My LES: Amy Stein-Milford
This weekly feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.
What do you do?
I’m the Deputy Director for the Museum at Eldridge Street, located in the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue – a magnificent National Historic Landmark on Eldridge Street between Canal and Division streets.
How long have you lived on the LES?
20 years. My grandmother settled on the Lower East Side as a young woman when she immigrated to America in 1921. She lived on Attorney Street. Years later her son, my father, became an attorney and moved to the Upper East Side. We would make monthly pilgrimages to the area to eat and shop.
20 years ago, I moved back down to the area – at the time much to the horror of my father. So it is a circle of sorts. I love the area for its history, the personal meaning it holds for me and the new life that is here. I love my building and street, too, a former synagogue on Hester Street. The building is 140 years old and my husband and I joke that there is a Golem living under the stairwell. The street was once home to the Chazzer (pig) Market where the newly arriving Jewish community could buy anything but pork.
Favorite block in the hood?
Hester Street between Allen and Orchard where I have lived for the past 13 years. My older daughter, Hester, is named in part, for the street. I love the mix of new and old and the unlikely juxtapositions. Chinese restaurants, art galleries, The Sweet Life candy store, nearby remnants of the old Jewish Lower East Side.
Favorite date spot in the hood?
Bacaro on Division Street or Ten Bells on Broome Street if I’m feeling like being wined and dined. But usually I’m a cheap date. My husband and I go for $1 dumplings and then walk around the neighborhood.
Favorite coffee in the hood?
Classic Coffee Shop on Hester Street for its no-frills coffee and Carmine’s stories.
Favorite slice in the hood?
Hmm. We have some great food options in the neighborhood, including my favorites The Pickle Guys (try their pickled pineapple) and Saxelby’s Cheesmongers, where I get stinky cheese for my daughters. But I can’t say I have a go-to pizza joint.
Where do you take your visitors when they’re here?
Of course to the Museum at Eldridge Street to take in its beauty, history and the new window by Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans. People are always amazed to discover this synagogue tucked away in Chinatown.
In June I take people to the Museum’s Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Block Party, a super-fun celebration of the Jewish and Chinese cultures of the neighborhood. I am also a big fan of the Tenement Museum for its thoughtful portrayal of the way immigrants lived and worked in the neighborhood. When the Hester Street Market is open, that is a must.
I always invite people to come and spend the day for the Chinese New Year parade, which passes just a block away from our home. The parade is my favorite in the city, very colorful but not overwhelming. Afterward, we eat in the area, home of the $1 dumpling and ornate dim sum palaces. I am also a fan of the Po Boys at Cheeky’s Sandwiches.
Favorite dive bar in the hood?
Max Fish, one of the first of its kind and still standing.
What sort of changes have you seen in the neighborhood in the last few years?
There is a vibrant gallery scene just around the corner from our home, which did not exist 5 years ago. Alongside all of the new boutiques, restaurants and galleries, there continues to be an amazing mix of cultures. We’re in the heart of Chinatown, a bustling immigrant neighborhood. I love watching the older Chinese men and women practicing tai chi in the park in the morning on my way to work.
Favorite LES memory?
As a young girl, I used to make a monthly Sunday pilgrimage to the Lower East Side for shopping and food by M15 bus from the Upper East Side. I remember that moment when the bus turned the corner from Second Avenue onto Houston Street and the texture of the neighborhood changed. It felt grittier, even to my childhood eyes.
The Blue laws were still in effect and all the other stores in the city were closed on Sunday. We would go shopping at places like Fine & Klein and Eckstein’s and the Judaica stores. The day was capped off with kosher Chinese food at Shmulke Bernstein’s. There was no restaurant like it in the city at the time and I loved their spare ribs.
Today my children are growing up here and I am sure they will have many good memories of the soupy dumplings at Congee Village, birthday picnics by the East River band shell, and Saturday mornings at Seward Park Library.