Essential Lower East Side: The Small Business Guide For Locals
This week we’re rolling out our Essential LES Guide both online and in our print magazine. It’s part of The Lo-Down’s year-long reporting project on Small Business Survival.
In the first stories, we have found potential solutions to be elusive. You’re probably not shocked by that. There are no easy answers to keeping mom-and-pop businesses in their retail spaces as commercial rents skyrocket. But here’s something we can do to help locally owned businesses: support them by buying their products and encouraging our friends to do the same. You might be surprised how many business owners tell us about the dearth of local shoppers in their stores. There are lots of reasons for this, of course. Online shopping is often more convenient and cheaper. Local residents may very well not be finding the things they need from the neighborhood’s independent businesses. But it could also be that a lot of people who live in the area aren’t aware of some of the unique retail and restaurants available within walking distance of their homes.
For this guide, we drew on our own research from the past several years and also asked your opinions through an online poll and Facebook. We wanted to know what local businesses you’d hate to live without—the places that help make the Lower East Side unlike any neighborhood in the world. Some of you expressed an opinion that we hear often, the sentiment that so much has already been lost, making the community almost unrecognizable. While it’s true that a huge number of beloved businesses have faded away, we were encouraged in preparing this guide by the number of great, distinctive mom-and-pops that still remain.
This is not a comprehensive guide. Instead we see it as a foundation for future reporting on The Lo-Down. In the months ahead, you’ll be seeing in-depth profiles of many of the businesses listed here, and we’ll be adding new businesses all the time. We hope you’ll chime in with your own suggestions (send us an email at email@example.com).
Essex Street Market, 120 Essex St. (at Delancey Street)
The last two or three years have been rough ones for the Essex Street Market, the New York City institution that turned 75 this year. Business has slumped since the announcement that the historic facility will be moving across the street in 2018 as part of the big Essex Crossing development project. Several businesses closed as a result, while others are imperiled. Vendors have been fighting for more resources to market their unique offerings, something that is now in the works. More broadly, they’re fighting to stay alive long enough to make the move to the new market. Their survival is our best hope of keeping the spirit of the old Essex Street Market alive in the future. Longtime merchants such as Viva Fruits & Vegetables, New Star Fish Market, Luis Meats and Tra La La Juice Bar continue to offer the neighborhood great value and service. The market is a one-of-a-kind experience, of course, because it is an idealized reflection of the economically diverse neighborhood: a blend of the old and the new. The long-established vendors coexist with local gems like Saxelby Cheesemongers, Nordic Preserves, Ni Japanese Delicacies, Formaggio Essex and Bobouki (Greek food). The 1940 WPA-era building, part of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia’s campaign against street vendors, is only safe from the bulldozers for about three more years. By supporting the vendors within its walls, you can help make sure they’re part of the future of the Lower East Side, rather than a memory from the neighborhood’s past.
Russ & Daughters, 179 East Houston St. (near Allen Street), 212-475-4880
Let us count the ways Russ & Daughters, the legendary appetizing store, is essential to the Lower East Side. We’re talking about a 101-year-old business that is recognized by the Smithsonian Institute as a part of New York’s cultural heritage. In a century, the family-owned shop has grown from the humblest of roots (Joel Russ couldn’t even afford a pushcart when he came to this country) into a world-famous culinary mecca. Third-generation owner Mark Russ Federman resisted temptations in the bad ol’ days of the 1970s and 1980s to move uptown, convinced that the Lower East Side was down but not out. Now fourth-generation owners Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper have taken the business to new heights. In 2014, they opened a cafe at 127 Orchard St. that became an instant classic and one of the city’s most sought-after brunch spots. But these are not the reasons, at least not the primary ones, that Russ & Daughters is locally revered. As customer service continues its steep decline, the shop is a place where you are still sure to experience a brand of old-world attentiveness that’s virtually nonexistent in the modern world. The scene inside the store in the days before major holidays (and not just Jewish ones anymore) is so quintessentially New York that most people don’t mind waiting for an hour or more to order the smoked fish. Weekends in the restaurant are a mob scene. But there are few things more pleasing on the LES than enjoying the tranquility of an early weekday evening at the bar with a cocktail or a bowl of matzo ball soup.
