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City Living: Lower East Side, where trendy New York meets history
Perhaps a most common perception of the Lower East Side is a place where trendy New York City transplants go to party, bar crawl or nosh at any of the many eateries that lace the neighborhood. But this working-middle class area, once a gateway and home for immigrants, offers more than just a good night.
Rich with history still visible along its corridors and full of diverse residents, the LES also offers quiet streets, transit ease and walk-up historical tenement buildings, some of which have been redeveloped.
"You can say there’s two different Lower East Sides," said Michael Comandini, a real estate agent at Citi Habitats who has lived on the LES for three years. He noted that streets like Allen and Rivington serve up a swanky nightlife while streets like Grand and Broome offer the opposite.
"There it’s low-key; it’s much more local," he said of the quieter streets.
He calls the LES a "one-stop-shop for everything you need."
"It's not so crazy, it’s not mainstream and it has a neighborhood feel," he said. "That’s what drew me to it; not many places in Manhattan have that same feel."
According to Comandini, a studio apartment can run as low as $1,700 with one-bedrooms starting around $2,100 and two-bedrooms at $2,800. The area is comprised of more than 80% renters, he said.
Most of the buildings here are mixed-use, with commercial businesses on the ground floor and housing above them.
Comandini said the area is mostly filled with younger people, as many are moving in to relatively affordable spaces compared to the nearby East Village. Walking around the streets near Seward Park on East Broadway and the Seward Park Co-ops, for example, newly budding families can be seen pushing strollers. Some of the long-time residents, like Natalie Lluch who has lived on Grand Street with her husband George since 1978, don’t mind the new demographic.
They remained on the LES mostly because of the affordability compared to areas like Upper East or West sides, but also because of a much-needed and coveted perk in New York City.
"We can park [a car] here,” she said. “Where else can you do that in the city? It’s nonexistent. The most we’d have to walk is two blocks."
The mixture of nationalities from Puerto Rican and Dominican, to Jewish and Chinese and the blend of cuisines are also an aspect of the area she appreciates.
“You have the people coming in and the people that are still here mixing, it’s like a collage,” Lluch said.
The Lower East Side has always been a beacon for immigrants.
One of the oldest neighborhoods in Manhattan, the area was home to mainly Jews and Germans who occupied the tenement buildings in the 1800s and early 1900s, according to the Library of Congress.
A large Latino population also abounds, made up of mainly Puerto Rican and Dominicans. They give the nabe its alternate name “Loisaida,” which also extends to the East Village where the popular Loisaida festival is held annually.
A wave of development which began around 2001 is pushing out many long-time businesses and residents as hotels, renovated walkups and luxury condo buildings attract a more affluent demographic.
Yet, pockets of the old remain.
The LES is the original garment district, filled with factories and wholesale stores.
On Orchard Street places like Belraf Fabrics and Joe’s Fabrics remain, reminiscent of its past when crowds flocked here for discount shopping, giving the LES the nickname “the Bargain District."
Today suit, lingerie and clothing stores with bargain prices can be found. Ludlow Street was once full of wholesale toy stores and now there is a small nightlife strip where places like Pianos have replaced the old.
With the abundance of restaurants, it may as well be called the Lower “Eat” Side as old establishments like Katz’s Delicatessen and Russ and Daughters still stand on East Houston Street, Doughnut Plant on Grand Street and Schiller’s Liquor Bar on Rivington Street.
They coexist with newcomers like Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant, The Meatball Shop on Stanton Street, OST Café on Grand Street and Barrio Chino on Broome Street.
A thriving arts scene also pulsates on the Lower East side with more than three dozen galleries and mixed-use spaces.
"There are so many places to go,” Comandini said. “It’s an area where you feel like you don’t need to travel out."
