Manhattan/Lower East Side
The Lower East Side of Manhattan is bounded by Houston Street, the Bowery, the Manhattan Bridge, and the East River, with the neighborhood's center being Orchard Street. For over 200 years, the Lower East Side has been a working-class immigrant neighborhood: It had large Irish and German populations in the early 19th century, and was a wholesale Jewish enclave by 1900. At present, this street is a true multicultural blend, with trendy boutiques, French cafés, and velvet-roped nightspots sprinkled among dry-goods discounters, Spanish bodegas, and mom-and-pop shops selling everything from T-shirts to designer fashions to menorahs. The East Village was also traditionally considered part of the Lower East Side, but that neighborhood has developed its own identity.
It was here that the New York garment industry began. The area has been known as one of New York's favorite bargain beats, where serious shoppers find fantastic bargains (especially along Orchard Street on a Sunday afternoon), but this is increasingly becoming a thing of the past as rents skyrocket and cutting-edge new designers and boutiques formerly seen in SoHo flock to the area. But in its mix of old and new, bohemian and upscale, you can find trendy bars and music venues, a venerable old no-nonsense place that just might serve up the best pastrami sandwich in the world, a restaurant called WD-50 which serves up new-style "molecular gastronomy," Gus's Pickles out of a barrel, and great bialys.
South of Delancey Street, much of this neighborhood is now part of Chinatown. In particular, Eldridge St. between Division and Broome Sts. is now known as Little Fuzhou, due to a recent influx of Fuzhounese immigrants who have given Chinatown a new flavor.
Several bus lines go to the Lower East Side, or you can take the J, M, or Z subway lines to Essex Street; the F to Delancey Street (which is connected to the J/M/Z Essex St. station), East Broadway, or 2nd Avenue; or you can take the B or D to Grand Street.
- Lower East Side Tenement Museum, 90 Orchard St., ☎ . Tu-F 11AM-6PM, Sa-Su 10:45AM-6PM, M (visitor center only; no tours) 11AM-5:30PM. Advance tickets recommended as tours sell out quickly.
- Lower East Side Visitor Center, 54 Orchard St., ☎ , toll-free: . M-Su 10AM-4PM.
- Museum at Eldridge Street, 12 Eldridge St., ☎ . Su-Th 10AM-5PM, Fri 10AM-3PM. The museum, a non-sectarian cultural organization based in the restored 1887 National Historic Landmark Eldridge Street Synagogue, presents the culture, history and traditions of the great wave of Jewish immigrants to the Lower East Side drawing parallels with the diverse cultural communities that have settled in America. The museum offers guided tours of the synagogue, new exhibits and programs -- including concerts, neighborhood walking tours and film screenings. $10 adults, $8 students/seniors, $6 children (5-18), $15 families, free admission Monday all day.
- New Museum, 235 Bowery. Mo, Tu closed, We, Fr, Sa, Su 11AM - 6PM, Th 11AM - 9PM. Building designed by award winning Japanese office SANAA. Contemporary art - the 'I don't get it' kind. Temporary exhibitions, also a good bookshop and Sky Room with views (weekends only). Adults: $16, Seniors: $14, Students: $12, Free: Th 7PM – 9PM.
- Kehila Kedosha Janina Museum, 280 Broome Street (Subway: to Delancey St/Essex St or to Grand St), ☎ . 11-4 on Sundays. Museum inside the only Romaniote (Greek-speaking) synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, telling the story of Greek Jews. Designated a NYC Landmark in 2004. Free.
- East River Park, Montgomery St. To E. 12 St., FDR Drive. This park is a little rough and ready, but there are nice views from the Promenade, and if you are in the neighborhood on July 4, this is where you want to go to see the fireworks if you can't get invited to someone's roof and are too late to actually get onto the elevated FDR Drive itself. Just make sure your view isn't blocked by a tree.
- Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, Chrystie St (between Houston and Canal Sts). Another good spot to people-watch.
- Lower East Side Cell Phone Tour. Download and print a map of the tour from your computer, and just walk through the numbered sites along the route. At various points, dial a phone number, enter the stop number and listen to a New York City native tell you a bit about what you're seeing. You can visit the sites in any order. The LES tour is currently free-of-charge..
- Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, 235 East Broadway. The LESJC runs both private and public tours of the Jewish Lower East Side. The tours are unique as they take visitors into synagogues rather than just the outside. It is recommended to purchase tickets ahead of time as they sell out fast.
Orchard St. is more and more lined with expensive boutiques, but in this traditional locus of bargain clothes shopping, there are still some good deals to be had for those with patience. Note that many stores on this street are owned by Orthodox Jews and closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.
- Bluestockings Radical Books, 172 Allen St. (between Stanton and Rivington), ☎ . Daily 11AM-11PM. A fun radical feminist bookstore that also has a little cafe and a regular calendar of readings and other events.
- Cheung Wong Kitchen Inc., 38A Allen St. (Corner of Hester St.), ☎ . 10:30 am - 10:00 pm. This restaurant is probably putting out the best soy sauce chicken in Chinatown today (October, 2013 — and yes, this is really part of Chinatown), and their soy sauce duck is also delicious. Most of the rest of their dishes are just OK, but it's worth going there just for the chicken or duck, and the price is certainly right, as you can absolutely pig out for about $13. If you get a main dish, you are entitled to also have a small soup, so just ask for the soup if you want a mild pork broth with some greens. The restaurant is small and unprepossessing, and you are likely to share a table with a stranger, but you aren't there for the atmosphere, anyway. The most expensive dish on the menu costs $10.95 and rice plates are almost all between $4 and $5.
- Congee Village, 100 Allen St (just south of Delancey), ☎ . Hong Kong-style food. It was reliably high-quality a few years ago, but some people believe it has deteriorated, gotten overly oily, or lost consistency since then. Nevertheless, it is still a very popular banquet spot for Chinese people, with a wide and interesting menu including some of the best Hot and Sour Soup you'll find in Manhattan. Call for reservations if you have a large party or are going for dinner on a weekend. Congee Village also has a newer sister restaurant, Congee Bowery, at 207 Bowery (just south of Rivington St.), +1 212 766-2828, which serves the same food and may be less crowded at peak hours. Expect to pay around $15-25/person for a large meal.
- Doughnut Plant, 379 Grand St (between Essex and Norfolk; Subway: to Delancey St; Bus: 14A to Grand St. (last stop westbound)), ☎ . Tu-Su 6:30AM-6:30PM. This ain't no Dunkin' Donuts! Each doughnut costs roughly $2.50, but the place is a really fabulous, artisanal palace (albeit humble-looking) of doughnutry.
- 'inoteca, 98 Rivington St (at Ludlow; Subway: to Delancey/Essex; Bus: M14A or M15), ☎ . Daily noon-3AM (plus brunch on weekends 10AM-4PM). This is a quality, well-priced establishment that is open late. A good place to go to for a sandwich after barhopping. Salads and antipasti: $5-13; panini: $11-18; affettati (cured meats, e.g., prosciutto, bresaola): $7-10; mains (piatti): $12-18; fritti (fried items): $8-18; cheese: $11 (3 pieces) - $21 (9 pieces); also many wines by the glass or bottle.
- Katz's Deli, 205 E Houston St. (at Ludlow), ☎ . A classic NYC delicatessen. The famous fake orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally was shot here. Have what she was having: A pastrami sandwich. If you're a pastrami lover, you will long remember your trip to this establishment. Don't lose your ticket, and don't forget to tip the counterman at least $1 per sandwich. If you want something other than pastrami, their brisket is their second-best meat; make sure to ask for it "juicy" (i.e., fatty).
- Sheng Wang, 27 Eldridge St. (Between Division and Canal Sts., down a short flight of outdoor stairs.), ☎ . 10am-11pm every day. This is a very cheap place to eat, as you can easily fill up on a single dish. For example, their standout dish is 10 steamed dumplings for $3. Some dumpling connoisseurs consider Sheng Wang's dumplings the best in Chinatown today (October, 2013). Most of the rest of their dishes are noodle soups with hand pulled or peeled noodles made in house, and be warned that for a single person, trying to eat an order of dumplings plus a bowl of noodle soup is likely to be quite excessive. Also, one type of tripe they use in soups can be overly chewy. But you can't beat the value. $3-7 per dish..
