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Famous for its bustling eateries, independent galleries, boutique shopping and vibrant nightlife, the Lower East Side epitomizes New York cool. Today as ever, it radiates style and energy like no other neighborhood in the city.
Grab your ticket at this famed cafeteria and wait your turn at the counter. You might recognize it from When Harry Met Sally . . . . It’s enough to make your mouth water and say, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Handmade in a dazzling open lab, this artisanal ice cream is for true frozen-dessert fetishists. The quality of the ingredients and the 250 sorbetti and gelato flavors are truly extraordinary; only a fifth are available at any one time—keep a look out for black peppercorn, green tea, lychee, pomegranate and honey lavender.
Husband-and-wife team Neil Kleinberg and DeDe Lahman have a reputation for making the best small-batch baked goods. The line snakes on weekends, but don’t worry about waiting on-site. They’ll text you to come back when your time comes to fill up on Neil’s award-winning pancakes or fresh-from-the-oven muffins.
You’ll need to book well in advance to get a booth for brunch or a boozy dinner in this bistro at the Ludlow Hotel. Why does Rich Torrisi, Jeff Zalaznick and Mario Carbone’s place wow so? Apart from technical prowess in the kitchen, expect perfectly mixed Bloody Marys and seductive oyster platters from the Major Food Group team. And a decor that is flamboyant while being just the right side of kitsch.
The main store opened on East Houston by Joel Russ in 1914 is on the National Register of Historic Places—so it’s about time they’ve gifted us an eatery befitting the LES’s new identity. Owned by Russ’s great-grandchildren, you can now enjoy the smoked fish, pickled herring and caviar in a beautifully designed café.
When chef husband and wife Neil Kleinberg and DeDe Lahman opened Clinton St. Baking Company & Restaurant (CSBco) in 2001, their only mission was to make the best baked goods in the city, hand-mixed in small batches. But soon the locals stumbled in and people clustered then crowded the block waiting for Kleinberg’s eats. Now a global destination with customers from Toronto to Thailand lining up around the block, CSBco has opened outposts in Tokyo, Singapore and Dubai. Deep down though, it’s still a mom-and-pop shop with neighborhood roots.
NEIL: It’s an eclectic and electric mix of people, food and style.
DEDE: Even though it’s become a global destination it still has a true neighborhood look and feel. There’s high and low and everything in-between, with an urban funk you just don’t find anywhere else.
DEDE: I love its proximity to Brooklyn and the water. It’s the corner pocket of Manhattan. And we have the best graffiti anywhere in the city.
NEIL:I love the Essex Street Market. It reminds me of my dad, who used to take me to all of
the tiny shops around there. The butchers, fishmongers and people selling their wares make me relive my childhood. I also love Doughnut Plant and Kossar’s Bialys. That whole strip of Grand Street is the borderline where Chinese and Jewish culture meet, and I love both.
NEIL: Lunch at Katz’s Delicatessen, a stroll through all of the blocks, then a walk over the Williamsburg Bridge and back to Clinton St. Baking Company & Restaurant for a cheeseburger and black and white milkshake at the counter.
DEDE: It’s a rare pleasure to take lunch at my own restaurant, so I would splurge on my favorite fried chicken sandwich, then walk it off all day with
shopping at Babeland, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, the Tenement Museum Shop, Tani, Economy Candy and Eli Halili (which is technically NoLita but close enough for a quick hop over).
NEIL: Clinton Street, because every time I walk down our block I see our restaurant and I’m truly amazed. In spring I love all the trees with buds.
DEDE: I really love Rivington because it’s central and tucked quietly between the hustle and bustle of East Houston and Grand.
NEIL: If the line at Katz’s is too long when you go to pay for a hot dog, go to the potato pancake line in the back and you can charge it with a credit card. Much faster!
DEDE: Skip the two-hour brunch lines at Clinton St. and have breakfast for dinner. Pancakes, bacon and waffles all day and all night!
NEIL: Historic. Gritty. Quintessential.
DEDE: A cultural Xanadu.
Tucked at the back of an undistinguished alley that was once an insalubrious country lane, this low-lit eatery feels more British hunting lodge than hip hangout, thanks to piles of books and animal heads mounted on the walls. Brunch is best taken with cocktails and hot artichoke dip.
If you stood on this corner at the turn of the twentieth century, you’d barely have been able to move around the pushcarts and haggling buyers. As a salute to such heritage, you can now pick through artisanal food, vintage clothes and much more at this block party of stalls.
If you want the real deal when it comes to steamed dumplings, this is where Chinatown residents love to eat amid the gold dragons.
Comfort food—think fat sausages and tasty slaw—washed down with Bavarian beers amid wood paneling is a fine doff of the cap to this street once lined with sausage factories and its würst-loving ancestors.
Bar Belly feels like a cool fisherman’s bar transplanted from Montauk. Plump, just-shucked oysters on ice and the happy-hour cocktail of the day is our tip.
This fancy egg-free, low-sugar ice cream includes five chocolates, five vanillas, three caramels and the likes of green tea pistachio; expect flamboyance such as chocolate Aperol grapefruit among the sorbet flavors, too.
