Lower East Side Basics
Welcome to the Lower East Side, where it’s near impossible to have a bad time! From the lively bars and clubs to the cultural institutions and museums, this neighborhood has a little something for everyone which is why this historic area is popular with locals and visitors alike. Visit the Lower East Side and you’ll notice that this neighborhood has a vivacious energy that refuses to be ignored.
History of the Lower East Side
In the 1600s, Dutch settlers along with an enclave of freed black farmers and members of the Lenape Nation were all living in the area that would eventually become the Lower East Side. According to the Encyclopedia of New York City, the Lenape would eventually be displaced, and the farms purchased by the Delancy family, who would hold onto this large chunk of Manhattan for quite some time. One of the only sections that didn’t belong to Delancy was Corlears Hook, a port used by the Dutch and later by the British.
After the American Revolution, both Corlears Hook and the Delancey Farm, were seized due to the Delancy family’s loyalty to the British Empire and developed by the city as it expanded northward. However, the neighborhood was never really favored by the upper class of the city and by the early 1800s the area became known as a slum. Some of the first tenement buildings in the city were built here, which drew large numbers of immigrants, artists, and working-class people to the area.
Due to the influx of artists into the neighborhood, the Lower East side begin to grow in popularity throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. Though, sadly, not popular enough to raise the neighborhood out of poverty entirely. In the 1960s, real estate developers began referring to the northern part of the Lower East Side as “The East Village” as many artists and venues that made the area popular with counter-culture enthusiasts lived above Houston Street. This cut down on the size of the Lower East Side and made it significantly smaller.
Around the 1980s, students and artists seeking cheap housing began to move to the area. This helped the city with some redevelopment efforts, and the neighborhood turned itself around by the year 2000. Luxury buildings began development in the area, and tons of businesses flocked there to take advantage of the neighborhood’s new popularity. Today, the Lower East Side is full of art, culture, and life, celebrating its newfound success while paying homage to its tumultuous past.
Museums of the Lower East Side
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This neighborhood has a ton of unique museums to visit. Some of the best in the area include:
This contemporary art museum has been around since 1977 and is currently the only museum in Manhattan dedicated solely to contemporary art. This place is a haven for new art, mediums, and ideas that will one day change the world.
This museum details the history of immigration in NYC, as well as the history of tenement housing. Guests can tour actual tenements, with recreations of homes from all the way back as 1860. History won’t always be pretty, but it’s important to experience and remember.
International Center of Photography
This museum focuses on the history and practice of photography. They have beautiful exhibitions detailing the impacts of historical and contemporary photography, as well as educational programs to encourage future photographers.
Entertainment Venues of the Lower East Side
The Lower East Side is one of the best neighborhoods in the city to experience live music and dance the night away. There are a ton of options so it might be difficult to pick and choose. Here’s some of our favorite venues in this neighborhood.
Rockwood Music Hall
There are three separate stages located at this music hall venue. Each stage is slightly different in the types of seating options they offer. For example, one of the stages is fully seated, another has a dance hall, and the third has a bit of both. Your needs should be accommodated regardless at this venue.
Many great bands and artists have played at this venue since 2005. Popular artists like Lady Gaga, Jessie J, and Bille Joe Armstrong are among some of the most famous artists who have performed here.
The Slipper Room
Looking to spice up your evening? Check out the Slipper Room which puts up a variety of acts included burlesque. The late night shows you catch here are full of laughs, awe, and intrigue, making this one of the coolest performance spaces in the city.
The Bowery Ballroom
The Bowery Ballroom is famous for a reason. This venue is lively and features some of the best artists around such as Lana Del Rey, Radiohead, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. While some of the biggest musical acts in the world perform here, the venue reserves plenty of space for indie bands to perform as well. Regardless of what you’re planning on watching, tickets at this venue are typically quite affordable, which is why this place is popular with both local residents and visitors.
Where to Eat in the Lower East Side
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The Lower East Side is home to plenty of famous restaurants and a wide assortment of delicious cuisines. It’s hard to really pick out the best of the best, however, here are some of the restaurants members of our staff have really enjoyed.
