipal Bath House
• 133 Allen St.
• Now the Church of Grace Fujianese.
was once one of only 15 public bathhouses in the city. Tenement
residents who did not have running water or bathtubs in their homes
regularly used the bathhouse.
• Open to the public Mon-Saturday from 9 am-5 pm.
4. Essex Street Market
• 120 Essex St.
• Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia originally created the market in an
effort to bring together pushcart vendors. It now serves as a market
for fish, fresh meat and produce.
• The City’s New York City Economic Development Corp. recently renovated the market for $1.5 million.
5. Yonah Schimmel Knishery Bakery
• 137 E. Houston
• Yonah Schimmel was an immigrant rabbi who sold food from a pushcart before opening his store in 1910.
• Choose from a menu of eight potato blends, kasha and cabbage, bagels and more.
6. Russ & Daughters
• 179 E. Houston
• Since 1914 four generations of the Russ family have run this food shop that features smoked fish, caviar and specialty foods.
7. Katz’s Delicatessen
• 205 E. Houston
• Established in 1888, the deli serves corned beef, pastrami, brisket and tons of sandwiches and food platters.
• Featured in films: Katz’s is where “Harry Met Sally” for lunch in the
Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film and where Johnny Depp meets his FBI
contact in “Donnie Brasco.”
• Celeb Sightings: Ben Stiller, Barbara Streisand, Jerry Lewis, Bruce
Willis, Ed Harris, Al Roker, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick,
Danny DeVito, Spike Lee.
• Politicians who’ve visited: President Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Rudy Giuliani, Governor George Pataki.
8. Clinton Street Baking Company
• 4 Clinton St. between Stanton and E. Houston Streets
• Voted “Best Pancakes” by New York Magazine, 2005.
• Voted “Best Breakfast/ Brunch” by Timeout NY, 2007.
• $10 minimum
For those looking to make the most of the warm summer weather, the LES has many places to play and relax, including:
1. The Waterfront
• Walkway near Franklin D. Roosevelt Dr. along the East River
• Run, bike, rollerblade, fish or just enjoy an afternoon walk along the river.
• Great views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges
• Seward Park
• Rutgers Park
• East River Park- Located along Montgomery St. to 12th St. Play football, soccer, baseball or run on the full-size track. There’s also an amphitheater.
• Sara Roosevelt Park-Located between Chrystie and Forsyth Streets and stretches from Canal St. to Houston St. Play basketball, soccer or relax in the small gardens.
The LES is a popular location for young professionals, college students and music lovers looking to explore NYC Nightlife. I recommend:
• Sapphire Lounge- 249 Eldridge St.
• Element- 225 E. Houston St.
2. Trendy Lounges:
• Fat Baby- 112 Rivington St.
• The Living Room- 154 Ludlow St.
• R Bar- 218 Bowery St.
3. Dive Bars & Pubs:
• Whiskey Ward- 121 Essex St.
• Lolita- 266 Broome St.
• Essex Street Ale House- 179 Essex St.
Where to Go For Concerts, Exhibits, Shows, Films & Events:
1. ABC No Rio- 156 Rivington St.
2. Bowery Ballroom- 6 Delancey St.
3. Mercury Lounge- 217 E. Houston St.
4. Rockwood Music Hall- 196 Allen St.
5. Arlene’s Grocery-95 Stanton St.
6. Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts- 172 Norfolk St.
7. Abrons Arts Center- 466 Grand St.
8. Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center- 107 Suffolk St.
9. Artists Alliance Inc.-107 Suffolk St.
10. Sunshine Theater- 143 E. Houston St.
SUMMER LOVIN’ IN THE LOWER EAST SIDE:
Every festival, event and concert in the LES celebrates the cultural diversity and rich history of the neighborhood. Combine this historic appreciation with live music, good food and special discounts and you have an unforgettable Summer 2008 in the LES. To kick of the season of warm weather, the LES hosted Outdoor Date Night Movie on May 17th near Delancey Street. The outdoor screening of Crossing Delancey was the perfect way to kick off an exciting night on the town. The LES Band Crawl was held on June 7th at multiple venues throughout the LES and showcased eight rock, indie, R&B and funk bands at six bars for free. Collect LES ’08 occurred on June 13th to bring more than a thousand art lovers together by displaying painting, photography, video and installation art. Music lovers can attend the Orchard Street Music Festival on June 22 at Orchard St. between Stanton and Rivington Streets. For the enthusiastic athlete, the LES will be hosting the Street Soccer Tournament on July 20th on Orchard St. between E. Houston and Stanton Streets. With so many options, it is easy for anyone to find an event in the LES to make the most of their summer weekends.