Good-for-you ingredients served with Cali-style freshness, flair and imaginative cocktails— wheatgrass margarita, anyone? Amped-up vegetables and perfectly cooked fish along with pulled-pork salad deliciousness pulls in a young crowd who don’t mind the hard-to-hear-over volume of chat and music.
This laid-back multi-award-winning store offering a wealth of Japanese delights is a must for fans of hard-to-find Asian sweets and snacks. Bins of candles, dried seafood and jerky add to kaleidoscopic array of Eastern-style candies, making it one of the most colorful and Instagramable shops on the Lower East Side.
This husband-and-wife-run store is stacked floor-to-ceiling with chocolate, bonbons and novelty sweets—expect every conceivable sugary substance.
Doughnut master Mark Isreal has been so devout in his use of top-notch ingredients and in his masterful technique that success has led to him opening shops across Asia to sell his doughy ‘o’s. Seasonal glazes and fun fillings show chutzpah: Meyer lemon, chestnut, rose and coconut are just some of the flavors.
This museum shows the reality of immigrant times. It all started with the preservation of 97 Orchard Street, a nineteenth-century tenement at the heart of the neighborhood it showcases. Guides navigate visitors through dark hallways and in and out of tiny rooms that once housed whole families; walking tours evoke their every experience. Whether you’re buying a ticket or not, the gift shop is worth a visit for its New York fiction, non-fiction and quality NYC mementos.
The two-floored MOCA may be compact, but it’s a history-telling heavyweight when it comes to documenting people of Chinese descent in the United States through artifacts and explanations.
When the New Museum opened here in 2007, thanks to Japanese architects SANAA’s direction and $64 million in investment, everyone officially accepted the dawn of a new era on the Lower East Side.
In 2002, this was one of the trailblazing galleries down in Chinatown, designed by conceptual architects Common Room. Having launched the careers of painters Joe Bradley and Rosson Crow, this once-obscure space behind a banal office block near the Manhattan Bridge is a regular base for artists Katherine Bernhardt and Matt Connors and their neo-expressionist work.
The intimate art world get-togethers may have started on the ground floor of Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn’s UES townhouse, but they have since brought Downtown much delight after drifting south to LES spaces on Bowery and Freeman Alley.
Art dealer and Wide Open Arts founder Andrew Edlin relocated to this brand-new 2,500-square-foot space after 13 successful years in Chelsea, which is a testament to the neighborhood’s credibility among gallerists. Outsider artists supported by Edlin include Henry Darger, Susan Te Kahurangi King and Marcel Storr, alongside contemporary and multidisciplinary artists, sculptors and filmmakers.
This double-fronted art space is owned by a French-American filmmaker whose exhibits lean toward contemporary and mostly conceptual work. The gallery also hosts screenings and talks.
Cornejo’s New York City–based, ready-to-wear clothing company combines a timeless and modern approach to luxury with a dedication to responsible design.
When this exclusive purveyor of limited-edition sneakers opened in 1999 in the style of a distinguished wood-paneled gentlemen’s club, it heralded the dawn of a new footwear-fetishist era.
Designers admire Assembly for its masterful blend of art with hard-to-find fashion offerings. It’s no coincidence that this purveyor of vintage picks and made-in-NYC menswear and womenswear has the look and feel of a gallery. Oregon-born founder/owner Greg Armas studied fine art before opening a vintage store in Los Angeles called Scout. His cultured and curatorial background also includes spells in art galleries and working as an architectural and retail consultant in Tokyo. Eventually, in 2008, he traded in LA’s laid-back vibe for life on the LES and New York’s fashionistas are glad he did.
The lack of refinement and pockets of weirdness, the strange community gardens tucked between old buildings and the fact there is such a variety.
It would start on my bike, then I’d stop for a morning coffee at El Rey Coffee Bar on Stanton; for some serious people and dog watching, I’d pause at Tompkins Square Park. Lunch would be Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches or pho soup at An Choi and then I’d have something like the salmon for dinner at Dimes.
The walk south on Ludlow, where we are, from Houston all the way to Canal because you can see so much history side-by-side with inspiring new developments. Many of the new galleries or independent shops are posting up there and the crowd on the weekends can be a cool, a new mix of interesting people for this neighborhood.
The famous bassline to Grandmaster Flash’s
hip-hop classic ‘White Lines’ is sampled from a recording originally made right here in the Assembly basement by post-punk band, Liquid Liquid.
Mixed. Transitional. Discursive.
A hundred years old, this eyewear institution still has excellent frames in sharp focus. Moscot himself started earning his credentials back when he was the guy selling cheap, ready-made eyeglasses from an Orchard Street pushcart.
The barbershop used to be at the back of Freemans Sporting Club for snips and straight-blade shaves, but now the antique chairs, Edwin Jagger brushes and Geo. F. Trumper unguents occupy this big standalone. The other store is still there two doors away for bespoke suits made on the premises and leather artisan-crafted accessories.
This hair salon is a cutie for bangs, bobs and blowouts, as well as cool color and trend-savvy texturizing.