The Lower East Side is bound to the north by East Houston Street and to the south and east by the FDR Drive and the East River. Its western boundary is comprised of an irregular row of streets including Bowery Street, Hester Street, East Broadway and Montgomery Street More »
Buses: B39, M9, M14A, M14D, M15, M21 M22, M103. Trains: B, D to Grand Street; F to Second Avenue, Delancey Street and East Broadway; J, Z to Bowery and Essex Street; M to Essex Street More »
NYPL Seward Park, 192 E. Broadway; NYPL Hamilton Fish Park, 415 E. Houston St. More »
USPS 185 Clinton St.; USPS 128 E. Broadway More »
The Lower East Side is covered by the NYPD's 7th Precinct at 19 1 1/2 Pitt St. Thefts are the most prevalent crime in the area. In the week of June 23-29 there were eight grand larcenies, or major thefts. There have been 182 so far this year. There were 180 reported by the precinct through June 29, 2013. The precinct reported one murder in 2013, and there have been four rapes reported so far this year. More »
This historic deli first opened in 1888. Don’t be fooled by the word “deli” as a large seating area is offered.
Tiny and charming, Café Petisco is a low-key eatery serving up breakfast, brunch and dinner. Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern dishes merge here, from hummus and falafel platters to paninis and pasta. Cash only.
Beauty & Essex
An elegant dining room with a two-story chandelier, a handsome array of cocktails and eclectic dishes from tapas to grilled salmon attract well-dressed patrons to this trendy spot.
Schiller’s Liquor Bar
Spring cocktails like Blood & Sand, Santa Maria and Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship are a few concoctions served at this popular neighborhood spot. A range of dishes is also on deck, including a late night supper menu.
Don’t be fooled by the name, this affordable live music spot offers alternative, indie rock and old-school favorites in addition to karaoke.
Enjoy live music at what used to be a former piano store turned bar/restaurant. A main showroom and an upstairs lounge await music lovers who enjoy swaying to a groove while munching down on small bites like nachos, burgers and sandwiches.
The Dressing Room Bar & Boutique
Part bar, part boutique, The Dressing Room showcases independent designer styles while serving up cocktails from a full bar. They also offer a clothing exchange and live DJ events are held periodically.
Hester Street Fair
Find anything from artisanal food to vintage clothing, jewelry, home goods and crafts at this outdoor marketplace which carries on a tradition of what was New York’s largest push cart market, the Hester Street Market. Open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through October 26.
This bookstore and café is also an activist center for feminist, queer, environmental and political topics. Readings, workshops, discussions and performances are held almost every night.
This national historic site is a must-see on the Lower East Side. It pays homage to immigrants who crowded into the tenement buildings via exhibitions, talks and tours.
ABC No Rio
One of the myriad of art galleries splattered across the LES, this self-proclaimed center for art and activism has been around since 1980 and showcases art, music and films that challenge the status quo.
Two-Bit's Retro Arcade
Take a dip in nostalgia at this small arcade with classic games from the ’80s and ’90s, including Tetris, Paperboy, Street Fighter, Pac-Man and foosball. Movies are also shown in the back and the space is not without a selection of beer and wine.
78 Ridge St. #3A: Two beds, two baths; 1, 200 square feet: $4,600 per month. 188 Ludlow St. #7A: Two beds, two baths; 1,000 square feet: $7,500 per month. More »
309 E. Houston St. #6A: Two-bed, one-bath co-op; 719 square feet: $719,000. 109 Norfolk St. Third Fl.: Two-bed, two-bath condo; 1,445 square feet: $2,110,000. More »
The world’s first underground park is slated to be built on the Lower East Side, in the one-acre former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal under Delancey Street. More »
Jerry Cohen was born on Ludlow Street and grew up in the Economy Candy store as he often followed his dad, the original owner of the store, to work everyday. The store first opened in 1937 under a different name, originally selling shoes, but during the war the candy that the store also offered outsold the. The store is now a staple and landmark of the Lower East Side, attracting both tourists and locals seeking nostalgia. It carries an abundance of vintage candy like Jaw Breakers, Abba Zaba, Bubble Gum Cigars and Chuckles, and current types, including Swedish Fish, Gummy Bears, M&M’s and a five-pound Hershey bar. Sugar free candy is also sold along with dried fruit, nuts and halvah. They provide candy for events and special days including weddings, bat mitzvahs, Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. More »