Insight Guides: Experience New York City - Insight Guides (2016)
EAST VILLAGE, LOWER EAST SIDE, AND WILLIAMSBURG
Joe Buglewicz/NYC & Co
Buy a hipster hat or handmade jewelry at a one-of-a-kind boutique
Rob Loud/Dressing Room Bar & Boutique
In your wanderings through the streets of the East Village and Lower East Side you’ll stumble across many interesting boutiques selling an assortment of individual items, from handmade jewelry and vintage rock T-shirts to trendy sneakers and wedding dresses.
For a fun hat-shopping experience, try Village Scandal (19 E. 7th St, [map] C4) in the East Village, which sells everything from hipster hats to panamas and their own custom cloche. For the latest in DJ turntables and a good choice of vinyl, head to the Turntable Lab (120 E. 7th St, [map] D4; click here for more places to buy old LPS and CDs in the area).
Vintage clothes stores and one-of-a-kind clothing boutiques line East 9th Street between Avenue A and second Avenue. Head for resale/consignment shop Tokio 7 (83 E. 7th St, [map] C4) and poke through great designer duds. Getting married? You’ll find gorgeous bridal gowns at Selia Yang (328 E. 9th St, [map] C4).
On the Lower East Side a number of designer co-op boutiques have sprung up, which showcase the work of emerging designers. Singer-songwriter Hillary Flowers also runs a boutique (40 Clinton St, [map] D3) featuring the work of about 20 designers, whose goods are put on display in exchange for working in the store. The Dressing Room (75a Orchard St, [map] C2) is both bar and hip designer emporium, with used and vintage clothes downstairs. Pilgrim (70 Orchard St, [map] C2) is a boutique owned by designers with Donna Karan and Anna Sui, who show off their own affordable designs here. The Frankie Shop (100 Stanton St, [map] C3) showcases international up-and-coming designers.
For men, 20 Peacocks (20 Clinton St, [map] D3) sells high-end European-style men’s shirts and ties. The New York Times calls nearby Assembly New York (174 Ludlow St, [map] C3) ‘the best curated men’s wear store in the city.’ Alongside its own designs it stocks an imaginative selection of other brands and vintage apparel.
Observe human and animal life at Tompkins Square Park, then hear some French Jazz
Tompkins Square Park has been a symbol of social unrest and alternative lifestyles since it opened in 1850 - it was reportedly remodeled in 1936 better to divide and manage crowds that gathered here to protest. The park was an infamous gathering place for hippies and runaways in the 1960s. By the 1980s it was a no-go zone of violent crime and drug- dealing, and became a focal point for conflicts between homeless activists and police. Attempts to oust them in 1988 sparked a two-day riot. With the area’s gradual gentrification, today’s Tompkins Square Park is an altogether more peaceful place: young professionals, families, students, and seniors come here to sit on park benches, enjoy arts festivals, or play on the basketball courts or playgrounds.
One of the main draws of the park is the large dog run, complete with bathing areas, where apartment-bound dogs of all breeds and sizes are let off the leash by their owners to scamp around and maybe get a hose down. Look up and take in the rare sight of dozens of American Elms, among the few elm trees in the country not wiped out by Dutch Elm disease.
Every year around Labor Day, crowds pack the park for the Howl! Arts Festival inspired by former East Village resident Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem. The highlight is the drag queen festival Wigstock. The weekend before, the park celebrates another former resident with the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival: two days of free concerts. Park-goers also enjoy classic French films at sunset each Friday night in June and July.
For some live jazz, French food and crisp oysters, neighborhood nightspot Jules Bistro is worth knowing about.
Tompkins Square Park; [map] D4
Jules Bistro, 65 St. Marks Pl; tel: 212-477-5560; [map] C4
Bite into an authentic pastrami sandwich, then go hear some American roots music
Julienne Schaer/NYC & Co
Katz’s Delicatessen (205 E. Houston St, [map] C3) is one of the last big delis on the Lower East Side, packing in locals, tourists, and people heading to hear music in the area which is full of great little venues. Katz’s has what some say is the best pastrami sandwich in the city, with the meat sliced by hand, and served with giant homemade pickles. Place your order at the counter, then jostle for a seat at a table. You might end up occupying the very seat in which Meg Ryan played out her famous ‘climax’ scene in When Harry Met Sally. Cash only.
