Manhattan’s southeastern most corner (aptly named the Lower East Side) is one of its most diverse and dynamic neighborhoods. Once a sea of tenements where immigrants from countries like Germany, Italy, Hungary, Russia and Ukraine flocked, the LES has undergone a rapid gentrification over the past decade and a half. With new galleries, museums, restaurants and apartment buildings popping up almost daily, the LES has become one of Lower Manhattan’s most desirable enclaves, yet it still maintains much of its old-world gritty charm. Here’s what to do in the Lower East Side.
Don’t be turned off by the terse and sometimes abrasive nature of the people behind the counter at Katz’s—it’s all part of the show. The city’s most famous deli, Katz’s has been serving no frills sandwiches and attitude to NYC since 1888. Do yourself a favor and order the pastrami on rye with brown mustard and a side of pickles. One thing’s for certain—you won’t leave hungry.
Katz’s Delicatessen. 205 E Houston St, New York, NY. (212) 254-2246
The LES has seen an influx of high-end art gallery transplants from Chelsea thanks to lower rent prices in the neighborhood—and Sasha Wolf Gallery is one of the best. The gallery focuses on contemporary photography by emerging and mid-career artists. Every piece on display is a for sale limited edition, so you can take a little bit of NYC home with you when you leave.
Sasha Wolf Gallery. 70 Orchard Street, New York, NY. (212) 925-0025
If you like drinking and arcade games then Two-Bit’s is the place to be. Vintage arcade games, playable for 25 cents a pop, line the walls at this cult-classic LES watering hole. The dark and narrow space is lit by the flashing neon lights of games of old (Street Fighter) and new (The Walking Dead). It’s probably the only place in the city where you can drink a Colt 45 and play Donkey Kong at the same time.
Two Bit’s Retro Arcade. 153 Essex Street, New York, NY. (212) 477-8161
While the New Museum isn’t technically new (it’s been in New York since 1977) its state of the art building is only a couple years old and has become a hallmark of the ever-changing landscape of the Lower East Side. Characterized by a jagged stacked box design and a sailboat dangling above the sidewalk from the fourth floor, the museum’s exhibits are as innovative as its exterior. Stop by on a Thursday night from 7-9 p.m. when admission is pay-what-you wish or on the weekend to take advantage of the Sky Room—a roof deck with 360 degree views of Manhattan.
New Museum. 235 Bowery, New York, NY. (212) 219-1222
One of Lower Manhattan’s preeminent live music venues, the Bowery Ballroom is the go-to spot for lovers of the indie music scene. Up-and-coming acts like Tennis, Hotel Garuda and Jai Wolf pack the house at this intimate ballroom constructed in 1929. Tickets are affordable ranging from $15-25 depending on the artist, and most shows culminate with a happy hour in one of the venue’s multiple bars for a nightcap or to keep the party going—the choice is yours.
Bowery Ballroom. 6 Delancey St, New York, NY. (212) 260-4700