Wandering the Lower East Side (LES)

The Lower East Side is an old staple of mine.  I started visiting it well over a year ago and, until I started ankling my way around Harlem, I considered it the coolest part of Manhattan.

Despite Harlem’s cool status (and my somewhat dampened love of that place), LES is still cool.  It is also so all-over-the-place that it merits many posts over the future.  This post is just a quick jaunt to some old favorites that I’ve written about in my e-mails to friends and family.  Now, I get to add pictures.

Okay, LES (I don’t pronounce it as anything other than “Lower East Side”, but I don’t like to type that much) is known really for its historical position as the first stopping point for immigrants.  It still is, but not really.  Well, yeah; but not even close.  You see, it’s coolness makes it really expensive, but the edges are being filled in by Chinatown which has….no really evident coolness….but lots and lots of new immigrants.

Position wise, it’s on the east side of Manhattan and goes from Houston Street down to…Chinatown….which is eating it from below and from the west.  “Little Italy” (the subject of another post), is technically to the west of LES, but has now reached near invisibility status due to the Chinatown surge, but LES still seems to be hanging in there, at least mostly. Oh, on the east, LES is bordered by the East River. (Hey, that’s three “easts” in one sentence. Not bad.  Of course, I used variants of “cool” about five times so far in this post.  That’s bad, but not in a cool way.  Six.)

The whole point of the original LES was density.  It boasted the highest population density in the world during the great immigrations of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  And that’s with a relatively low-rise buildings.  They seem to usually reach maybe 3 to 8 stories.  Graffiti, noise, noisomeness, and still people are storming the ramparts to get a place in LES.  You see, LES is gritty and interesting and maybe a little bit wild; and each of those attributes is like catnip to the hipsters.  Well, LES may be “gritty” if you define gritty as dirty and graffiti-covered.  But, it is very interesting and has a strong connection with the arts.  I’m not really sure about “wild”, though.  I only bring it up because of a character I ran into some time ago who pointed out a place that I’ll save for another post in the future.  In any case, I really like LES and I think anyone who visits will leave with affection.  It’s just one of those kinds of places.

Anyway, I took the bus down to Houston Street and wandered over into LES.  I always think of three streets when I’m in LES:  Rivington, Orchard, and Ludlow.  Rivington goes east-west and the other two are north-south.

All of them are considered “cool”.  When I first started to visit LES, I spoke with a co-worker about Ludlow being “cool” and that I hadn’t known its reputation.  He laughed and replied:  “if you had a 15-year-old daughter, you’d have known.”  Here’s Ludlow Street on a Saturday morning.

LES 1 Ludlow St

LES 2 Ludlow St

And the architecture can be wonderful.

LES 3 Ludlow St

But, the gritty, artistic side still shines out.  There are places all over Manhattan that do stuff like this, but I find it more “natural” in LES.

LES 4 Ludlow St

Of course, they absolutely, positively must be ragged and torn and (most importantly) duplicated.

But, then, there’s Rivington.  Rivington has two places of note, at least for Famous Ankles:  Economy Candy and TeaNY.

Economy Candy is simply a big candy store.  In truth, a WalMart might physically have more candy, but Economy Candy knows that displaying candy from floor to ceiling is an absolute must.

LES Candy Factory 1

LES Economy Candy 2

In terms of “art”, Economy Candy is art.

TeaNY is a wonderful, but very small tea restaurant partially owned by musician Moby.  Usually, it’s jammed and I can’t get in.  However, there are lots and lots of different teas and I can attest to how good it is from experience.  Not cheap, but not outrageous.


I was astonished when I went by and saw that it was mostly empty.  TeaNY is never like that.  I wanted to go in and get some tea, but I had places to go (future posts!) and really no thirst.  I remember many times walking by and seeing the place jammed with people and really having a hankering for tea.  Ah, well…

I’m saving Orchard Street for another post.


Explore posts in the same categories: Chinatown, LES, Manhattan, Wanderings

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