This week I journeyed down to the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan. Bounded by Bowery and F.D.R. Drive from west to east, East Houston St. from the north down to Canal St. and Essex St. on the south, it is accessible by the B, D, F, J, M, or Z trains. Originally a farm, or bowery (an English version of the Dutch word), the LES was transformed into a lower-class working immigrant neighborhood and is one of the oldest in the city. You’ll remember from a previous visit to this area of Manhattan that the East Village used to be considered part of the LES but in the 1960s developed its own culture and became a separate area. Gentrification has crept its way in to the Lower East Side, as is the way in New York, but walking along some of the narrow streets you can just imagine how crowded and crazy this neighborhood used to be.
During my walk of the streets, I ventured down the end of Freeman Alley to find Freemans Restaurant. This hidden gem is all about new meets old. As you walk down the alley you are transported back to colonial America. Freemans decor is inspired by rugged American taverns of old and they serve up seasonal modern cuisine influenced by the same rustic period. They offer wild game, sustainable seafood, and produce sourced from local New York farms. I went for something simple with the vegetarian black bean burger which came with arugula, pickles, cheddar cheese, and spicy mayo and it was quite delicious. Freemans also features a bar for those visiting later in the day than I and they serve brunch on the weekends. Be sure to stop in for some time traveling treats.
If you’ve been following along since we started this New York adventure you know that I love tours and whiskey. Our suggested activity this week is only one of the two though; we’ll have the other soon enough. As I mentioned, the Lower East Side used to be crammed full of immigrants of all nationalities including Irish, Italians, Poles, Ukranians, German, Jews, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans to name a few. The Tenemant Museum is a building that has preserved what life was like back in those days. They offer a variety of guided tours where you can explore the neighborhood, taste the neighborhood, or visit various floors of the 4 story building. There’s no elevator so if you decide to do the “Explore 97 Orchard” tour then be prepared to walk up all 61 steps. The tours all cost money but a student discount is offered.
My final stop for a drink was Attaboy. Occupying the old spot of Milk & Honey, this speakeasy style bar fits right in with the old world feel of the LES. No drink menus here! You have some idea of the type of drink you’re looking for and suggest that, a mood, or flavor to the bartenders and they will whip up something delicious. I’m always in the mood for whiskey so I went that route. My bartender, Dan, served me the Kentucky River which was bourbon with some cacao liqueur. Two flavors I never considered together turned out to create one delicious drink! I was also privileged to have what I considered the best seat at the bar where Dan was creating all the drinks for the place right in front of me. It was truly a masterful show.
If you are still feeling adventurous then take a stroll across the Williamsburg Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge usually gets all the hype, which is understandable due to its major importance to the city, but the Williamsburg Bridge offers views of both the upper and lower parts of Manhattan, up and down the East River, and of course Williamsburg. Another bonus is that this bridge is usually far less crowded than the Brooklyn Bridge. Don’t feel like walking the span? Take the J, M, or Z train for a ride across that will get you a pretty decent view especially for a subway ride.
Here are some more pictures from around the Lower East Side.
And now for the lists!
Azasu (Japanese), Sorella (Italian), Lan Zhou (Chinese), Shopsin’s (diner), Black Tree (local/seasonal sandwiches), Congee Village (Cantonese), Dirty French (French), Katz’s Delicatessen (deli), Cocoron (ramen), Cafe Katja (Austrian), Clinton St. Baking Co., La Flaca (New Mexican), Birds and Bubbles (comfort food), Morganstern’s Finest Ice Cream, or Cherche Midi (bistro).
Schiller’s Liquor Bar, PDT (speakeasy), 169 Bar (70’s New Orleans), Welcome to the Johnson’s (basement), Mehanata (“Bulgarian party”), No Fun (dance), Mercury Lounge (live music), The Whiskey Ward, Max Fish, Top Hops (beer), Ten Bells (wine), Local 138 (speakeasy), Nurse Bettie (pin up w/ occasional burlesque), Loreley (beer garden), White Star, The Back Room, or The Box.
New Museum of Contemporary Art, Essex Street Market, Two Brits Retro Arcade, Sara D. Roosevelt Park, Arelene’s Grocery (for live music), various art galleries, or Hesler Street Fair (when it’s warm).
Places To Stay:
Hotel on Rivington, The Ludlow, Hotel East Houston, and of course there is always AirBnB