Living in the Lower East Side: Things to Do and See in Lower East Side, New York

The Lower East Side—The Original Melting Pot

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The original melting pot of the Big Apple, the Lower East Side has a long and storied history as the gateway neighborhood of New York City. Throughout the 19th century it was the first port of call for immigrants from Germany, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, and Russia. By the mid-1800s, the area had become a bustling manufacturing district, which created a huge demand for labor. At the same time. The massive influx of immigrants gave rise to the need for cheap housing and thus the Lower East Side saw the construction of the first tenement buildings in the United States. Its rebirth began in the 1950s with the arrival of the Beat Generation. The neighborhood’s colorful downtown scene and affordable rents soon attracted emerging artists and musicians.

Where is the Lower East Side Located in NYC?

The Lower East Side is in Lower Manhattan, spanning from the East River to the Bowery, between the East Village to the north and Chinatown to its south.

  • East to West Boundaries: East River to Bowery
  • North to South Boundaries: East Houston Street to Canal Street
  • Subways: F, J, M, Z, D Trains
  • Ticket out of the City: Williamsburg Bridge, FDR Drive, NYC Ferry

What to Do in the Lower East Side?

Once a gateway to opportunity for newly arrived immigrants, the Lower East Side (LES) has become one of Manhattan’s most fashionable neighborhoods. The Tenement Museum on Orchard Street pays homage to the rich history of the Lower East Side, as do its many churches and synagogues. A flourishing theater district in its day, many of America’s most popular performers, such as the Marx Brothers, Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, and Jimmy Durante have all called the Lower East Side home. The Lower East Side was also home to less upstanding citizens during the Prohibition era, when it became an enclave for organized crime and a stronghold of the mob.

The East Village was part of the Lower East Side (LES) until the 1960s, when an influx of artists, beatniks, and musicians carved out the northwest corner as a neighborhood in its own right. In the early ‘90s, the rest of the LES began to follow suit, slowly evolving into a hipster’s retreat, its tenements offering cheap rents for urban avant-gardists. The mid-Nineties heralded a new era with a slew of new bars, restaurants, and coffee shops springing up on Ludlow, Stanton, and Rivington Streets as the gentrification began in earnest.

The immigrant heritage of the LES is still very prevalent in the neighborhood. Previously the largest Jewish neighborhood in Manhattan with over 400,000 residents, iconic locales such as Katz’s Deli (famed for its gargantuan pastrami sandwich), Russ and Daughters, and newly opened Russ and Daughters Café help retain part of the history of the old LES and blend it with the new and the hip.

Over two decades ago, rising rents in SoHo and the East Village saw many artists and galleries pull up stakes and move to the Lower East Side, where the edgy vibe and cheaper rents were an immediate draw to up-and-coming artists. Today, dozens of contemporary Lower East Side galleries promote emerging artists—exhibiting the latest trends in painting and sculpture. As the art migration continued, many established galleries opened relocated or opened a Lower East Side space. Indeed, the Lower East Side is home to 224 galleries, with more to come as gallerists continue to move to Broome, Orchard, Henry, and Rivington Streets and into neighboring Chinatown. The concentration of influential contemporary galleries such as Canada, Derek Eller, Nicelle Beauchene, and Lucien Terras (Broome Street), and Chapter NY, Shrine, and Ellie Rines (Henry Street) has also ensured that critics and art collectors follow.

The Lower East Side has more than 30 K-18 schools. Highly rated elementary public schools include PS 110 Florence Nightingale (Pre-K to 5th grade) on Delancey Street; two Manhattan Charter Schools (K to 5th grade) on Attorney and Henry streets; PS 126 Jacob Riis, Manhattan Academy of Technology (Pre-K to 8th grade) on Catherine Street, the S.T.A.R Academy PS 63 (Pre-K to 5th grade) on East Third Street, and PS42 Benjamin Altman (Pre-K to 5th grade) on Hester Street. The Lower East Side is also home to Girls Prep, New York City’s first all-girls public charter elementary (K-4, Houston Street) and middle schools (5th to 8th grades, East 12th Street).

What to See in the Lower East Side?

Once a bargain hunter’s paradise, the stores that line Orchard Street today are stylish, upscale boutiques that cater to the latest wave of arrivals in the Lower East Side. In-demand restaurants are scattered along Clinton Street, the neighborhood’s “restaurant row.” Late-night comedy clubs, edgy tattoo parlors, and the hip vibe in places such as Vandal, Beauty and Essex, and The Stanton Social explain the neighborhood’s popularity among the young, both local and passing through, and the after-work crowd.

The renaissance of the Lower East Side has increased demand for high-end residential property. Blue Condominium, a 32-unit, 16-story luxury tower at 105 Norfolk was completed in 2007, and several boutique hotels such as Ludlow Hotel, Hotel on Rivington, and Blue Moon have also sprung up in the area. A new development currently underway called Essex Crossing is the one of the most significant urban renewal projects in New York City’s history. It is by far the largest new development in the Lower East Side, comprising over 1,000 new residences, 400,000 square feet of office space, and 450,000 square feet of retail space over nine sites. This exciting urban mecca spreads five blocks east from Ludlow to Attorney Streets, and north to south from Stanton to Broome Streets. The finished project will include the legendary Essex Street Market, parks and green spaces, a movie theater, and the Market Line—a European-style food hall. Phase one of the construction began in Summer 2015 and building is scheduled for completion by 2024.

Where to Eat in the Lower East Side?

The foodie renaissance of the Lower East Side began in 1999 when pioneer and James Beard Award-winning chef Wylie Dufresne opened 71 Clinton Fresh Food. In 2003, he moved down the block to open his Michelin-starred restaurant WD-50. Though neither restaurant stands on Clinton Street today, they put the Lower East Side on the map as a dining destination. Nowadays, trendy eateries such as Ivan Ramen, a bustling noodle joint with a cult following, the uber-popular Clinton St. Baking Co., the stylish Pig and Khao, and the Israeli/Scottish-inspired Eastwood are among the many eateries found along Clinton Street’s new Restaurant Row.

Other newer and notable arrivals include Dirty French at the Ludlow Hotel and Le Turtle on Chrystie Street, both offering top-drawer French bistro fare, and Tijuana Picnic serving gourmet Mexican food on Essex Street. Contra on Orchard Street serves only local and seasonal ingredients in a six-course tasting menu that changes daily. Vegetarian guru and cutting-edge chef Amanda Cohen has also chosen the Lower East Side as the new location for her award-winning restaurant Dirt Candy.

What Schools are in the Lower East Side?

For high school, the Lower East Side offers a good selection of public schools such as NEST+m - New Explorations into Science Tech and Math, on Columbia Street, one of New York City’s top-ranked K-12 schools. A public school for gifted and talented students, NEST+m prides itself on its strong academic push, a state of the art campus and its diverse and high performing student body. Bard High School Early College on Houston Street, a highly ranked public school, offers the opportunity to earn an Associate’s Degree in the Arts along with a High School Diploma.

How Many People Live in the Lower East Side?

Population: 39,083

What Languages Are Spoken in the Lower East Side?

Language: English

What is the Currency in the Lower East Side?

Currency: USD

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