New York: Lower East Side Explorer
New York City is similar to a living organism, constantly changing and adapting. Tourists come to visit this city wanting to see it all but in reality they barely scratch the surface. Even living in New York one does not have enough time to see and do everything Manhattan has to offer, let alone explore the other four boroughs (Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island and Queens).
Getting to know your neighborhood, however, is a different matter. When walking or biking (the preferred modes of transport here) to your destination or subway stop, you discover places you normally wouldn't if driving. You seek out a favorite cafe, restaurant, local laundromat and bodega (hispanic mini-mart) and over time you become a regular. Becoming a regular anywhere in this city can be comforting and somewhat necessary to feel a sense of belonging, as believe it or not, it gets lonely living in NYC among the masses.
So from living in the Lower East Side for the past year, I give you my guide to the neighborhood I call home and my favorite places I have discovered while walking to pick up my laundry, getting my daily coffee fix or searching for Tim Tams on a rainy afternoon.
LEI'S GUIDE TO THE LOWER EAST SIDE...
Note: Not all businesses in the L.E.S. are listed, just my favorite picks.
So let's start off with the most important shall we?
(Lower East Side location)
Former home to Zelig Blumenthal’s Judaica shop, Café Grumpy set up it's fourth location here, in the historic neighborhood of the Lower East Side. Out of this narrow cubby they sell delicious coffee, including a flat white, a rather rare find in NYC, their own brand of coffee beans and breads and pastries baked next door at Café Grumpy Bakery. In summer you can visit the Hester Street Fair located across the street, where Grumpy's has a stall. Grumpy is my favorite coffee that I have found in New York. It makes me forget how much I miss Melbourne coffee and for this I frequently wander the few blocks South to enjoy what they have to offer.
IRVING FARM COFFEE ROASTERS ORCHARD
Irving Farm’s relationship with the 88 Orchard location dates back to the early days, when the quaint café at the corner of Orchard and Broome began working with Irving Farm more than a decade ago. When the time came for the owners to move in a new direction, they naturally turned to Irving Farm.
This cozy bustling coffee shop located on the picturesque corner is often used as the backdrop in Hollywood films and you can see why. It is the perfect place to perch during the day with a computer or a book, a latte and a bagel and watch the eclectic range of passers-by.
LOST WEEKEND NYC
Down the road from Italian men's clothing stores and a Japanese restaurant equipment wholesalers you will find the cool and discreet Lost Weekend NYC, the coffee bar and lifestyle shop. Blue Bottle coffee (San Francisco based), Mast Brothers Chocolate (Brooklyn based) and skin care products by New Yorkers Malin+Goetz are sold here. WIFI is free but there are no power plugs so come with electronics fully juiced. Also for those skim milk, iced-latte and fake sugar lovers, find some place else to buy your coffee. These baristas are coffee snobs in the true sense of the word and I salute them, as long as they serve soy...and they do.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
Without a sign this gem of the Lower East Side is easy to miss but the crowd outside (on every night of the week) waiting for a table is a dead give away that this is a restaurant well worth the wait. Along with most New York restaurants, Barrio Chino (which means 'Chinese hood' in Spanish), does not take reservations (large parties only) but walking away without trying this place is just not an option. Asian lanterns and Chinese portraits decorate this small but airy space with exposed brick walls and dark wood bar. Start with guacamole and homemade tortilla chips, order one of their infused tequilas or for a delicious kick, try jalapeño or habanero-infused tequilas with your favorite flavored margarita and share a selection of their tacos and the tender bistek a la casa (10 oz marinated skirt steak served with sauteed spinach, mushrooms and black beans topped with queso fresco) which is my favorite. The perfect place if you are in need of a margarita at the bar, a Sunday brunch (less busy and similar to the PM menu) or a romantic evening.
On the border of Chinatown, this hip little Vietnamese eatery, satisfies cravings for all things bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches), pho (beef noodle soup) and bun (vermicelli bowl). With a recently added bar, and floor to ceiling windows that slide open on gorgeous balmy nights during summer, this is a great place to come. While not as cheap as other Asian restaurants in the area, go for a quick snack or a fun night out with mates. I always buy a bottle of Fresh Ginger Ginger Ale by Bruce Cost in Pomegranate with my meal.
WHAT TO DO
Only after living down the road from the Tenement Museum for one year did I finally visit and I loved it. This five-story brick tenement (a house divided into and rented out to separate residences, typically run-down and overcrowded) was home to an estimated 7,000 working-class immigrants, from over 20 nations, between 1863 and 1935 and is now a National Historic Site. Guided tours take you through the building, into recreated apartments while hearing about what life was like for families living there during that time. Educational and fun, I would definitely recommend visiting the Tenement museum.
Have a great Thursday and stay cool, it's so hot in NYC!