My LES: A.J. Rourk

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What do you do?

I am father to a gorgeous 4-year old Pekingese: Buttercup, and I also work at the Culture Desk at the New York Times. I first came to the company as an intern in 2000 after being awarded the New York Times College Scholarship. I was very fortunate to intern all throughout college and then returned as a full-time employee in 2006.

How long have you lived on the LES?

Well, I moved back to N.Y. from Atlanta in early 2006 after not being fully satisfied by the pace of life there. After a couple stops in Chelsea, two years in the Masaryk Towers in the LES, and then Jersey City’s Journal Square (stop rolling your eyes), I finally returned to the Lower East Side in June 2010. I always thought the LES was such an awesome neighborhood, so rich in culture. In my specific area on Henry Street, we have people from all walks of life: Chinese, Black, Hispanic, Hasidic Jews and Pygmies. Ok, fine, just kidding about the Pygmies.

Favorite block in the hood?

I’d have to say that my favorite block would be any and all along Ludlow Street. How can you go wrong with a street with The Cake Shop, Katz’s Deli, Pianos, Les Enfants Terribles, and just off Ludlow we have Babycakes (by the by, a big ole kudos to their existence as I’ve recently gone gluten-free and they have the most scrumptious baked goods). Anyway, besides having all these good establishments, if Ludlow Street was cool enough to be photographed for the cover of one of the Beastie Boy albums, it’s certainly cool enough to be favorited by me.

Favorite date spot in the hood?

A couple of months ago, when I tried to get a table at The Meatball Shop but shied away from the one hour-plus wait, I discovered Bruschetteria over on Rivington Street and have been in love ever since. It’s a perfect place for a date as it’s quite a small restaurant, has decent, minimalist décor, and has an amazing $19.95 three course pre-fix dinner menu. The food is insanely delicious and I am, in fact, now fantasizing about the smoked salmon and goat cheese wrapped in zucchini. Quite a coincidence because I happen to be heading on a date there tonight!

Favorite coffee in the hood?

Pushcart Coffee has my vote here. They serve Stumptown coffee and their staff is super friendly. Besides being in the vicinity of my apartment, it’s always a delight to stop in for a quick chat and grab a nice cup of Joe. They also have delicious sandwiches and even some gluten-free baked goods.

Favorite cheap eats in the hood?

Cheap is a relative term, but for the sake of answering this question, I will limit it to meals under $20. Dim Sum Go Go is definitely a good spot for the dim sum experience. The service is pretty quick and they serve really fresh food. I also like The Fat Radish for brunch, or, if I’m in the mood for noodles, I head to Xi’an Famous Foods (if you haven’t been, go).

Where do you take your visitors when they’re here?

Sadly, I’ve already exhausted all of my favorite picks in the LES above, as those would be the places to which I would take them. I also enjoy taking people on the walk along the East River down to the Seaport. And if they have a sweet tooth, we pop over to Blue Man Group’s lobby for  ‘The World’s Best Double Chocolate Brownie.’ It’s not the LES, but it’s only a hop, skip and jump away, and totally worth it for the best brownie experience!

Favorite dive/locals bar in the hood?

We have a lot of goodies in the area, but Fontana’s is an old favorite of mine, as well as 151 Bar on Rivington. But I have to admit that my all-time favorite local bar is Bar 169 on East Broadway. It’s always packed with fun characters and their frozen margaritas pack a mean punch. I’ll never forget the late Thursday night I stopped in for the first time after two friends arrived from Ohio. The barman that night, Steve, was super friendly, inviting and very attentive. The food is delish, too: BBQ pork Mac & Cheese, dumplings, and succulent chicken thighs (all at decent prices) – I can go on forever. For a bar, the quality of food is way above par. Sadly I can’t indulge in most of it since I’ve gone gluten-free, but I think the public should be aware of its yumminess.

How has the neighborhood changed in the last few years?

Over the past couple of years, I really enjoyed seeing new businesses popping up all over the place and giving life to the neighborhood and inviting those from near and far. But our work is not done here. It seems to me that most establishments, at least near me, close shop at 8 p.m. On days that I have to do laundry, I have to run home like a bat out of hell to make the last wash at 6:45 p.m.; either that or walk over to Alphabet City to the 24 hour laundromat.

Luckily if you’re hungry, you can now grab a slice at Cowboy Pizza since they’re open until 11 p.m. (except if you’re gluten free, ha). My two wishes for the LES are that we have more healthy food options and a clean dog park (operative word being clean). We have way too many dogs in the neighborhood to not have one and we shouldn’t have to walk all the way to the Seaport or Tompkins Square Park for our dogs to get some exercise. From what I hear on the street, the neighborhood is heading in that direction, which is great news! Buttercup will be ecstatic.

Favorite LES memory?

I think one of my favorite memories would be running into Patricia Fields at Rite Aid on Grand and Clinton a couple of weeks ago. I hear she’s recently moved to the neighborhood, which ups the already high level of awesomeness the LES has. But what I also love is how friendly our neighborhood is (for the most part). Walking Buttercup has also become a treat for me because you never know who you’ll run into, see or meet. Literally just a couple of days ago, Colin Farrell was filming a movie just blocks away from my pad. Too cool! I also enjoy the guys in Seward Park that play the Chinese flute. Talk about character! I wouldn’t expect anything LESs from our awesome neighborhood!

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