Welcome to the Lower East Side, one of the most vibrant corners of Manhattan. Here you'll find Jewish delis and faux speakeasies, rusty tenements beside glass high-rises, college bros enjoying the bars and elderly Chinese residents playing cards. Scruffier than the glossy East Village nearby, the Lower East Side is filled with hole-in-the-wall dives and modest storefronts hawking surprisingly expensive wares. Stumbling upon them feels like a discovery, until you learn they've been featured in style magazines. Historically an immigrant neighborhood, it has pleasing old-world vestiges, such as shops that sell only pickles or bialys or hats, some in business for over half a century. But due to skyrocketing rents, they're a dying breed. Regardless, it's impossible to deny Lower East Side's only-in-New-York character.
The Lower East Side covers a large area of southeastern Manhattan between Chinatown and the East Village. It is roughly bounded by the East River, the Bowery to the west, Houston Street to the north, and Canal Street/East Broadway to the south. It is served by the B/D/F/M and J/D subway lines. Those living near the western edge of the neighborhood can easily walk to the #6 train at Canal Street. The easternmost part of the neighborhood is poorly served by subways, but the M21 and M55 bus lines help connect it. The M9 and M15 go up and downtown. The bike-sharing CitiBike system has been a game-changer for many in this subway-starved area.
If you're looking to live in a diverse neighborhood with great nightlife, people-watching, shopping and culture, the Lower East Side is an easy sell. Moving here means living where you go out, with a lot of interesting diversions any time of day. There aren't any expansive green spaces, but there are several small neighborhood parks with basketball courts. Hamilton Fish Park has an Olympic-sized pool and playground. Corlears Hook Park, on the East River, has large and small dog runs, and great views of the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges.
Families wanting peace and quiet might consider living elsewhere. There are a lot of noisy bars here, and at night sidewalks are packed, especially on weekends. Now on the radar of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd, the Lower East Side is a destination for a rowdy Saturday night out. Things are more sedate on the west side, in Tribeca and the West Village, and in parts of the Financial District.
Lower East Side residents are a mix of single and married people. About half are married and a quarter have children. Single residents make up 30% of the population. Median income is $30,249.
About a third of residents have commutes of 20 minutes or less, 19% travel 20-30 minutes, and 27% travel for 30-45 minutes. It takes about 20 minutes to get to Grand Central or Union Square, and even less to get to the Financial District. Times are longer if you have a long walk to the subway.
The Lower East Side is a lively place with a lot to see. For starters, you can get a sense of the old neighborhood at the Tenement Museum. Its engaging, site-specific tours bring the immigrant experience to life, as do the regular talks in its colorful bookshop. Those interested in the Jewish experience can also visit the gorgeous Eldridge Street Synagogue and have hand-cut pastrami sandwiches at Katz's Deli or pickled herring at Russ & Daughters. Seventy-year-old Essex Street Market serves a cross-section of the neighborhood, selling plantains and tacos, stinky cheese and salted-caramel ice cream. The Henry Street Settlement, founded in 1893, has a rich performance and exhibition schedule at its Abrons Arts Center.
Trendier diversions center around Stanton and Rivington Streets (and their offshoots). There's an enjoyably wide range of drinking establishments, ranging from the Parisian-style Experimental Cocktail Club and the beer pub Local 138 to live music venue Pianos. Tucked between them are shops selling achingly cool wares, including Spiritual America, Pixie Market or Grit N Glory. On warm-weather weekends, the popular Hester Street Fair brings together crafters and food vendors in Seward Park. Just about every cuisine is available here, from Filipino fusion to sushi to blueberry pancakes to Italian gelato.
Lower East Side History
The Lower East Side began as farmland — one farm parcel owned by Harmanus Rutgers and another owned by James Delancey. (Delancey's farm included an orchard, in the area around today's Orchard Street.) After the Revolutionary War, the land was developed and in the 19th century the neighborhood became a first stop for immigrants. The area has long been defined by its immigrants, with groups cycling in and out — as one grew more affluent and moved on, another arrived. Early settlers were Irish and German, such that the northern portion of the Lower East Side was known as Kleindeutchland, or Little Germany. Later, Italians, Poles and Ukrainians moved into the area. Eastern European Jews arrived in large numbers beginning in the 1880s. There were so many, in fact, that had the area been a separate city, it would have had been largest Jewish city in the world in the late-19th century. The streets were filled with pushcart vendors and lined with crowded tenements. It wasn't unusual for six or more people to live in two small rooms of a tenement apartment. The apartments often doubled as family workplaces, with many people working in the garment industry. Given the poor living conditions and its attendant disease, the neighborhood became a center for social reform in the early-20th century. Since World War II, immigrants have primarily come from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and China. Though the ethnicities and languages have changed, the Lower East Side remains a polyglot hive of activity.
56 Ludlow Street — Where John Cale, Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison started the Velvet Underground.
60 Eldridge Street — Ira Gershwin was born here in 1896.
84 Hester Street — Lyricist Yip Harburg lived here in 1900.
300 Cherry Street — Irving Berlin lived here as a boy.
85 Stanton Street — Senator Jacob Javits was born here in 1904.
173 East Broadway — Former office of influential newspaper The Jewish Daily Forward.