Katz’s Deli, 205 East Houston St. (at Ludlow Street), 212-254-2246
The first thing that comes up when you Google Katz’s Deli is the following description: “New York’s most iconic deli. Home to the world’s greatest pastrami sandwich. Where Harry met Sally.” That’s pretty much everything you need to know. The bursting pastrami sandwich is an irresistible guilty pleasure, even as its price pushes $20. Katz’s is a place that the Lower East Side must share with the rest of the world. Its status as a top tourist attraction (a kind of Jewish Disneyland) makes the 127-year-old restaurant less appealing to a lot of locals. Who wants to stand in line, 10 deep, fighting the tour-bus crowd? But don’t despair. There are ways to cope. Try going for dinner, when the fanny pack set has decamped for Times Square. Slide on over to the station in the front of the restaurant (where there’s seldom a line) for a bowl of soup, a burger or a knockwurst on rye. Or order delivery, which we have found surprisingly speedy (try not to let that $4 delivery surcharge irk you). Like Russ & Daughters, Katz’s is experiencing a renaissance. After selling its air rights to developer Ben Shaoul, co-owner Jake Dell assured the world that the deli is staying put for years to come. Earlier this year, Katz’s announced its first-ever expansion, with plans to open in the DeKalb Market in Brooklyn.
Yonah Schimmel, 137 East Houston St. (near Forsyth Street), 212-477-2858
You will usually find co-owner Ellen Anistratov behind the counter of this 105-year-old knishery. She’s more than happy to lecture you on the ins and outs of a proper knish (it is always round and never fried). But don’t even think of asking her about the persistent but unfounded rumors of Yonah Schimmel’s demise. Anistratov insists that the little restaurant, a neighborhood time capsule, isn’t going anywhere. In fact, she hopes her kids will take over the business one day. There’s always a robust debate about the quality of the knishes. Are they as good as they were back in the day? Maybe not. But there’s no denying that this storefront is a cherished relic of old New York. “The Underground Gourmet,” in 1968, noted,“No New York politician in the last 50 years has been elected to office without having at least one photograph showing him on the Lower East Side with a knish in his face.” Maybe it’s time you headed to Yonah Schimmel for your very own knish selfie.
Kossar’s Bialys, 367 Grand St. (near Norfolk Street), 212-473-4810
Can the bialy make a comeback? Evan Giniger and David Zablocki are betting a half-million dollars that it can. After buying the Grand Street bakery in 2013, they closed for renovations at the end of September. The baking facilities are being modernized, plus there will be a sandwich counter and grill. But the face-lift of the Lower East Side shop is just a beginning. Giniger told the Wall Street Journal, “Most people are going to buy a business to earn a living. We bought a business to almost restore a bit of history in New York City and then desire to expand that throughout the city, throughout the country and even throughout the world.” Kossar’s has been a Lower East Side institution for 80 years. Let’s hope it’s about to enter a new golden era.
Economy Candy, 108 Rivington St. (near Essex Street), 212-254-1531
Is Economy Candy the best candy store in New York City? Many people would answer with an emphatic “yes!” Last year Mitchell Cohen told Forbes, “People walk back into their childhoods when they enter the store. Many spend an hour looking around before they buy anything, and we think that’s wonderful.” This old-fashioned shop is all about nostalgia. There are over two thousand varieties of candy—old school favorites as well as all of the latest creations. There’s also a huge selection of dried fruits, nuts and halvah. Like several other legacy businesses on the Lower East Side, Economy Candy has become a major tourist attraction. But it’s still very much a place where locals shop. That’s because the store still offers some of the best prices you’ll find anywhere.
East Side Glatt, Moishe’s Bakery, East Side Kosher Grocery, 500, 504 Grand St. (near Columbia Street); 212-475-6915 (East Side Glatt); 212-673-5832 (Moishe’s); 212-477-3434 (East Side Kosher Deli)
So much of the Jewish Lower East Side has faded away, but these three kosher businesses are still hanging on in support of the Grand Street Orthodox community. Laurie Tobias Cohen, executive director of the LES Jewish Conservancy, encouraged us to consider the stores collectively. In her view, they represent something important: the continuation of Jewish life in the storied neighborhood. Dotting the north side of Grand Street, between Willett Street and Columbia Street, the butcher, bakery and grocery are bustling in the afternoon and early evening hours. The owner of East Side Glatt, Baruch Weiss, not only offers kosher meats but prepared foods such as baked chicken, sandwiches, kasha varnishkes and kugel. Moishe’s has earned a reputation beyond the Lower East Side for delicious rye bread, black-and-white cookies and challah. The grocery features an ever-expanding collection, including a salad bar and sushi made to order. In all three stores, there’s no shortage of kibbitzing among customers and shopkeepers, who trade neighborhood gossip and strong opinions.
Frank’s Bike Shop, 553 Grand St., 212-533-6332
Frank Arroyo remembers the exact day he opened his bike shop on Grand Street: May 18, 1976. In the nearly 40 years that have passed, he’s outfitted more LES kids than he can count with their first bike. This is a major reason why Arroyo is a beloved figure in the neighborhood, in spite of his sometimes cranky demeanor. But there’s more to Frank’s Bikes than just nostalgia. The shop has a good selection of new bikes, plus bike rentals and—most important—attentive, quick and affordable repair service. Thankfully, Arroyo absorbed the arrival of a nearby Citi Bike station in 2013 and continues to enjoy the loyalty of the community.
