Back and forth, hither and yon – whether on my habitual trajectory between Touraine and Paris or further afield… destinations, encounters, events and observations I can’t resist sharing.

New York’s Lower East Side – a nostalgia tour

August 9, 2011

My last Manhattan neighborhood back in 1986 was the East Village, when it was still marginal to rough.  An attempt by young art dealers to break out from Soho and establish an edgy gallery district had failed, and the mood was dispirited.  The block I lived on off Third Avenue on East 12th Street, was lined with a modest mix of prewar appartment blocks and small-scale brownstones, awaiting the spark of gentrification.

I’d moved downtown from a coop building off Central Park on the establishment Upper East Side and the culture shock was was both thrilling and intimidating.  Mugging was rampant then throughout the city, especially in borderline neighborhoods, so dormant feral instinct quickly kicked in.  A few years earlier, fresh out of college, I had a dim apppartment on West 79th Street off Broadway, followed by a sunny, souless perch in an anonymous Yorkville high rise, but had yet to share a stoop with hookers and addicts.

Times sure have changed.  This month, our eldest daughter will move into a college dorm two blocks from my old address, in what has become the most desirable neighborhood in Manhattan, if not the country, for a young creative person.  It’s safe but still aesthetically edgey compared to predominantly residential/retail uptown neighborhoods.  Happily there are still vestiges of its immigrant and bohemian heritage.

I met my husband when he shared an artist’s studio space on the cusp of the lower east side at 1st Avenue and 1st Street across from Katz’s, so the area has nostalgic resonance for him too.   We spent a fun day this week revisiting former haunts and discovering fresher landmarks.   It’s where I get one of my purest NYC fixes because it’s so diametrically different from Paris and can’t possibly be replicated, right down to the guy ranting at the counter of Russ & Daughters on East Houston about the Tea Party terrorists while I waited for my bialey with a schmear of caviar-laced cream cheese, before heading down the block to Katz’s for a kosher dog with sauerkraut.

If you have a hankering for pickles, The Pickle Guys at 49 Essex Street offer everything from sour or horseradish pickles to pickled okra and turnips.

For men (and women with short hair), more concerned with style than kosher schmaltz, schedule an appointment at Frank’s Chop Shop “A barber shop for the modern gentleman of leisure”.   Frequently cited among the city’s best barbers, they also offer traditional hot towel shaves – or skip all that and pick up one of their signature caps.  Hiro, who recently joined the team from Japan, is such a perfectionist that my delighted husband likened his time in the chair to a zen tea ceremony.

Dede said

August 10, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Love this one Casey. I was transported to the lower East side and back in time!

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!