Katz’s Delicatessen ($$)
One of the most famous restaurants and delis in all of NYC, Katz’s Deli has been serving up amazing meals since 1888. Their deli meats can be shipped to almost anywhere in the nation, and they always have Jewish specialties ready to eat in person. If you’re stopping by here, be sure to try the Pastrami on Rye, it’s what Katz’s Deli is well known for! Katz’s can get busy, so if possible, try to plan on going during off-peak hours otherwise be prepared to wait for up to an hour.
This new American restaurant is already making a name for itself with its delicious, innovative, and organic dishes. For those with a sweet tooth, you’re in luck because the donut selection at Wildair is always fun and unique. Regardless of if you’re stopping in for a full meal or just a little pick-me-up donut, you won’t be disappointed.
Beauty and Essex ($$$)
Ever been to a restaurant run like a speakeasy? To dine at Beauty and Essex, you’ll need to walk through a pawnshop to reach the restaurant’s entrance. Once inside, be prepared to be awed by its fun and eclectic decor. There are two levels of seating at the restaurant, one for more social affairs and one with more private dining rooms currently connected by a grand spiral staircase. This place is one of the coolest restaurants in the neighborhood.
Bars of the Lower East Side
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There are a ton bars in this neighborhood, all of which bring a special energy to NYC nightlife. Some of the best bars include:
This club resides in an old piano bar, and keeps the spirit of the past alive with dinner, dancing, and amazing live music. This place even does bottle service for private tables, making it one of the finest clubs in the area.
Loreley Beer Garden ($$)
This beer garden is a great place to gather with friends, even in the winter, thanks to its heated outdoor space. They are well known for their brunch menu, and for the beautiful greenery that graces both the interior and exterior of the establishment.
Mr. Purple ($$)
This cocktail lounge is one of the more subtle bars in the neighborhood, but they can get rowdy when they want to. Their annual New Year’s celebration brings in a crowd, and their outdoor space has spectacular views.
Where to Live in the Lower East Side
Due to its rising popularity over the last few decades, the Lower East Side has experienced significant population growth. As a result, many new residential developments have been or are in the process of being developed and constructed for housing. Based on our research, here are some of the best apartment complexes to live in.
This elegant condo was built in 2021, and is one of the best looking buildings in the neighborhood. Many of the units have private outdoor space, and residents have access to a shared public roof deck, a fitness center, and private parking.
57 Pitt Street
One of the more historic buildings in the neighborhood, this rental complex was first constructed in 1900 then renovated. The new flooring, exposed brick, and large windows are welcome features.
One Essex Crossing
This huge condo building finished its construction in 2021. Several units feature enormous private outdoor space. Residents have access to a fitness center, children’s playroom, and even a concierge service that can grant you access and insight to things happening in the city.
81 Orchard Street
This rental building was constructed in 1910, but has been recently updated. Now all units have stainless steel appliances, in-unit washers and dryers, and central air. The apartments here are perfect for smaller families and young professionals.
One Manhattan Square
This tall condo has some of the best views in the city and everything a resident could want, including a swimming pool, a hot tub, a fitness center, and even a media room. This building is the height of luxury.
Traveling in the Lower East Side
The Lower East Side is pretty easy to get to and traverse. Some of the best ways to get around here are:
The NYC subway system services the Lower East Side via the B, D, F, M, J, and Z trains.
The NYC bus system services the Lower East Side via the M9, M14, M15, M21, M22, and M103.
Bike Rentals and Rideshares
The Lower East Side is connected to two major bridges going in and out of Brooklyn. Because of this, and the narrow streets, traffic can get rather annoying here. Rideshares are still popular, but they will take awhile. Biking, on the other hand, is very popular due to the miles of bike lanes and Citi Bike docking stations.
The Lower East Side has had a tumultuous past, but has been thriving for more than 40 years now. The art, nightlife, and food here make the neighborhood one of the best in the city. The energy here is palpable, drawing people in and making them want to stick around. Even if you don’t currently live here, you’ll want to stop by and check it out on a nice weekend. Be sure to plan time for a few of the activities on our list.
Russell is a writer and comic based in New York City. His plays have been featured at Penn State’s Cultural Conversation’s Festival, The NYC Thespis Festival, and Imaginarium’s Inaugural Theater Festival. Follow him on TikTok and Instagram @pooleparty528