- WD-50, 50 Clinton St (between Rivington and Stanton), ☎ . Considered by most connoisseurs the foremost location for "molecular gastronomy" - otherwise known as "avant garde cuisine" - in New York. Appetizers $14-17, mains $24-34, desserts $11; 9-course tasting menu for $115 plus optional $65 wine pairing, 3-course dessert tasting menu $25, 5-course dessert tasting menu $35. Reservations are necessary.
- Wing Shoon, 165 E Broadway (at Rutgers), ☎ . A pretty good banquet restaurant, and often used as such by groups of Chinese people, but it also does a brisk takeout business, particularly in their soy sauce chicken, which is an excellent value. Unfortunately, they often run out of the soy sauce chicken before dinner, so if that's why you want to go to Wing Shoon, call ahead and see if it's still available. You can sit down and order a plate of 1/2 soy sauce chicken on rice and a vegetable dish for under $20 and make at least one more meal out of the leftovers you take home.
- Yonah Schimmel's Knishes Bakery, 137 E Houston St (between Orchard and Allen), ☎ . Claims to have served "The World’s Finest Knishes since 1910" - a bakery that has been selling knishes on the Lower East Side since 1890 from its original location on Houston Street. As the Lower East Side has changed over the decades and many of its Jewish residents have departed, Yonah Schimmel's is one of the few distinctly Jewish businesses and restaurants that remain as a fixture of this largely-departed culture and cuisine.
The Lower East Side is a very popular neighborhood for drinking, especially on the part of young people, who come from nearby, other parts of town, the suburbs, and even foreign countries — meaning that, especially on weekend nights, it can be uncomfortably packed, with tremendous crowding on the streets as well as on lines to get into bars and in the bars, themselves. Here are some highlights of the scene:
- The Whiskey Ward, 121 Essex St. (Between Delancey and Rivington. train to Delancey/Essex or M14 bus), ☎ . This whiskey specialist bar can be quiet on weekdays. It's a good spot for anyone who enjoys whiskey or/and wants to explore more whiskeys, as they have a selection of unusual bourbons, ryes, Scotches, and Irish whiskeys. The prices for whiskeys that are also found in non-specialist bars may be higher here, but the bartenders are real experts, who can guide you in selecting 3 half-pours for a whiskey flight (or two flights, if you aren't driving and have the tolerance). The flights are priced as a sum of exactly half the cost of a shot for each whiskey or rye you drink. There are also beers on tap, etc., so if you are with a non-whiskey drinker, do not despair.
- Comfort Inn Manhattan Bridge, 61-63 Chrystie St, ☎ . Check-out: 11AM. Standard chain hotel, with wi-fi, decent breakfast, and pets allowed for a fee. Reviewers often note friendly service. $200-$300.
- GEM Hotel-SoHo, 135 E Houston St (at Forsyth St), ☎ . From $210.
- Thompson LES Hotel, 190 Allen St, ☎ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. From $150.
- Hotel on Rivington, 107 Rivington St, ☎ . 21-story glass tower full-service hotel with unobstructed views.
The obvious places to go next are the East Village, which is to a large extent a northern extension of the Lower East Side; Chinatown, which much of the Lower East side is for all practical purposes part of; NoLiTa, a neighborhood of upscale boutiques, quiet residential streets and loud clubs that was formerly the northern part of Little Italy and is not part of Chinatown but is covered in the Chinatown guide; and SoHo, a little ways further to the west than NoLiTa, much more crowded with tourists and shoppers, but with a lot of beautiful, classic buildings and cobblestoned side streets. All of these neighborhoods are easily walkable from the Lower East Side, for a person of normal fitness.
You can also access Williamsburg by taking the M, J or Z trains or walking across the Williamsburg Bridge, and Downtown Brooklyn is on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge or the second stop on the F train in Brooklyn.
|Routes through Lower East Side|
|Midtown ← Soho ←||N S||→ Downtown Brooklyn → Coney Island|
|Midtown ← Soho ←||W E||→ Williamsburg → Forest Park, Queens|
|Financial District ← Chinatown ←||W E||→ Williamsburg → East Brooklyn|