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, Gus's Pickles out of a barrel, and great bialys.
Much of what used to be considered the Lower East Side, east of Bowery and the Manhattan Bridge overpass, is now functionally part of Chinatown, as another wave of immigration continues to move further north and east.
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, 103 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.
- 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.
- 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). Shared with Chinatown. The part of the park between Delancey and Houston Sts. has a soccer field and some basketball courts, so in addition to some relaxing greenery, you may see people playing sports or do so yourself in good weather. Watch out for the rats after dark, though they are unlikely to actually be of any danger to you, while they get their wind sprints in and look for food.
- 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.
- Sunshine Cinema, 143 E Houston St (between Forsyth St and Eldridge St), ☎ . This relatively new multiplex cinema, done up to look like a movie palace of old, quickly became a landmark in the neighborhood, and is an excellent place to watch a film.
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.
- Congee Bowery, 207 Bowery (Just south of Rivington St), ☎ . Congee Village's somewhat newer sister restaurant, 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.
- 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 corned beef and brisket vie for second best and even their turkey is fine (though it's probably not what you're there for); make sure to ask for anything "juicy" (i.e., fatty).
- 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:
- Jeromes at Rivington, 155 Rivington St (between Clinton and Suffolk Sts. train to Delancey/Essex), ☎ . The craziness that has enveloped the Lower East Side doesn't reach this far east except on weekends. The music is a bit loud here, with a DJ playing hard rock on his Apple computer, but it is not painfully loud during the week, such that you'd be likely to get a headache or have trouble talking. The drinks are not expensive (e.g., $9 for a shot of Powers whiskey), the crowd (except on weekends) is a bunch of quirky, real neighborhood people of the type you might have seen at the defunct Max Fish in the old days, and the room has beautiful black cast-iron ceilings.
- 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.
- 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 continues to merge further into the Lower East side; 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|