If you love the Big Apple, it’s time to take a bite out of the Lower East Side with iconic gems not to be missed.
New York is the largest city in the country, but this massive city is actually just a patchwork of distinct neighborhoods and communities that give the Big Apple its diverse flavor. For luxury travelers, the Upper East side, Tribeca and Soho are go-to areas, but for adventurers looking to branch out into undiscovered gems in the city, the Lower East Side (LES) is a hotspot of cafes, bars and history.
Historically, the LES was a gritty, working-class section of the city that was home to many immigrants in the early 1900s. Throughout the 20th Century, it was a hotbed for radical political statements and anarchy. While gentrification has transformed the LES into a hipster haven, its roots are still there waiting to be explored.
New York is the largest city in the country, but this massive city is actually just a patchwork of distinct neighborhoods and communities that give the Big Apple its diverse flavor.
Opened this year, Avant-garde hotelier Ian Schrager’s PUBLIC is the ideal base for your stay. In typical Schrager style, PUBLIC is disrupting the luxury hotel industry by redefining what luxury is. At PUBLIC, it’s not about a pricey hotel room, it’s about the experience you have. PUBLIC’s version of luxury is about service, comfort and convenience; offering travelers amenities for 2019, not 1919. You’ll find forward-thinking design like tons of places to plug in, the fastest Wi-Fi in the city—they call it blazing wi-fi— and communal workspaces. The hotelier has a new take on room service—order online, and it’s ready in seven minutes. Pick up your order in your jammies at Louis to Go purposefully located just outside the elevator. Design is paramount in all Schrager hotels, and PUBLIC doesn’t disappoint, boasting a clean, modern minimalist aesthetic. Rooms are small, but hey, this is New York. PUBLIC is also about making luxury accessible for more people, a fitting mantra for a hotel located in this historically blue-collar area.
Eldridge Street Synagogue
The Eldridge Street Synagogue is a designated National Historic Landmark, and the perfect jumping off point into the Jewish history of the LES. Built in 1887, it was the first Eastern European synagogue in the U.S. Today, it is the only remaining marker of the great wave of Jewish migration to America that is open to the public. Tours and exhibits introduce travelers to Jewish life in the early 20th Century. The Tenement Museum, an 1863 apartment building furnished to interpret the lives of Jewish immigrants, gives guests even more of a glimpse into daily life in the LES in the early 1900s.
Ask anyone who has or knows a Jewish grandma, and you know that a cornerstone of Jewish culture is Jewish cuisine. Some of New York’s iconic Jewish delis are in the LES. For the best bagels and lox in town, Russ & Daughters is a must. Family-owned since 1914, Oprah named it one of her favorite things this year. It was the first business in the country to have “& Daughters” in its name, a controversial and bold move in 1935 when founder Joel Russ made his three daughters full partners in the restaurant. For lunch, Katz’s Delicatessen, the oldest deli in the city, is the place for a Reuben or pastrami sandwich. Don’t miss seeing the table where Meg Ryan famously announced, “I’ll have what she’s having,” in “When Harry Met Sally.”
The New Museum
As the LES has become the place the cool kids hang, it’s no surprise art flourishes. The New Museum is Manhattan’s only museum dedicated to contemporary art. The museum is a place for living artists to be highlighted, and a space for new ideas and discussion to arise. The very modern building won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2010.
100 Gates Project
Art isn’t restricted to a museum in the LES, thanks to the creative 100 Gates Project that began in 2014 by a local artist who wanted to beautify the area by having artists create murals on 100 storefront security roll-down gates. When strolling the area after hours, keep your eyes peeled for some Banksy-inspired art along the way.
No exploration of the LES is complete without diving into the emerging culinary scene. In early 2019, the Essex Market moves to the neighborhood bringing with it 14 new food vendors and two new restaurants. The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is the perfect stop for snacking on unusual flavors from Durian to Black Sesame.
While the area is a hotbed of ethnic eats, several of New York’s top tables can be found here Gem is the first restaurant for young chef sensation Flynn McGarry, who started his culinary career at the ripe age of 12, throwing dinner parties at his mother’s house and at pop-ups in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Today the 20-year-old runs Gem, which is a coffee shop by day and transforms into a gourmand’s paradise at night, serving a 12- to 15-course tasting menu featuring small plates and family-style service for just 12 guests at each sitting. Michelin starred Contra serves up a six-course daily tasting menu for $100—unheard of in New York.
The LES is THE place to go today for trendy nightlife. Start the night at the swanky, speakeasy Attaboy. In true prohibition-era fashion, Attaboy flies under the radar. Ring the buzzer for AB134 to be let into the small industrial-chic bar. There are no menus, but the cocktail architects are well versed and can make any libation you can dream up. For a one-stop entertainment spot, Hotel Chantelle has a rooftop lounge with retractable roof, and a basement bar to kick up your heels on the rowdy dance floor. End your perfect day in the LES back at the hotel at PUBLIC’s chic rooftop bar offering 360-degree views of the city that never sleeps.
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