The corner of Orchard and Rivington Streets, 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. Once a Jewish wholesale enclave, 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.
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., ☎ +1 212 431-0233, . 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., ☎ +1 212 226-90101 (toll free: +1 866 224-0206), . M-Su 10AM-4PM.
- Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue, 12 Eldridge St., ☎ +1 212 219-0888, . 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 (F train to Delancy or B,D to Grand), ☎ 516-456-9336, . 11-4 on Sundays. Museum telling the story of Greek Jews located inside the only Romaniote (Greek-speaking) synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Designated a NYC Landmark in 2004. Free.
- 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), ☎ +1 212 777-6028, . Daily 11AM-11PM. A fun radical feminist bookstore that also has a little cafe and a regular calendar of readings and other events.
- Katz's Deli, 205 E Houston St. (at Ludlow), ☎ +1 212 254-2246, . 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).
- Congee Village, 100 Allen St (just south of Delancey), ☎ +1 212 941-1818. Hong Kong-style food. It was reliably high-quality a few years ago, but some people believe it has deteriorated or lost consistency since then. Nevertheless, it is still a very popular banquet spot for Chinese people, with a wide and interesting menu. 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.
- WD-50, 50 Clinton St (between Rivington and Stanton), ☎ +1 212 477-2900, . 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.
- Doughnut Plant, 379 Grand St (between Essex and Norfolk; Subway: F to Canal St. or F, J, M, or Z to Delancey St.; Bus: 14A to Grand St. (last stop westbound)), ☎ +1 212 505-3700, . 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: F, J, M, or Z to Delancey/Essex; Bus: M14A or M15), ☎ +1 212 614-0473, . 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.
- Wing Shoon, 165 E Broadway (at Rutgers), ☎ +1 212 780-0238. 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 and arguably the best in Chinatown. 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), ☎ +1 212 477-2858, . 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. Here are some highlights of the scene:
- Happy Ending Lounge, 302 Broome St. (B or D train to Grand St., F to Delancey St., or M15 bus), ☎ +1 212 334-9676, . This lounge is housed in what used to be a Chinese massage parlor, hence its name. From its days as a brothel, it has an interesting interior, with individual showers still visible in the basement, where there are two bar rooms. On the main floor, past a long, misty corridor, there is another bar room with a dance floor. The lounge draws primarily a young crowd that enjoys tipsy late nights, dancing to loud, mostly techno music and staring through the spotlight-multicolored fog that creates a kind of trippy dreamscape. Drink prices are a bit elevated here, but you should be there for the experience, not just the drinks. Bring ear plugs just in case.
- Max Fish, 178 Ludlow St. (between Houston and Stanton; Subway: F to 2nd Av. or M or J to Essex), ☎ +1 212 529-3959, . Daily 5:30PM-4AM. This quirkily-decorated bar has a scene every night, even when other bars in the area are dead. On weekends, the crowding can be ridiculous. There is a lounge with a pool table in the back and a pinball game near the door. Drink selection is not bad, including a decent selection of whiskeys, but the ambiance and crowd are more of a reason to go.
- The Whiskey Ward, 121 Essex St. (Between Delancey and Rivington. F, J/Z or M train to Delancey/Essex or M14 bus), ☎ +1 212 477-2998, . 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, 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.
- GEM Hotel-SoHo, 135 E Houston St (at Forsyth St), ☎ +1 212 358-8844, . From $210.
- Thompson LES Hotel, 190 Allen St, ☎ +1 212 460-5300, . checkin: 3PM; checkout: noon. From $150.
- Hotel on Rivington, 107 Rivington St, ☎ +1 212 475-2600, . 21-story glass tower full-service hotel with unobstructed views.
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