Nora Jones honed her craft a couple of blocks away at the mellow Living Room (154 Ludlow St, [map] C3), which features several good bands a night with no cover charge. Arlene’s Grocery (95 Stanton St, [map] C3) showcases new rock, metal, and indie bands for a cheap cover. Bluegrass, alt-country, and American roots are the focus at the intimate Rockwood Music Hall (196 Allen St, [map] C3), or at the louder two-level Delancey (168 Delancey St, [map] C2). On Monday nights the Parkside Lounge (317 E. Houston St, [map] D3) hosts great bluegrass jams. Good indie and alternative bands play The MercuryLounge (217 E. Houston St, [map] C3) and even better bands from around the world play the historic Bowery Ballroom (6 Delancey St, [map] B3).
Raise a pint at a historic tavern
Malcolm Brown/NYC & Co
Open since the mid-1850s, McSorley’s Old Ale House is the oldest Irish tavern in the city, and it feels like it with its sawdust floor, worn wood doors, and walls covered with yellowing newspaper clippings and artwork including a wanted poster for Lincoln’s assassin. Everyone from Teddy Roosevelt to John Lennon has been here at some point, and it still packs in a crowd. Drinking here doesn’t require much thought: there are just two types of ale, light and dark, that come in little half-pint mugs for $4.50.
A few doors down, the worship of beer continues at Burp Castle with its quirky medieval-style murals, piped Gregorian chant, and bartenders occasionally dressed as monks. There are 12 types of draft beer and 40 brands of potent bottled beer imported from Belgium, Germany, and Britain. Free French fries from the nearby Belgian Pommes Frites shop are passed out from 5.30pm until supplies run out. Heavenly.
At the Thirsty Scholar around the corner, there’s no evidence that the wild-haired effigy of Mark Twain, the piles of musty books, or the beady-eyed portrait of Samuel Beckett inspire intellectual debate. Most serious thought given by locals at this cozy, low-ceilinged pub is on what to drink.
McSorley’s Old Ale House, 15 E. 7th St; tel: 212-474-9148; [map] C4
Burp Castle, 41 E. 7th St; tel: 212-982-4576; [map] C4
Thirsty Scholar, 155 Second Ave; tel: 212-777-6514; [map] C5
Chill out in an old-school Russian bath or New Age spa
Russian And Turkish Bath House
For nigh-on 100 years, East Villagers have been unwinding at the Russian and Turkish baths, an old-school and slightly worse-for-wear bathhouse where, once you’ve donned the requisite robe and sandals, you are well advised to attach yourself to the garrulous regulars and follow their established ritual. This includes a bake in a Russian sauna, a shvitz in a Turkish bath filled with clouds of lavender-scented steam, and frequent plunges into the ice-cold pool. For a small extra fee, attendants will flagellate you with oak leaves soaked in olive oil, scrub you in Dead Sea salts, and cake you in mud. A session ends with a cup of borscht or plate of chopped herring in the on-premises Anna’s Restaurant. You can find plenty of fancier places in New York to soak and sweat, but the cracked tiles and chatter infused with old-world lilts provide an only-in-New-York ambience that’s as refreshing as the treatment.
The nearby Great Jones Spa puts a New Age spin on tried-and-true bathhouse standards in a Water Lounge filled with all sorts of fancy wizardry, including a steam room aglow with health-inducing chakra lights.
Russian and Turkish Baths, 368 E. 10th St; tel: 212-674-9250; [map] D4
Great Jones Spa, 29 Great Jones St; tel: 212-505-3185; www.greatjonesspa.com; [map] B4
Go on a whirlwind hipster tour of Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Start by having brunch or a mimosa at magnificent, old-world Hotel Delmano (82 Berry St, [map] G1), or try simple and delicious French fare at cozy Le Barricou (553 Grand St, tel: 718-782-7372, [map] H2).
Then head out to Bedford Avenue, the area’s main shopping drag, chockablock with clothing and antique shops, cafes, and restaurants. Start at Brooklyn Industries (no. 162), where messenger bags and cool T’s for both men and women are hot items, or poke through the well-edited selection of designer clothes made in NYC at In God We Trust (no. 148). One of the more interesting stores you’ll find is Catbird (no. 219), a tiny, funky shop specializing in fine delicate jewelry and interesting gift ideas. Get some vintage CDs and LPS at Earwax next door, or browse the crammed bookshelves at quirky Spoonbill and Sugartown a few doors down, then head next door to Verb Café to study hipsters in their natural environment. If you’re craving a snack, get a free cheese sample at the Bedford Gourmet Cheese Shop (no. 229).
