Chinatown & the Lower East Side
Once an expanse of farmland (yes, Orchard Street was named after an actual orchard), the Lower East Side is evocative of the always-changing nature of New York City. Settled by a wave after wave of immigrants, you can walk from one world to the next simply by crossing the street. The LES, bordered on the south and west by Chinatown, is a master class in New York City’s famed high-low aesthetic. Food is cheap, rents are high, and you can go anywhere -- and we mean anywhere -- in your sweatpants and Adidas slides.
Where to Stay
Sister City, a newish spin-off from the folks behind the Ace Hotel, is pure Instagram bait. It’s bright, white, and full of Scandi blonde wood -- a perfect respite from the noise and chaos of the neighborhood. If you’d prefer to stay right in the heart of Chinatown, 50 Bowery has a little less of the ‘gram factor and, accordingly, a slightly lower price tag. If you’re looking to save a buck on your lodgings, the LES and Chinatown have their share of hostels and what could generously be called “tiny” hotels -- but in this town, you get what you pay for. (In some cases, you might pay for bed bugs).
Things to Do
Make an advance reservation at the Tenement Museum, the best place to learn about the Lower East Side’s immigrant history. Tour guides will walk you through a living history tenement to show you how the families lived. (It might give you a new appreciation for, say, your washer and dryer.) After, you can wander the streets of Chinatown, stopping at Durian NYC for a taste of the famous fruit. Make your way to the base of the Manhattan Bridge, where the Mahayana Buddhist Temple sits (nearby is 2 Bridges, one of the world’s most tucked-away record shops -- enter the New York Mart Chinatown mall and make your way to Suite #205). New Yorker pro tip: if you must walk across a bridge, take the Manhattan. The Manhattan Bridge is never clogged with tourists, affording for a pleasant walk and a view of both the Brooklyn Bridge and the New York skyline.
Best Restaurants, Bars, and Nightlife
Start your day with a cuppa at Hi-Collar, a modern take on a Japanese kissaten, or tea room. Order a $7 “siphon” coffee, which is served like a bespoke cocktail -- just name your flavor profile and they’ll whip it right up. (Only in New York!) For another take on NYC’s famous $7 latte, head to Round K, where they pour a matte-black latte made with 8% dutch processed cacao (only in New York!!!). Skip any and all tempting pastries to save room for dim sum at Nom Wah Tea Parlor, which opened in 1920. The space is gigantic, the interior is drab, and the food is plentiful -- just like all the best dim sum houses. Order more than you think you can possibly eat, and then eat it (if you don’t know where to start, try the pork buns, turnip cakes, and sesame balls with lotus paste -- they’re all crowd-pleasers). If you’d like to stuff yourself in another fashion, head to Clinton Street Baking Company, where they serve stacks of pancakes worth writing home about.
Stop for a pre-dinner drink at Attaboy, the city’s only speakeasy that is actually still cool. The dimly lit menuless bar is very hip, very tiny, and most easily gotten into the moment they open. Press the buzzer at the almost-entirely unmarked door, then head inside and let them mix you up the drink you’ve been dreaming of. After, head to a reservation at Dirt Candy for a virtuous vegan night out, or Mario Carbone’s Dirty French bistro for the absolute opposite. The Box, an X-rated cabaret, is a favorite late-night Lower East Side haunt, but the drinks and dance floor at Home Sweet Home are equally fun.