When it isn’t football season, Sundays typically become opportunities for me to release my inner introvert. After six long days of dealing with work, hanging out with friends, networking, dating, and other social interactions, I need a day to myself. I used to pick a neighborhood, grabbed a small cup of coffee from a local shop, and walked around with no goals or destinations in mind. A lot of people aren’t fans of the lack of purpose behind these walks, but I find them to be relaxing. I get to think (or not think) while admiring the details of the neighborhoods. Since this past Sunday was spared of cold temperatures and there weren’t any meaningful sports on TV, I took a walk around the Lower East Side.
The Lower East Side, or the LES, is one of the most interesting neighborhoods in all of New York City. It’s a total hodgepodge of various niches in a very condensed area with its numerous small businesses, dining and boozing options, street art, and eclectic character of its residents. Add the fact that during the 1800s, the Lower East Side was where millions of immigrants settled after arriving in the United States, and you get a historic neighborhood that has been pivotal to the makeup of New York City. As a history nerd, I find it super fascinating to be walking the same streets as the first generation Americans.
It’s an intriguing blend of old and new in the Lower East Side. There are family owned institutions like Russ & Daughters (opened in 1914) and Katz’s Deli (opened in 1888) who have been around for 100 plus years right next to new wave ethnic restaurants like Mission Cantina and An Choi. Back then, the LES was comprised of depilated tenement buildings where immigrant families lived in extremely harsh conditions, and now modern, luxury high rises are being built in the same locations. The Lower East Side has reached “trendy” status, making it a prime target for gentrification. It has come to a point where the LES was named one “America’s Most Endangered Places” because a lot of the history of the area was being removed. However even with all the changes, there’s still a prevailing sense of rawness and grit, elements that seem to be disappearing from most of New York City.
On this Sunday walk, I touched every major thoroughfare in the neighborhood like Orchard St, Rivington St., and Delancey St, observing the bustle around me. Skaters grinded curbs while aspiring models and rappers shot their respective visuals. Along the way, I dipped into a number of cool little boutiques, sometimes engaging in a quick chat with whoever working. There’s a very strong entrepreneurship spirit in the Lower East Side with countless mom & pop shops, and it’s been part of the DNA of the neighborhood ever since the days when immigrants were selling goods off pushcarts.
There’s also a very strong artistic vibe as street art and graffiti is everywhere, not to mention all the small galleries open to the public to wander in to. The graffiti is almost a check and balance to the “premiumization”, as it helps the LES retain that gritty personality I had mentioned earlier.
Overall, a majority of the people in the neighborhood respected its history and influence. It’s different from any other area in New York City because you can actually experience a lot of cool stuff on every single block. Check out the rest of my photos from my walk and spend a day wandering the LES when you have the chance.