A New Dining Destination Emerges along Canal Street

The intersections where Ludlow and Orchard streets cross Canal and dead-end into Division are about to change.

Map illustration by Kim Sillen

Map illustration by Kim Sillen

One Brooklyn restaurateur was walking from the East Broadway subway station to Allen Street to look at a potential new space when he spotted a vacant storefront on Canal Street. Another had lived on Division Street for five years, and jumped at the chance to snag a spot in her old stomping grounds. A Welsh businessman with a passion for preservation fell in love with the odd-shaped building that towers over the angled intersection where Canal, Division and Ludlow streets meet. After buying and refurbishing it, he recruited a restaurant for the ground floor and a speakeasy for the basement.

By this fall, barring unusual pitfalls, the blocks around that intersection will become home to four new establishments: Cochinita Dos, a taqueria originating in Clinton Hill; Pies ‘n’ Thighs, a popular fried chicken and desserts joint out of Williamsburg; Ludlow Inn, a small Roman-style, wood-fired oven pizza stand; and Three Points, an artisan cocktail bar run by veterans of East Village bar Angel’s Share.

Three of the four newcomers are moving into spaces that were vacant for a very long time. Their arrival hastens a change that began slowly and sporadically over the last few years, with the opening of three pioneers: Bacaro, a cozy Italian restaurant at 136 Division St.; neighborhood bar Clandestino, at 35 Canal St.; and Les Enfants Terrible, at 37 Canal St. (which rebooted last year as Icelandic eatery Skal).

More recent additions forgtmenot and Dimes have both flourished: the two-year-old forgtmenot grew into neighboring space this winter and plans to add breakfast to its bustling evening business; Dimes, a pint-sized breakfast and lunch café that opened at 143 Division St. in September, expanded to dinner service in January.

“The whole block has just kind of turned around,” said Laure Travers, who opened Clandestino in 2005. “It’s a dynamic city–things change.”

The flurry of activity has swept over an area of the Lower East Side that has been a sleepy corner populated with variety stores, electronics shops and other small retail outlets. While upper Orchard Street and Clinton Street have built reputations as dining destinations and weekend revelers have overrun the nightlife-heavy blocks above Delancey Street, the southwestern edge of the LES—which you could also arguably label the eastern edge of Chinatown—is new to the party.

Cochinita owner Adam Frank has operated a Mexican restaurant across the East River since 2011. During his search for a second location in Manhattan, the diversity of the neighborhood drew him to 49 Canal St., the former home of Overseas Taste, a Chinese restaurant that closed in 2012.

“It just felt right, in terms of the vibe and what we are doing,” Frank said between interviewing job applicants and supervising construction details. “Our clientele in Clinton Hill is very diverse, and it’s great to be here in the middle of the co-ops and the old tenements, new developments and boutique hotels.”

He plans to open May 9.

Pies ‘n’ Thighs co-owner Sarah Sanneh knew she wanted to launch her second restaurant in the neighborhood she calls home. She lived on Division Street for five years and recently moved to the Grand Street co-ops. She and her partners have leased a former photo and copy shop at 43 Canal St.

“We looked off and on for about a year, and saw a few great spaces, but this was the one that just really jumped out as the right fit,” Sanneh said. “This block is so beautiful.”

The LES version of Pies ‘n’ Thighs, the first expansion for the 8-year-old restaurant, is scheduled for a late-summer opening, Sanneh said. It will have about 35 seats and be designed around a lunch-counter layout. Like the original across the river, it will serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch, as well as offer takeout and delivery.

At the address known simultaneously as 1 Ludlow St., 38 Canal St. and 144 Division St., building owner Ross Morgan spent seven years converting the upper floors into a two-bedroom townhouse and the ground floor and basement into commercial spaces. After fielding proposals from “a lot of horrible people,” Morgan settled on restaurateur Paolo Italia. Italia is an industry veteran who owns a comedy club and restaurant in Gramercy, among other projects. Italia put together a team from Numero 28, a small pizza chain, for the storefront and bartenders from Angel Share for the basement.

“This is a home run for the block and for the neighborhood,” Morgan said. “It’s been a long time coming, but we’re there now.”

Each of the new businesses had their plans vetted by a new neighborhood association and Community Board 3, with varying success.

Frank’s application for a full liquor license at Cochinita Dos was rejected by the community board in March, with members arguing that his place is a “quick-serve burrito restaurant” whose original location operates with only a beer and wine permit. Frank is pursuing approval from the State Liquor Authority; his application is pending.

Pies ‘n’ Thighs garnered community board support for its beer and wine license under a new process that fast-tracks applications that do not involve hard liquor or late-night hours. That process raised consternation among members of the new block association, Seward Park around Canal East (SPaCE), as did the plans for 1 Ludlow.

A full bar license for the pizza place and the subterranean speakeasy were tabled at a hearing in March while the proprietors negotiated with the block association. They got the green light in April after Italia agreed to close at 1:30 a.m. and withdraw his request for sidewalk dining.

The block association’s mission, in part, is to ensure that the wee-hours party scene that takes place above Delancey every weekend doesn’t repeat itself, according to group organizer Emma Culbert.

“It’s partly preserving what’s great about the neighborhood as well as curating the change in such a way that it becomes both a sustainable and an enjoyable place to live,” she said.

Restaurants aren’t the only new arrivals destined for that corner of the LES. This summer, artist Kim Sillen will paint a colorful graphic pattern on the pavement where Division Street dead ends, laying a foundation for the development of a public plaza.

Towering above the new restaurants, the historic Jarmulowsky bank building–now shrouded in scaffolding and ringing with construction noise–will eventually reopen as a high-end boutique hotel after a major restoration and renovation. By then, its guests are certain to find plenty of dining options nearby.