New York’s Lower East Side has always intrigued me.
Once home to many of New York’s immigrants, the Lower East Side or LES as it is called, is changing. It is becoming gentrified. Slowly the old clothing and food shops are being replaced by trendy boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Since the arrival of the New Museum, contemporary art galleries have also flourished.
Jeff Dobbins from Walks of New York has watched these changes taking place. He loves to explore this area and knows its history, its secrets and hidden corners. When he offered to show me this side of New York, I jumped at the chance!
As we walked to our first stop, Jeff explained how immigrants began arriving in this area from the 1840s. They were mainly German and Irish but between 1880 and 1920 there was a large influx of Eastern European Jews. Many of them settled in the overcrowded tenement buildings in the area. Today Puerto Ricans and Dominicans live here.
By the early 1900’s the Lower East Side was the largest Jewish settlement in the world. Their businesses flourished and the LES became the centre of Jewish culture. Over time, most have moved out of the area but today a few businesses still remain including some well known New York institutions.
Busy East Houston Street is the northern boundary of the area that makes up the Lower East Side. The East River, the Bowery and Canal Street mark the other edges of the area….Chinatown, Nolita and the East Village!
Let’s take a walk along East Houston Street….
Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery
I had never tasted a knish before so this was something new. A knish is a bun filled with sweet and savoury fillings. We tried spinach and cheese and a potato filling…very tasty! Together with egg cream this was a new and fun way to start the day.
Yonah Schimmel started selling his knishes from a cart in the 1890s. Since 1937 this family run business has operated from this shop at at East Houston St. The knishes are made by hand below the shop and sent upstairs in an old lift. There’s no short cuts here!
Russ and Daughters
Russ and Daughters has been a compulsory stop for visitors since it first started in 1914. Their famous delicatessen has been the place to come for the best smoked salmon in town. They also sell many other types of smoked fish. You haven’t been to New York if you haven’t had a bagel and lox from Russ and Daughters….
A bit further along the street is Katz’s..home of the famous pastrami and corned beef on rye. It’s not your ordinary pastrami on rye, this sandwich is huge…filled to overflowing with tasty pastrami. In fact, its probably a good idea to share one.
Even if you’re just popping in for a look, you have to take a ticket as you enter.
Posters and photos of famous Americans decorate the walls. You may even feel as though you have seen this all before and you have! This is where the famous scene from ‘When Harry met Sally’ was filmed.
Not far from here, Kossars’ Bialys makes another delicious food bought to New York by Polish jews. They have been making bialy by hand since 1934. A bialy is similar to a bagel except that garlic and onion fill the spaces where the hole usually is. Delicious!
The Tenement Museum
We wandered down Orchard street, once one of the busiest streets in the area. Photos in the Tenement Museum show people gathering on the street to escape their crowded living conditions. The museum offers tours of restored apartments so y0u cansee the conditions they lived under.
We didn’t have time to take the tour but this is one place I will definitely come back to.
Tenement Museum: 108 Orchard St., between Delancey St. and Broome St.
The Pickle Guys
When New York ‘s famous pickle shop, Guss’ Pickles moved location, Alan Kaufman who used to work for them decided to set up his own store not far from where Guss’s had been…. a smart move. Today he sells his own pickles from the pickle jars…no Pete didn’t pick them! My husband, who loves his pickles, declared them one of the best.
The Pickle Guys: 49 Essex Street
We were now getting closer to Chinatown…Chinese restaurants were starting to line the street. I was not expecting to find one of the first Synagogues to be built in the country here. It certainly highlighted how the community has changed.
The Eldridge Street Synagogue and Museum
Even though the synagogue is still used for weekly services, this beautifully restored building is now a museum keeping the Jewish history of the area alive. Beautiful stained glass windows, carved wooden seats, and brass chandeliers take you back to the days in 1887 when over a thousand people would attend services.
A fitting finale to a fabulous walk in this area that was once the centre of Jewish culture!
Jeff has many more places to share with you in this fascinating area of New York so join him on one of Walks of New York’s tours of the area!
Walks of New York
Walks of New York have just launched their city tours. To celebrate this, from April 1-7, they are offering special previews of all their tours for $5 with all contributions going to the American Heart Association .
Choose from one of these: Highlights of New York, Lower East Side Stories: Traditional New York Culture and Food, Meet the Met: Highlights of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a great looking New York Photography Tour that takes you along the High Line.
Details are on Walks of New York’s web site: Walks of New York
Thank you Jeff and Walks of New York for an insight into this fabulous area of the city.
Good luck with your new venture!