The Lower East Side stretches east from the Bowery to the East River Park, and from Houston Street in the north to Canal Street and East Broadway to the south. Which, at present, is just the only concrete thing about the lively and ever-changing LES, where apartment construction is booming, new restaurants and nightspots open seemingly daily, and downtown grit battles uptown glamour with the victor still be to be determined. The Lower East Side is adjacent to Chinatown in the south and the East Village on the uptown side, with the former’s unique flavor and the latter’s rock-and-roll style making an impression along those borders. In between, though, the Lower East Side is wild, unique and very much its own place.
Historically a Jewish neighborhood, the Lower East Side is home to a host of beautiful neo-classical and Moorish Revival synagogues, many of which — such as the Angel Orensanz center, the fourth oldest surviving synagogue in the United States, and one of the rare few built in the Gothic Revival style — have been declared landmarks. Mom-and-pop restaurants provide cozy eats at gentle prices, and top chefs like gastronomic innovator Wylie Dufesne, who dishes up pricier and more mysterious concoctions at WD-50, have given the neighborhood a strong culinary identity. The former bargain shops of Orchard Street have been supplanted by trendier havens as the neighborhood renovates and expands. Further south, the strict grid of Manhattan city-planning breaks down, and the Lower East Side dissolves into a maze of cobblestoned streets and hidden paths.
Add it all up, and you’ve got a one-of-a-kind Manhattan neighborhood: edgy and no-nonsense, cosmopolitan and diverse, and yet somehow as comfortable as your grandmother’s hugs. Which is not to say that the area is as sleepy as your grandmother’s Saturday night. The Lower East Side’s nightlife and club scene is among the liveliest of Manhattan. Thumping lounges with hot DJs; wood-paneled dive bars with jukeboxes and drinks that peel paint at fifty paces; underground clubs with faux-hawked collegiates dancing to arthouse beats — the Lower East Side has all of that, and plenty of it. For daytime pursuits, art galleries in the Bowery and The Lower East Side Tenement Museum will satisfy your brain, and the East River Park and Sarah Roosevelt Park offer some welcome green space (and peace and quiet). The Lower East Side is a neighborhood that straddles the lines between homey and worldly, comfortable and vibrant — and creates something new entirely.