For many New Yorkers with Ukranian, Russian, or Jewish heritage – a large proportion – or even for any New Yorker at all who didn’t come over on the Mayflower – the Lower East Side has a magic all its own. It’s associated with immigration, the “melting pot” ideal, the place where grandma or grandpa lived when first starting out in the country of dreams. Once a place of tenements and memories of the “old country,” though, now much of the Lower East Side – bounded by Houston Street, the Bowery, Canal Street, and the FDR Drive – is new: a place of nightclubs, high-end cafes, boutiques, and other trendy venues, even as the traditional Jewish population of the place still remains selling menorahs and bargain clothing.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO: If history’s your thing, be sure to check out the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where you can see what life was like for immigrants of the early twentieth century. Book ahead, though; the museum’s tours are often sold out. Walk up and down Orchard Street for a glimpse at the trendy side of the Lower East Side today – there you’ll also be able to scout for clothing bargains (Sunday afternoon is the best time for this). Maybe you’ll catch the eye of a designer or two scouting for new ideas. If you’re a seasoned twitterer or technology addict, try the Lower East Side Cell Phone Tour – print a map from talkingstreet.com, follow the directions, and then call in free of charge at each “stop” point for a talk by an NYC native introducing you to the history of the area and site. Don’t forget to visit feminist Bluestoocking Radical Book on Allen Street, a bookstore/cafe that hosts regular readings and other events.