When you’re ready for dinner, try the cozy and packed Diner (85 Broadway, tel: 718-486-3077), a favorite with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain for its grass-fed burger and organic new American cuisine. If the wait is too long, go a few blocks away to Maison Premiere (298 Bedford Ave, tel: 347-345-0446), a famously decadent oyster bar set in the 1920s that is dripping with romance and finely crafted cocktails. Then it’s time for what Brooklyn is really famous for these days: music (for more information, click here).
Bedford Avenue; [map] H2
Drink or dine in a cool Lower East Side bar or restaurant
Foodies looking for adventure off the beaten path head to the Lower East Side, where small eateries pack them in thanks to interesting menus and a hip but mature vibe.
Lower East Side
The intersection of Broome and Orchard streets is one of the more fashionable in the area. Black Tree (131 Orchard St, tel: 212-533-4684, [map] C2) is a hip yet homey spot serving seasonal, organic and imaginative sandwiches like fresh pumpkin with fall spice ricotta, mozzarella, roasted seeds, and herbs. Just around the corner the hot new downtown wine bar, Ten Bells (247 Broome St, tel: 212-228-4450, [map] C2) serves organic wine by the glass or the bottle accompanied by yummy nibbles - rillettes, mixed cheese plates, fresh oysters - in a dimly lit, cozily rustic space. Fashionable Freeman’s (8 Rivington St, end of Freeman’s Alley, tel: 212-420-0012, [map] B3) a pioneer of the hunting-lodge chic look, serves sophisticated American traditional food (wild-boar terrine, summer pudding). Meatballs have made a comeback in Manhattan, witnessed by the popular Meatball Shop (84 Stanton St, tel: 212-982-8895, [map] C3), which has a wide-ranging meatball menu from classic beef, chicken, or spicy pork to salmon or vegetarian.
Serious foodies head to Lowlife (178 Stanton St, tel: 212- 257-0509, [map] D3) where chef Alex Leonard invents wildly imaginative concoctions like Dayboat scallops with pickled chanterelles and oroblanco. Schiller’s Liquor Bar (131 Rivington St, tel: 212-260-4555, [map] C3) is a bohemian bar and bistro, serving the fashionable, the local and the suited. For pancakes, pies and freshly baked goods, head to The Clinton St. Baking Company (4 Clinton St, tel: 646-602-6263, [map] D3) - a popular brunch and lunch spot.
For some people-watching and the wow-factor, have a drink in the dramatic lounge of the Hotel on Rivington (107 Rivington St, [map] C3); or try to get past the velvet ropes at the exclusive penthouse bar Above Allen (190 Allen St, [map] C3) with its sensational view of the New York skyline. A scruffy but fun alternative, lively dive bar Max Fish (178 Ludlow St, [map] C3) lays on cheap beer, a pool table and a great jukebox.
A few blocks north in the East Village, Supper (156 E. 2nd St, tel: 212-477-7600, [map] D3) is a current downtown favorite, serving rustic Italian in a crowded yet convivial space. Prune (54 E. 1st St, tel: 212- 677-6221, [map] C3) has a polished menu of American dishes with ethnic twists, and a great weekend brunch. Delicious smells waft from the wood-burning oven into Gnocco (337 E. 10th St, tel: 212-667-1913, [map] D4), a relaxed but sophisticated Tuscan restaurant with a great outdoor garden.
Celebrate the spirit of Allen Ginsberg at a poetry reading, then peek at cutting-edge filmmaking
Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s presence is alive in the East Village at the Nuyorican Poets Café, which Ginsberg called ‘the most integrated place on the planet’ because of its mix of white, Afro-Cuban, and African-American rappers and poets, musicians and storytellers, performing in many languages. This cultural institution maintains its long-standing street cred in its current home, a high-ceilinged, brick-walled space on East 3rd Street in Alphabet City. Crowds line up around the block to cram into the small club for the Friday night poetry slam, but also worth checking out is the hip-hop poetry and jazz open jam, Afro-Cuban jazz evenings, or the open-mic prison-writing night called Write from Wrong.
Spoken-word junkies will also love the Bowery Poetry Club, which bills itself a ‘playground for language.’ This spacious cafe with a party atmosphere puts on about 20-30 shows a week, hosting poetry slams and readings, burlesque and jazz with poetry, and monthly events like poetry and stories from Andy Warhol alum Taylor Mead, and the Urbana Thunderslam open-mic poetry slam.
