The Upper East Side is the grande dame of New York City neighborhoods — and residents wouldn't have it any other way. It's the home of mahogany libraries, ornate balustrades, doormen and town cars. Yet there's much more to it than that. It also has world-class museums, independent shops, peaceful streets and, of course, Central Park. Though the young and wealthy often prefer downtown, there's still a sense that social capital resides here. The neighborhood's cachet is in what it represents: success.
The Upper East Side covers a large area, from 59th to 96th Streets, and Fifth Avenue to the East River. It encompasses the neighborhood of Yorkville in its northeastern corner. The only subway line running the entire length of the area is the 4/5/6 on Lexington Avenue. On the southern end of the neighborhood you also have the F at 63rd Street, the N/Q/R at 59th Street or the E at 53rd Street. Buses run across town to the west side (the M96, M86, M72 lines) and up and downtown (the M1, M2, M3 line). The expansion of Second Avenue subway is finally underway, with completion expected in December 2016. Until then, it can be a hike to the subway for those living close to the river and for any Fifth Avenue residents without drivers.
The Upper East Side is safe, clean, relatively quiet and a good place for families. Central Park's 843 verdant acres are reason enough to settle here. Just outside their doorsteps, residents have spring flowers, summer concerts and brilliant autumnal colors, which typically peak on marathon weekend. On warm days, there are circles of strollers on lawns and gleeful echoes from the playgrounds. In the winter, there's the rare urban amenity of great sledding hills. Cyclists can zip around the six-mile loop around the park, while runners can choose their own adventure on many different routes. Instead of fenced-in dog runs, Central Park has designated areas where dogs are allowed off-leash early in the morning and late at night.
Though there's plenty of highbrow culture on the Upper East Side, it's not exactly cutting-edge. You don't move here to go out on the town. Some young people find the area stodgy, so they settle in more affordable Yorkville, which at least has neighborhood pubs. If you're under 30, you'll conduct your social life elsewhere.
The neighborhood is evenly divided between single (42%) and married (43%) residents, and 12% have children. One-third of residents are in their 30s and 40s and another third are over 50, including 10% over 70. The median household income is $83,698.
With most of the neighborhood served only by the 4/5/6 on Lexington Avenue, commute times are largely dependent on the walk to the subway. Most residents travel at least 20 minutes to work. For 28%, the commute is 30-45 minutes; for 25%, it's over 45 minutes. Anything on the east side is a quick ride, but the west side can be trickier. For instance, from 86th Street and Lexington Avenue, it's 8 minutes to Grand Central but 25 minutes to Penn Station. Union Square is about a 15-minute trek and Wall Street is 25 minutes away.
When it comes to high art and culture, it's hard to beat the Upper East Side. Fifth Avenue is known as "Museum Mile," a stretch that includes the Guggenheim, the Neue Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Frick Collection. On Park Avenue, the Asia Society puts on fascinating exhibitions and the Park Avenue Armory hosts art fairs, plays and concerts. Galleries, such as Gagosian on Madison Avenue and Michael Werner on East 77th Street, are nestled in here too. The Carlyle hotel continues to host some of the city's best (and most expensive) cafe concerts, including Woody Allen's long-running jazz gig on Monday nights.
Madison Avenue is lined with shops (mostly luxury international brands such as Prada and Ralph Lauren). Its northern end is a bit more approachable, with a charming cluster of independent stores — Crawford Doyle Booksellers and William Greenberg Desserts, for example —around 82nd Street. Except for four-star Daniel, the area isn't known for its restaurants, though there are plenty of places to see and be seen. There are more down-to-earth options along First and Second Avenues in Yorkville.
Upper East Side History
Rural for much of its early history, the Upper East Side's first buildings were along the East River. Two that remain are Gracie Mansion and the Mount Vernon Hotel. Both built in 1799, they were country getaways at a time when the city was below 14th Street. Until the 1840s, most of this area's land was common pastures, but settlement slowly moved north. Major change began in 1853 with the opening of Central Park, followed by the construction of elevated trains on Second and Third Avenues in 1878. Construction of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 83rd Street and Fifth Avenue began in 1880. The western part of the neighborhood, near the park, attracted wealthy residents, including Louis Comfort Tiffany and Caroline Astor, who built mansions along Fifth Avenue. As more rich families settled uptown, exclusive clubs, such as the Metropolitan and the Knickerbocker Clubs, opened to serve them. Many of these Gilded Age palaces still stand, such as Henry Clay Frick's at 70th Street and Fifth Avenue and Andrew Carnegie's at 91st Street and Fifth Avenue. Much of the area is a designated historic district. The eastern part of the neighborhood, around the elevated lines, increasingly drew immigrants from Germany, Ireland and Eastern Europe. Known as Yorkville, this corner of the neighborhood is still a German and Hungarian enclave, but there is less and less strudel to be found.
778 Park Avenue — Society doyenne Brooke Astor had an apartment here.
1040 Fifth Avenue — Jacqueline Onassis lived here.
153 East 63rd Street — Former home of artist Jasper Johns and, later, director Spike Lee.
930 Fifth Avenue — One of Woody Allen's former Upper East Side addresses. He still lives in the neighborhood.
17 East 79th Street — Former mayor Michael Bloomberg's townhouse, which he preferred to the mayor's traditional residence of Gracie Mansion.
133 East 64th Street — Where the Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff had a penthouse before he moved to Butner Prison.
142 E. 65th Street — Home of Judge Learned Hand from 1906 to 1961. Richard Nixon moved in in 1979.