History of the Lower East Side
The Lower East Side has everything you could want in a New York City neighborhood, and it is no surprise that it is in high demand right now. Abbreviated as “LES”, the area is wedged between Chinatown and the East Village south of Houston Street, bordering the East River.
For much of its early years, the LES was the prime spot for immigrants as they began their new lives in America. Hundreds, if not thousands, of tenements were built to accommodate for the large numbers of people pouring in every day.
With this came an exchange of individual histories and a unique mix of cultures for the neighborhood. By the time the Second World War was over, the LES was considered New York City’s “first racially integrated neighborhood.”
Today, although many groups have dispersed and created other neighborhoods, the streets of the LES still show the decades worth of culture.
The Vibe of the Lower East Side
The buildings of the Lower East Side tell its history. Many were once home to dozens of people per room, and have been remodeled since to create better spaces. However, the exteriors of the buildings have gone untouched because of their unique beauty.
If you walk around the LES, you’ll be sure to spot pedimented entryways and hand sculpted details, as well as large arched windows. It’s no surprise that the district is considered a landmark, and protected as such.
The neighborhood can be described as urban with a modern touch, especially with all the up-and-coming construction projects. Still, the soul of the buildings remain, and many apartments have beautiful exposed brick walls to add to their charm.
Unique Features of the Lower East Side
Many iconic artists grew up on the LES, such as the Marx Brothers and Irving Berlin, who helped shape the neighborhood’s rich history. The art scene lives on to this day, and the LES continues to be a center for contemporary art where many unique galleries are located, such as Bodega and Bridget Donahue.
The LES is also a hot destination for street artists in New York City who continuously brighten up street walls, buildings, and even abandoned storefronts and dumpsters with beautiful murals and other forms of street art.
Things to do on the Lower East Side
History flows throughout the Lower East Side, and it doesn’t just stop at art. The Tenement Museum is proudly “bringing American immigration stories to life”. Take a tour of recreated saloons, official landmarks, or stay late on Thursdays for the various “Late Night Thursday” programs the museum offers every week.
Simply walking around the LES is also a great activity because of all of the art there is to view. There are a variety of restaurants to stop and grab a bite to eat at as well when you need a break from exploring this Manhattan neighborhood.
Top Food Choices on the Lower East Side
If you’re feeling hungry, you’re in luck! The LES is known for its variety of restaurants, bars, and cafes no matter the hour. Here are some of our favorites:
Katz’s is one of New York City’s most historic spots to eat. It was opened in 1888 and is arguably still the best place in NYC for a pastrami sandwich!
If you’re feeling risky, try SakaMai: A Japanese high-end cocktail bar and restaurant with a signature sea urchin bowl dish, “Egg on Egg on Egg,” and never-ending sake options.
Need to satisfy your sweet tooth? Ice & Vice is hailed as the “Willy Wonka of LES dessert.” They have unique treats that go beyond your imagination, and everything is handcrafted, too!
Top Three Things We Love About the Lower East Side
- Full of Art – The LES is known for its extensive art history, and you can see murals on practically every street.
- Trendy Food Spots – There are plenty of unique food spots in the area to try.
- Fun and Fresh Nightlife – Once the sun sets, everyone flocks to the LES bars and clubs.