Cinephiles will find paradise at The Anthology Film Archives, devoted to archiving, restoring, and showing the best in experimental film. Programmers dig into the vault and show several screenings a day of classic and cutting-edge documentaries and art films, along with filmmaker retrospectives and premieres. The seats are uncomfortable, it can be hot in the summer and cold in the winter, the roof is known to leak, but hardcore film buffs don’t complain.
Nuyorican Poets Café, 236 E. 3rd St; tel: 212-505-8183; [map] D3
The Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery; tel: 212-614-0505; www.bowerypoetry.com; [map] B4
The Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Ave; tel: 212-505-5181; www.anthologyfilmarchives.org; [map] C4
Eat a curry on Indian Row
Tagger Yancey IV/NYC & Co
On 6th Street between Second and First Avenues is Indian Row, where about a dozen Indian food restaurants compete for customers. Their menus and decor - heavy on all-year-round Christmas lights - are so similar there’s an urban myth they share the same block-long underground kitchen. There are two standouts: Brick Lane Curry House (306 East 6th St, tel: 212-979-2900) has a light, airy decor and a menu a notch above the others. Indian foodies praise their garlic naan and the Goan curry, the house specialty. Just around the corner is Malai Marke (318 E. 6th St, tel: 212-777-7729), where the popular dish is lamb dhansak, a sumptuous lamb curry cooked with lentils, cumin and ginger. Great people-watching from the front windows.
Indian Row, on 6th St, between Second and First aves; [map] C4
The official Little India in Manhattan is a several-block radius of Indian eateries and shops centered on Lexington Avenue near 26th Street (another Little India is in Jackson Heights, Queens). A standout choice here is Pongal (110 Lexington Street, tel: 212-696-9458, [map] F3), across from the famous food and spice shops Foods of India and Kalustyan’s. Pongal serves authentic vegetarian South Indian fare; recommended are the delicious dosas and the Royal Thali.
At Vatan (409 Third Ave at 29th St, tel: 212-689-5666, [map] G3) you take off your shoes and sit on cushions in a decor evocative of a village in Gujarat. Waitresses serve generous helpings of tasty vegetarian thali in pre-set menus.
Some Indian food fans say the best in the city is at Salaam Bombay in Tribeca (319 Greenwich St, tel: 212-226-9400, [map] C1), though there are complaints about poor service.
For upscale, inspired New Indian dishes that get rave reviews, head to Junoon (27 W 24th Street, tel: 212-490-2100, [map] E4) in the Flatiron District.
Rub shoulders with DJs while shopping for turntables, LPs, and CDs in the East Village
Record and CD collectors, and DJ wannabes head for the East Village, an area with a history of setting music trends. Its heyday was in the 1970s-90s when many now-legendary bands paid their dues here like Luscious Jackson, Talking Heads, Dee-Lite, Patti Smith, and the Ramones to name but a few. High rents have pushed the indie-rock and roots-music scene to Brooklyn (for more information, click here), and music clubs are now centered on the Lower East Side (for more information, click here), but the East Village is clinging with tenacity to its musical past as the destination for DJs, and LP and CD collectors.
At Other Music (15 E. 4th St, [map] B4), DJs and musicians flip through carefully curated rare and experimental records. Helpful blurbs are posted on new indie-rock arrivals, and there’s a great selection of quirkier finds from obscure psychedelia to Polynesian electronica. Turntable Lab (120 E. 7th St, [map] D4) is a one-stop source for both aspiring and professional DJs, selling basic equipment and high-tech add-ons, as well as a small but eclectic vinyl collection. At A1 Record Shop (439 E. 6th St, [map] D4), you can find out-of-print rarities. Good Records (218 E. 5th St, [map] C4) has carefully chosen rock, soul, jazz, hip-hop, funk, and reggae vinyl. Gimme Gimme Records (325 E. 5th St, [map] C4) carries a good selection of disco, house, and techno vinyl, but is only open Fri-Sun 1-10pm.
To watch DJs in action any time of day or night, pass by the street-level studio of the internet radio station East Village Radio. Up to 60 DJs take turns playing excellent and rare music in a mix of genres in two-hour blocks.
Shop for imported high-end fabrics at low prices
Rising rents and encroaching gentrification have forced many of Manhattan’s neighborhood haberdashers and fabric merchants out of business, as their premises are snapped up by trendy boutiques and bars. But there are a few survivors in the Lower East Side, which remains a good destination for excellent, keenly priced furnishing textiles.