Zafis Luncheonette, 500 Grand St., 212-533-2415
If you’re a regular, the crew behind the counter at this old-school diner not only knows your name but also exactly what you like to order, down to every last detail. For as long as anyone can remember, there’s been a diner at 500 Grand St., part of the Hillman Houses. Greek immigrant Nodas Kekatos bought Zafis in 1978. In recent years, his son Mike has taken the lead in running the go-to spot in a section of the neighborhood with few full-service dining options. The food at Zafis is typical diner fare. What distinguishes the restaurant is a commitment to attentive and personalized customer service. A few years ago, Kekatos shared a few words of wisdom with us about running a small business. “Every morning I look at myself in the mirror,” he said, “and I see some flaws–a wrinkle here, something else there–and I say, ‘You aren’t perfect.’ Then when I come in and I have [a disgruntled customer] I don’t get upset. I remind myself no one is perfect.”
Zarin Fabrics, 69 Orchard St., 212-925-6112
Back in the day, competition among Lower East Side fabric stores was pretty intense. Most of the big retailers that once dotted the neighborhood are long gone. But Zarin Fabrics has endured since the 1930s and, in recent years, thrived. Next year, the store will be celebrating its 80th anniversary. Zarin’s is a favorite of television set designers and high-end decorators (Jill Zarin’s status as a reality tv star in the The Real Housewives of New York hasn’t hurt). But the store is also a great resource for DIY home decorators. Zarin’s boasts millions of yards of deeply discounted luxury fabric. The family-owned business also carries furniture, lighting, home accessories, ready-made drapes, upholstery supplies and trimmings. In the past year, Zarin’s gave up most of its ground-floor space but opened a nicely appointed new showroom on Orchard Street. It offers customers a more accessible gateway to the warehouse, the largest of its kind in New York City.
Mendel Goldberg Fabrics, 72 Hester St. (near Allen Street), 212-925-9110
In 1890, Polish immigrant Mendel Goldberg opened a store on the Lower East Side, catering to the garment industry. In those days, the shop carried a variety of tailoring supplies and was anything but exclusive. He would, no doubt, be taken aback to see how things have changed in the past century. Today his great-granddaughter, Alice Goldberg Wildes, caters to Upper East Side socialites and high-end fashion designers. She travels to Europe to purchase extremely fine fabrics, expensive textiles that can’t be found anywhere else in New York. Mendel Goldberg overcame a devastating fire in 2012 and is now back in its historic Hester Street location.
Harris Levy Fine Linens, 98 Forsyth St. (near Grand Street), 212-226-3102
In its more than 120 years on the Lower East Side, Harris Levy has occupied at least four different storefronts. In 2005, current owners Bob and Meryl Levy opened a big new warehouse space on Forsyth Street, across from Sara D. Roosevelt Park. This is the place for luxurious bed and table linens, as well as bath towels, kitchen accessories and home decorating items. The products are high-end and don’t come cheap, but you can count on discounts of at least 10 percent over what you’d pay for similar merchandise uptown.
Cup & Saucer, 89 Canal St. (at Eldridge Street), 212-925-3298
Cup & Saucer looks the way a diner is supposed to look. The vintage signage on the corner of Eldridge and Canal streets, the long formica countertop and those worn-down brush-metal stools all recall an earlier era. This former Jewish luncheonette, opened around 1940, has been run by John Vasilopoulos and Nick Castanos for the past 25 years. These days, it serves as a kind of way station between Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Cup & Saucer is a bastion of fast, affordable food and friendly service. For the past few years, Vasilopoulos has been a little nervous about his rent. The diner is on an annual lease, which doesn’t offer a lot of security. For the moment, however, Cup & Saucer continues to serve as a comforting oasis in a rapidly changing area.
Moscot Eyewear, 108 Orchard St. (at Delancey Street), 212-477-3796
On the occasion of this year’s 100th anniversary celebration, Dr. Harvey Moscot told The Daily Beast, “We were determined not to leave. We were born on Orchard Street and we will die on Orchard Street.” Moscot Eyewear is now ensconced at 108 Orchard St., after being forced from its longtime home across Delancey Street by a development project that has yet to happen. Even as Moscot expands globally to locations such as London, Seoul and Tokyo, it continues to embrace the brand’s Lower East Side roots. The company’s trademark retro styles have long been popular among hip celebrities, many of whom insist on coming to the Orchard Street store. Moscot is making the most of its LES cachet.
