Everybody ought to have a Lower East Side in their life
The East Village. It, again.
I already talked about it to you widely in a post in the deepen section of the blog “New York itineraries”.
I told you about the surprising multiculturalism, the variegate artistic offers, the ethnic little restaurants, the pubs and the fashion expo, the most famous rock and punk bands that here got under way (and shot unforgettable videos).
I told you about the historic memory of an area that from time immemorial is fed by a non-stop migratory stream, and about the most crowded areas (specifically a hotel, you find it in the post) by famous actors and characters during their stays in the city.
This time I want to talk to you – taking inspiration from my latest stay in NY – about the anecdotes, the graffiti’s bright colors, the curious issues and some savors that, like an invisible thread, link the East Village to the Lower East Side (another lively, beating and authentic soul of Manhattan), through a new, intense and original itinerary cared – and tested personally, like always – on purpose for you.
The starting point is the Astor Place subway stop (green line 4-5-6)
Go eastwards, go through the crossroads with the Third Ave and take St Marks Place…here you are, welcome to the East Village!
Keep going along St. Marks Place you’ll run into a series of odd stores and pubs: their main theme is the bright color without any doubt, just like that one of the graffiti present practically everywhere on the stores’ rolling shutters, on the buildings’ walls, even on the trucks parked along the street.
At the street number 80, in the middle of the Ukrainian district, there’s one of the most curios museum I have ever visited in the city: The Museum of the American Gangster.
Its story is really unusual, just like the relics exhibited inside. Actually it looks like that this building, made of a house and next to it a theatre with a café (very active speakeasy in the Prohibition period) has belonged to one of the most famous and feared gangsters of the area, Walter Sheib.
The father of the actual owner, Lorcan Otway, bought the house directly by Sheib and by chance he found in the cellar a series of objects belonged to the gangster, besides an underground safe with about two million dollars of that period inside.
It was a short step from the surprising discover to the interest in the gangsters’ world.
Otway turned the second floor of the building into a creepy museum where identification photos, mortuary masks of the most famous criminals, vintage guns and magazine, newspaper’s articles and even the bullets used in the notorious Saint Valentine’s Massacre (it took place in Chicago on February, 14th 1929) ordered by Al Capone himself, are exhibited.
The tour allows to do a downright travel into the Prohibition’s history, into New York City in the 1920s and into the gangsters’ deeds (if you’re lucky you’ll be able to see the notorious cellar): absolutely to recommend, above all for the kind fans.
The museum is opened from Monday to Saturday from 1:30pm to 6pm: you can enter only by guided tour – click here to book – and admission ticket is $20. Mr Otway organizes also night tours to the historic Speakeasy (the night clubs of Prohibition) of the area.
Leave St. Marks Place and take the parallel 7th Street: after all the words about gangsters and the Prohibition’s years you’ll be certainly “thirsty”.
Go into the McSorley’s Old Ale House, seat to the bar, order a refreshing beer (light ale or stout, homemade, for about $2,50) and pay attention to the story I’m going to tell you about.
You are in one of the most ancient pubs of Manhattan, an incredible place: it will be enough to have a look at the absurd objects hang to the walls (vintage pictures, relics related to Kennedy, yellowed photos, flags of the 1800s, placards with bounty offers for criminals, odd lucky charms…), to the furniture definitely retro and to the sawdust on the floor to realize it.
It seems some of the most incredible characters of the American history, Abraham Lincoln included, have passed by here – to have a beer …try to seek an old wood chair full of dust (you’d never dare touch it) fixed on the café’s bar wall (if you can’t, ask to the barman…he will chat with you with pleasure and maybe he’ll tell you about some strange presences, too…): it’s that one used by Lincoln after his last speech for the presidency’s running.
Keep going southwards along Cooper St. as far as get into Houston Street: near the crossroads with the 1st Street you’ll be in front of the entrance of a definitely original little public park, the First Park.
It’s a green area opened in the first 1900s and recently restored. Besides a playground for children, it has a series of colored graffiti introducing – accompanied by unusual notices related to the several human mood – the Lower East Side area.
From time immemorial it is the area designated for the switching of Polish, German, Dutch and Italian immigrants which, after have passed the hard “selection” of Ellis Island, arrived to Manhattan searching for an accommodation and a job. The Lower East Side is the symbol par excellence of a multiculturalism that is a part of the historic and social evolution of the whole city.
Go eastwards along Houston Street as far as reaching the street number 202.
You’ll be in front of Katz’s Delicatessen, a cafeteria created by Rumanian Jewish people just landed in New York in the remote 1888. Today it’s still working and serves – first try then trust – one of the best pastrami (several beef and pork cuts properly treated, accompanied by rye bread, cucumbers and salad, by several versions) in the city.
Katz’s is an institution, a name whose fame was raised by one of the most famous scenes of the American movies, shot right among the tables of the place on Houston Street.
Do you know “When Harry met Sally”, with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal?!
Once into (you can have also only a look at it) you will be given a note where it will be written the order at the bar (taste the classic beef sandwich, a definitely abundant portion), then you will be served everything in a tray and after you have eaten at tables (it’s better to take the seat immediately since the place is always very crowded) you will pay while going out giving back the voucher received at the entrance.
Keep going walking southwards along Orchard Street, always paying attention to the side streets and to the surprise graffiti that could appear from the blacken walls of the old buildings.
So, stop at the crossroads between Orchard and Delancey Street, you’ll be in front of the Tenement Museum Visitor Center, one of the most touching places of the city: an experience I enjoyed twice and that I warmly recommend you as well Ellis Island.
I talked about it in along and heartfelt post some time ago:
“A building at 97, Orchard street where from 1863 to 1935 lived uninterruptedly about 7000 immigrants. And its insides, perfectly and sometimes dramatically preserved, thanks to the fact the entire building was closed once and for all in 1935 and then was opened again only in 1992 as a museum.
Unlike Ellis Island, the famous Gateway to America, in Orchard Street names and surnames, fixed by an ink faded over time on the immigration’s registers, take life and become real people with face and a well precise identity.
Room by room, tale by tale, photo by photo, you arrive almost to know them, follow them in their daily life, to rejoice and suffer with them, through distress and loneliness, hope and determination…”
Several tours to the different historic accommodations of the old building are scheduled and it’s possible to take part into guided walks through the district discovering stores and the several historic activities. You can get info, choose and book the tour you prefer here.
Before to reach the Delancey/Essex Street subway stop (brown line J-M-Z and orange line V-F) and so go back towards the area of your hotel/accommodation, stop at the Essex Street Market.
It’s an old indoor market that at the same time is the soul and the essence of the whole Lower East Side: a place talking to the world offering a wide range of cooked food and ingredients related to the several ethnic groups that still live here.