For the best selection of upholstery and drapery fabric in the city, head to Harry Zarin Fabric Warehouse. The cavernous building is filled with fabric and notions. They buy directly from mills and manufacturers, so can offer steep discounts on luxurious designer fabrics. The company is known for supplying set designers on major TV shows shooting in the New York area, including 30 Rock, Law & Order, and Sex and the City.
An equally impressive array of domestic and imported fabrics and trimmings can be found at Joe’s Fabric Warehouse.
The Fashion District has the best choice of apparel fabric shops (see box), but there are a couple of noteworthy outlets round here: Mendel Goldberg Fabrics, which also sells quilting and needlepoint supplies, and Belraf Fabrics, a narrow shop with a wide selection.
Harry Zarin Fabric Warehouse, 69 Orchard St; tel: 212-925-6112; [map] C2
Joe’s Fabric Warehouse, 102 Orchard St; tel: 212-674-7089; [map] C3
Mendel Goldberg Fabrics, 72 Hester St; tel: 212-925-9110; [map] B2
Belraf Fabrics, 159 Orchard St; tel: 212-505-2106; [map] C3
Midtown fabric shops
While the East Village is known for upholstery fabric, the best selection of outlets for clothing fabric is in the Midtown Fashion District. At Mood (225 W. 37th St, [map] C2), professionals and amateur seamstresses spend hours poking through the huge and well-priced fabric selection.
Made famous by the hit TV series Project Runway, B&J Fabrics (525 Seventh Ave, [map] C2) stocks only beautiful, quality fabrics and is slightly pricier. The best selection of buttons and trimmings in the city is at M&J Trimming (1008 Sixth Ave, [map] D1).
Step into a 19th-century time capsule and marvel at America’s first synagogue
Keiko Niwa/LES Tenement Museum
Families who sought a new life in the United States during the great era of immigration (1880-1920), often found their first American home in a building such as the gaunt six-story brick tenement on the Lower East Side which now houses the Tenement Museum. Over a span of seven decades, this one building was home to more than 7,000 people from some 20 countries. In 1935, the upstairs apartments were sealed by the landlord, who didn’t want to bring them to code. On the discovery of this inadvertant time capsule, more than half a century later, the building was converted into a museum. One flat has been left exactly as it was found when the building was reopened, while others have been recreated to provide insight into the families’ ethnic backgrounds and daily lives. Tour guides tell compelling stories about the people who lived there and the resilience with which they sought to combat poverty and assimilate into New York life.
A visit to the nearby Eldridge Street Synagogue, restored to its former glory after a 20-year restoration, will shed further light on the lives of immigrants, for whom religion played such an important role. Both places can only be seen by guided tour.
Tenement Museum, 108 Orchard St; tel: 866-606-7232; www.tenement.org; tours daily, 10.30am-4pm; [map] C3
Eldridge Street Synagogue, 12 Eldridge St; www.eldridgestreet.org; tours Sun-Thu 10am-5pm; [map] B2
Catch some hot bands in Brooklyn, indie-music capital of the country
Because of the high concentration of bands calling the place home, Brooklyn has made its name as America’s indie-music capital. The following is a list of reputable live performance spaces. (The mapping in this book doesn’t extend to all of these venues, so check websites for locations.)
The Music Hall of Williamsburg (66 North 6th St, tel: 718-468-5400, www.musichallofwilliamsburg.com, [map] G3) features top-notch or about-to-break indie bands in a large but intimate space, run by the excellent Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan. Pete’s Candy Store (709 Lorimer St, tel: 718-302-3770, www.petescandystore.com, off map area) is small and fun, with a hip crowd, kitsch decor, good Martinis, and live music every night.
The Brooklyn Bowl (61 Wythe Ave, tel: 718-963-3369, www.brooklynbowl.com, [map] H3) is a hotspot for hearing up-and-coming bands while you try for a strike and munch on great food. Fada (530 Driggs Ave, tel: 718-388-6607, www.fadany.com, [map] H2) has a darkly lit, laidback French cafe vibe and features great live jazz and world music, from reggae to Brazilian bluegrass. Some say the Knitting Factory (361 Metropolitan Ave, tel: 347-529-6696, off map area) got its mojo back moving to Brooklyn from Manhattan. For a loud, sweaty and fun experience listening to great bands like MGMT or Neon Indian, or dancing to a DJ set, go to Baby’s All Right (146 Broadway, www.babysallright.com, [map] F1).
In the more gentrified Park Slope, The Bell House (149 7th St, tel: 718-643-6510, www.thebellhouseny.com, off map area) has a little bit of everything you could want and packs in crowds with its eclectic mix of live music.