Bluestockings, 172 Allen St. (near Stanton Street), 212-777-6028
The Lower East Side does not have a single general-interest bookstore below East Houston Street. But it boasts one of the best special-interest book shops you will find anywhere. Bluestockings, which stocks a thoughtful collection of feminist, queer and radical literature, is a full-fledged community center. There are talks and special events at Bluestockings almost every night on a wide variety of topics. After signing a new five-year lease, the collectively run shop and activist center ran a successful crowdfunding campaign this past fall to pay for desperately needed renovations. Recently, the New York Times described the store as “a kind of clearinghouse for tolerance and radical ideas.”
Orchard Corset, 157 Orchard St. (near Stanton Street), 212-674-0786
At Orchard Corset, what’s old is new again. Isaiah Bergstein, a concentration camp survivor, opened the store in 1968, creating his shape-shifting designs on a Singer sewing machine (it still sits in the front of the store). Today Peggy and Ralph Bergstein (Isaiah’s son) are riding a new wave of corset popularity. The cramped store, with its boxes of bras piled to the ceiling, is a magnet for celebrities and anyone else desperate to take four to five inches from their waist instantly. Designs include mesh, satin, silk, leather, cotton and velvet in an array of colors. Orchard Corset is pretty much the only store of its kind left in New York and a place where you’re still sure to get a great deal (compared with what you’d pay at a department store).
A.W. Kaufman, 73 Orchard St. (near Grand Street), 212-226-1629
There’s method in the madness of this legendary lingerie shop, operated by the same family since 1924. Miriam Kohn knows her bras so well she can size up any woman in seconds. The narrow shop might seem disorganized, but the knowledgeable staff can find exactly what you’re looking for— whether it’s a bra or other types of lingerie. There’s a large selection of undergarments, robes, nightgowns and pajamas for women as well as men.
169 Bar, 169 East Broadway (near Rutgers Street), 646-833-7199
It’s been a long while since 169 Bar lived up to its old nickname, “The Bloody Bucket.” Today an occasional rope line has replaced the drunken brawls that were once commonplace in this LES dive. Since 2006, Charles Hanson has run the kitschy bar (the decor features disco balls, mermaid statues and tinsel). He’s introduced a New Orleans vibe and added menu items such as Oysters Rockefeller and Louisiana crawfish. While the place has definitely gentrified, 169 still attracts a diverse crowd and still features one of the best happy-hour deals around (a beer and a shot for $3).
Parkside Lounge, 317 East Houston St. (at Attorney Street), 212-673-6270
It’s almost impossible to find a real dive bar on the Lower East Side these days, which is why locals appreciate Parkside Lounge. That great retro neon sign on the east end of Houston Street has been beckoning neighborhood boozers for decades. In addition to cheap drinks (draft beer from $4-$6), the Parkside features a pool table and a back room for performances. Scheduled events include a diverse lineup of music, spoken word and burlesque.
Rosario’s Pizza, 173 Orchard St. (at Stanton Street), 212-777-9813
A couple of years ago, Sal Bartolomeo of Rosario’s Pizza told us, “I’m a storyteller… A lot of people come because they want to hear the story of New York.” After more than 50 years as a Lower East Side pizza man, Bartolomeo has plenty of stories to tell. If there were a contest for “most beloved neighborhood character,” he’d probably win hands-down. He began managing the restaurant, originally located on East Houston Street, in 1964 for Rosario Dispenza, his uncle. Rosario’s has been a fixture on Orchard Street since 1997. Now pushing 70, Bartolomeo still works grueling hours. But the “rainbow of people” that makes up his customer base keep the pizza ovens burning. The LES, he says, is “the most beautiful neighborhood in the world”
Pickle Guys, 49 Essex St. (near Grand Street), 212-656-9739
The Pickle Guys—Essex Street’s only remaining pickle store—has been around for a mere 12 years. But it feels like a neighborhood institution. This is because owner Alan Kaufman is keeping the spirit of the old Pickle District alive by sticking with established traditions. Having worked in the neighborhood since the 1980s, including a tour of duty at the legendary Guss’ Pickles, he’s committed to doing things the old-fashioned way. You can smell the vinegar, salt and garlic the moment you approach the hole-in-the wall establishment. The “full sours” spend three months in the barrel. Over the years, he’s added new items such as pickled pineapples and turnips. While you’re peering into those barrels, contemplating your order, Kaufman will offer you a sample. Customer service is a top priority. One of the best visuals in the whole neighborhood occurs during the Jewish holidays, when the Pickle Guys pull out the gas masks and go to work on Essex Street, grinding fresh horseradish for Passover.
El Castillo de Jagua, 113 Rivington St. (near Essex Street), 212-982-6412
The Collado family has been running this Dominican diner on Rivington Street for almost 30 years (there’s a newer location on Grand Street). It’s still a good spot for affordable Spanish specialties in an unpretentious setting. Daily specials include chicken soup, baked chicken, oxtail stew and pepper steak. El Castillo also offers a first-rate Cubano. Two years ago, owner Luis Miguel Collado told us he’s not too worried about being squeezed out by gentrification. “People want a place that is affordable,” he explained. “Even if you spend a lot to go out for a special night, you need a place to come to the rest of the time.”
Downtown Music Gallery, 13 Monroe St. (near Catherine Street), 212-656-9739
The great avant-garde musician John Zorn once said, “Every musical scene has its champions… Our champions are Bruce (Gallanter) and Manny (Maris)” of Downtown Music Gallery. The record store and makeshift performance space tucked under a Buddhist temple is one of the last remaining remnants of the Lower East Side’s once-vibrant bohemian creative scene. Founded in 1993, Downtown Music Gallery has been on the run in recent years after being gentrified out of spaces on East 5th Street and the Bowery. Now in Chinatown, the ramshackle shop still contains 6,000 CDs and vinyl LPs. There are many live recordings of memorable downtown shows that Gallanter began documenting in 1975.
Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse, 157 Chrystie St. (near Delancey Street), 212-673-0330
Sammy’s is not really a locals’ spot, but we’re glad it’s there anyway. A couple of years ago, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells called it “the most wonderful terrible restaurant in New York… a permanent underground bar mitzvah where Gentiles can act like Jews and Jews can act like themselves.” The place has been around since the Koch administration. It’s the type of restaurant that everyone should experience once, not necessarily for the food but for the unique, celebratory atmosphere. On the right type of special occasion, it’s well worth elbowing the tourists aside to indulge this one-of-a-kind establishment that embraces the motto, “Death by Chicken Fat.”
Altman Luggage, 135 Orchard St. (near Rivington Street), 212-254-7275
Looks are deceiving at this discount luggage store, an Orchard Street mainstay since 1920. Upon walking inside, you’ll be confronted by a sea of bags in every shape, size and color—staked to the ceiling. While shopping at Altman’s can be a bit overwhelming, there’s an amazing selection featuring many brand names. The store guarantees the lowest prices on luggage in New York, and the sales staff is always accommodating.
Punjabi Grocery & Deli, 114 East 1st St. (near Avenue A), 212-533-3356
The neighborhood rallied around this much-loved cheap-eats spot in the past year, helping owners Kulwinder and Jashon Singh battle for the restoration of an all-important taxi stand. Punjabi Deli has been an indispensable spot for the city’s cabbies and for locals since opening in 1994. Not only is the little restaurant a destination for inexpensive and delicious vegetarian food, it’s also an important gathering spot for the local Indian community. After losing so much business due to construction on East Houston Street in recent years, the little place appears back on track.
From outside our immediate coverage area, a few standouts among many:
B&H Dairy, 127 2nd Avenue (near St. Mark’s Place), 212-505-8065. The 80-year-old kosher-style lunch counter is back and better than ever (with the help of many dedicated customers) after this past spring’s 2nd Avenue fire almost doomed the neighborhood treasure.
St. Mark’s Bookshop, 136 East 3rd St. (near Avenue A), 212-260-7853. After being forced out of the space it occupied for 37 years, the East Village institution relocated to 3rd Street. Unfortunately, the financial troubles continue (a $150,000 crowdfunding campaign launched last month).
Ray’s Candy Store, 113 Avenue A (near East 7th Street), 212-505-7609. 82-year-old Ray Alvarez has been keeping things real across from Tompkins Square Park for decades, providing the neighborhood with excellent egg creams, ice cream and Belgian fries.
Casa Adela, 66 Avenue C (near 5th Street), 212-473-1882. Adela Ferguson has been cooking delicious Puerto Rican food for the neighborhood, including amazing rotisserie chickens, since the 1970s.
GEM Spa, 131 2nd Avenue (at St. Mark’s Place), 212-995-1866. The St. Mark’s Place institution is still the place to go for your morning newspaper, an egg cream and to have your fortune told by Zoltar.
McSorley’s Old Ale House, 15 East 7th St. (near 3rd Avenue), 212-473-9148. Established in 1854, McSorley’s is said to be the oldest bar in New York, although the claim is open to some dispute.
Veselka, 144 2nd Avenue (at 9th Street). 212-228-9682. The place to go for pierogi, borscht and other Ukrainian specialties any hour of the day or night since the 1950s.
Wo Hop, 17 Mott St. (near Worth Street), 212-972-8617. Descend the steps into this subterranean Cantonese classic (opened in 1938) and be transported to another era.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, 65 Bayard St. (near Mott Street), 212-608-4170. Opened in 1977, this destination for Asian-inspired ice cream flavors is now managed by the next generation, the social media-savvy Christina Seid.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers St. (near Bowery), 212-962-6047. The first dim sum restaurant in Chinatown was opened more than 90 years ago. It was rediscovered by the masses following a makeover by second-generation owner Wilson Tang.
Golden Unicorn, 18 East Broadway (near Catherine Street), 212-941-0911. The multi-level dim sum restaurant is a favorite of Chinatown’s Cantonese establishment.
Big Wong, 67 Mott St. (near Canal Street), 212-964-0540. Long considered a top spot for BBQ meats, including roasted duck and pork.
Great NY Noodletown, 28 Bowery (at Bayard Street), 212-349-0923. Another popular spot for roasted meats, delicious noodle soups and softshell crab (in season). NY Noodletown is one of the few late-night options in Chinatown.
Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth St. (near Canal Street), 212-964-5256. The 800-seat restaurant, founded in 1978, is a chaotic dim sum destination, a banquet venue and community gathering spot for special occasions.
Chinatown Optical, 40 Mott St. (near Pell Street), 646-829-1886. This eyewear store has been a fixture in Chinatown since 1979.
PICKS FROM LES LOCALS
Penny Arcade: Avant-garde performance artist | Alex Shoe Repair, 71 1st Avenue (near 4th Street), 212-982-7773.“I have a pair of shoes that I bought in Glasgow in 1993… They are real witches shoes, [meaning] they are platforms and the toe curls up. These shoes became synonymous with my performances for the next 20 years, ’till I performed in San Francisco in the dampest theater on earth. The platforms got soaked and they crumbled! I spent four years trying to get them repaired. I heard about Alex and brought them in, and when I went to pick them up—miraculous! Alex actually made a new platform, covered it in leather and made the toe curl! I had assumed he had just rebuilt the platform on the old ones, but no! He made an entire new pair of shoes! This is because Alex is from Uzbekistan, where they still know how to make shoes!”
Josh Russ Tupper: Co-owner, Russ & Daughters | El Rey, 100 Stanton St. (near Ludlow Street), 212-260-3950. elreynyc.com. “It has become an instant LES classic. There is great food and coffee and it’s a perfect spot, day or night. It is unique, neighborhood-centric and promotes a sense of community for me, which are the keys to what makes the LES so special.”
Hanksy: Street artist, curator and punster extraordinaire | Up Stairs Bar, (aka Swat Bar): 59 Canal St (near Allen Street), 646-559-0098. “Their karaoke selection is questionable, but I will forever bring friends and LES newcomers to this Canal Street sing-song hall. It’s best early in the evening, before the crowd of newly christened neighborhoodies arrive, when there’s a weird and lingering cloud of yesteryear Chinatown floating in the room.”
Holly Ferrari: Co-owner, Fontana’s NYC | Stanton Tailor Shop, 90-96 Stanton St. (near Orchard Street), 212-353-9753. “I’ve been going there since the ’90s and, being a short person, having someone that can throw in a hem for $8 in 24 hours is a lifesaver. They are nice, professional and very good at what they do. Pablo Vargas always has a smile on his face—what a pro.”
James Fuentes: James Fuentes Gallery | Bacaro, 136 Division St. (near Ludlow Street), 212-941-5060. “Thanks to [proprietors] Kama Geary and Alain Levett, it is a home away from home. It would be an earth-shattering loss for me if I couldn’t sit down for a drink with Alain on a quiet night or host gallery dinners there for large groups. They represent the old and new school of the neighborhood, having opened on Division Street when no one would go near that part of the Lower East Side. It is also a go-to destination for my whole family.”
Andrew Chase: Co-owner, Cafe Katja | Yummy Kitchen, 38 Allen St. (below Hester), 212-343-2373. “The loss of the Chinese restaurant at 38 Allen St. (formerly Cheung Wong) would really bum me out. There are just too few old-school Cantonese places left. After losing Wing Shoon (at the corner of E. Broadway and Rutgers Street), I was really upset; I’d been going there for 30 years. It must have seriously altered many people’s lives because, in addition to being a great restaurant, it was such an important social hub. 38 Allen is much smaller but it’s the kind of place where ordinary neighborhood people go. Elderly residents from our building on Orchard Street eat there daily, as well as the mailman, the Time Warner guys and the art gallery owners; it’s a real democratic place.”
Tuan Bui: co-owner, An Choi | Fu Zhou Cuisine, 118 Eldridge St. (at Broome Street), 212-625-2532. “This is, straight up, a hole in the wall neighborhood spot frequented by Chinese locals. Tasty, cheap eats like boiled pork-and-chive dumplings made from scratch, peanut butter noodles and beef noodle soups are part of my rotation when I go here. I spend about $5 every time I visit. I love the fact that it will never get trendy or over-hyped like it’s next-door dumpling neighbor. It’s where Chinatown meets the LES and, so diverse (or random), it specializes in food from the Fujian province.”
Joe DiNoto: Founder, Orchard Street Runners | Coming Soon, 37 Orchard St. (near Hester Street), 212-266-4548. “Both owners are very cool/friendly people, and have always been more than helpful when it comes to picking out something to take home. They definitely have a talent for curating an eclectic collection of very nice ‘things’ that you could easily fill your apartment with, or wrap up and give to someone as a gift. They’re close by, but not in the path of heavy foot traffic. They’ve proved to be a much-needed addition to the neighborhood’s shopping options. Prices range from a couple bucks to as much as you want to spend, I’m sure.”
Allegra LaViola: Sargent’s Daughters | Eastwood: 221 E. Broadway (at Clinton Street), 212-233-0124. “I love Eastwood for many reasons. Firstly, Andrew and Sivan are fantastic people. Generous, kind and (important for a bar) great owners/hosts. It is such a nice neighborhood addition—the food is delicious, the beers are fantastic and the prices are reasonable. I love the atmosphere [which is] homey and casual, yet chic. It is not trying to be a rustic farm-to-table thing, thank God. I’m so sick of those places that want to pretend we all live in 1895 in the mountains. Also, it isn’t just some bar with fast turnover and bad service. They care about the quality of the experience in every way—music, decor, attitude and the food and drink.”
Alain Levitt and Kama Geary – Co-owners, Bacaro | Cafe Katja, 79 Orchard St. (near Grand Street), 212-219-9545. “Our favorite place in the neighborhood is Katja. I don’t think that there is a more welcoming, delicious and family-friendly place in New York. The consistency of the food is incredible, and someone always grabs the baby when we arrive. Even when our kids destroy the place, they seem genuinely happy to have seen us.”
Tony Powe: Founder, ZipCard | Rainbow Shoe Repair, 170 Delancey, 212-473-8645. “This is like my go-to place for not only shoes but lots of other bric-a-brac. Love the place, and the guy Tony, who runs it, is great.”
Jessica Delfino: Musical comedian and owner, The Unicorn | Forgtmenot, 138 Division St. (near Ludlow Street), 646-707-3195. “Owners Abby and Paul and Adam have been incredible additions to the neighborhood. They are not only great and considerate neighbors, but the restaurant vibe is warm, wonderfully weird and inviting, and the staff is awesome. They make a killer spicy watermelon margarita in a jar, their brunch and salads are the best below Delancey, as far as I’m concerned. The decor and little touches around the place make it feel like you’re at a friend’s house.”
Meghan and Diarmuid Joye: Co-owners, Lucky Jack’s and Donnybrook | Gaia Cafe, 251 E. Houston St. (near Norfolk Street), 646-350-3977. “We love Gaia and all her crazy rules and quirks. We get up early, so by the time 10 a.m. rolls around, we’re ready for a real meal. Where else in the neighborhood can you eat homemade lasagna for breakfast?”
Coss Marte: Owner ConBody | Cup & Saucer, 89 Canal St. (at Eldridge Street), 212-925-3298. “I’ve been going there since I was a kid, and that delicious Greek diner has the same taste I remember as a kid. I love their breakfast sandwiches. The owners John and Nick are business owners that I look up to. They treat me like family and every time I bring my son by they give him a free donut, which he craves all the time!”
Wilson Tang: Owner, Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Fung Tu | Karlee Hardware & Electric, 98 Madison St.. 212-966-3344. “Karlee Hardware Store has been around for more then 20 years. I love this place because the owner, Gary, keeps it stocked with anything you’d imagine finding in a Home Depot. It is truly a mom-and-pop shop. You can buy nails or washers by the piece, get the most obscure things or even bring in a piece of equipment that’s broken (drill, fan, heater) and Gary will try to fix it if he has time.”
Abby Sierros – Co-owner, Forgtmenot | Sunshine Cinema, 143 E. Houston St. (Forsyth/Eldridge streets.), 212-260-7289. “For me, the Landmark Sunshine Theatre is practically my second home. I plan half my week around the movies I want to see, and being able to bike two minutes to see great films fulfills me so much.”
Enrique Cruz – Founder, Association of Latino Business Owners & Residents | El Castillo De Jagua, 113 Rivington St. & 521 Grand St. “This small mom-and-pop restaurant has been serving our community good-quality, affordable food for over 35 years. It caters to the locals and, yes, the tourists eat there too, but every time you walk in there you will notice that mostly it is locals. For me, losing El Castillo De Jagua would be devastating for the neighborhood.”
MORE LOCAL FAVORITES
Ben Freedman Gents Furnishings, 137 Orchard St. (near Rivington Street), 212-674-0854. Selling name-brand discount clothing on Orchard Street since 1927.
Cafe Petisco, 189 East Broadway (at Jefferson Street), 212-387-0366. The Mediterranean-accented restaurant is a popular spot for families and people who live near Seward Park.
Cibao Restaurant, 72 Clinton St. (at Rivington Street), 212-228-0703. The Dominican diner is a good spot for an affordable meal on Clinton Street.
Daredevil Tattoo, 141 Division St. (near Ludlow Street). 212-533-8303. The longtime Ludlow Street shop fled “Hell Square” gentrification for Division Street, even opening a New York Tattoo Museum.
Ideal Hosiery, 339 Grand St. (at Ludlow Street), 212-226-4792. Boxes are almost always piled to the ceiling in this store, which has been in operation on the Lower East Side since 1950.
Lucien, 14 1st Avenue (near 1st Street), 212-260-6481. While he was forced to close his Ludlow Street hangout, Pink Pony, Lucien Behaj continues to operate the artist-friendly bistro just above East Houston Street. These days, Lucien’s son, Zac, is taking the lead.
Schames & Son (paint supply), 90 Delancey St. (near Orchard Street), 212-673-3860. One of the oldest small businesses in the neighborhood moved from lower Essex Street in 2010 after its longtime building became destabilized due to the demolition of a neighboring property.
Roni Sue’s Chocolates, 148 Forsyth St. (near Delancey Street), 212-677-1216. After starting in a stall at the Essex Street Market, LES resident Rhonda Kave has made a big success of her handcrafted-chocolate business.
Cheeky Sandwiches, 35 Orchard St. (near Hester Street), 646-504-8132. Free spirit Din Yates runs this quirky New Orleans-style sandwich shop on lower Orchard Street.
Classic Coffee Shop, 56 Hester St. (near Ludlow Street), 917-685-3306. Carmine Morales is in charge at this little lunch counter, which has been around for about 40 years.
Congee Village, 100 Allen St. (near Delancey Street), 212-941-1818. The longtime Cantonese restaurant is a go-to spot for big groups and fast delivery.
Dimes, 49 Canal St. (near Orchard Street), 212-925-1300. This California-inspired cafe quickly became an essential destination for the well-heeled crowd increasingly populating the area below Grand Street.
Soy Restaurant, 102 Suffolk St. (near Delancey Street), 212-253-1158. The homey Japanese spot is like eating in your best friend’s kitchen.
Barrio Chino, 253 Broome St. (near Orchard St.), 212-228-6710. The laid-back Mexican cantina hasn’t changed a thing in years, and that’s the way its customers like it.
Fontana’s, 105 Eldridge St. (near Grand St.), 212-334-6740. The large bar and music venue is locally owned and always up for hosting community events.
Verlaine, 110 Rivington St. (near Essex Street), 212-614-2494. The locally owned cocktail bar draws in a neighborhood crowd with good drink specials.
Rice Noodle Cart, Southeast corner of Rutgers Street and East Broadway. The popular cart features cheap and tasty rice noodles with fishballs and other items.
Clandestino, 35 Canal St. (near Ludlow Street), 212-475-5505. The unpretentious bar run by Laura Travers is a neighborhood favorite.
Army & Navy Bag, 177 East Houston St. (near Allen Street), 212-228-5267. For 40 years, a dependable spot for military surplus bags, jackets and other clothing items.
Ted’s Formalwear, 155 Orchard St. (near Stanton Street), 212-966-2029. A small shop with an amazing collection of rock ’n’ roll t-shirts.
An Choi, 85 Orchard St. (near Broome Street), 212-226-3700. A good spot for authentic Vietnamese food (especially the pho), but the locals’ bar scene is the thing at this six-year-old restaurant.
Max Fish, 120 Orchard St. (near Delancey Street), 212-529-3959. The legendary Ludlow Street bar was reborn on Orchard Street.
Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop, 129 Rivington St. (near Rivington Street), 212-228-4919. An indispensable local spot for an affordable meal.
Chef Restaurant Supplies, 294 Bowery (near East Houston Street), 212-254-6644. The biggest, and one of the best, of the dwindling Bowery restaurant-supply stores.
Global International Menswear, 62 Orchard St. (near Grand Street), 212-431-4530. Orchard Street would not be the same without the overzealous salesman Sammy Gluck at this 50-year-old store.
Nick & Son Clothing, 161 Orchard St. (near Stanton Street), 212-253-7588. A longtime discount retailer specializing in leather jackets and other clothing items.
Thelma on Clinton, 29 Clinton St. (near Stanton Street), 212-979-8471. Melissa O’Donnell converted Salt Bar into a new casual restaurant geared for the local community.
Lucky Jack’s, 129 Orchard St. (near Delancey Street), 212-477-6555. A blessedly unfancy spot for a pint on increasingly high-end Orchard Street.