This feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. This month, we are featuring Carlina Rivera, a community activist and lifelong LES resident. This story originally appeared in the March 2013 version of our print magazine.
What do you do?
I manage programming at Good Old Lower East Side, serving and organizing seniors around the issues affecting their quality of life everyday. GOLES is an amazing nonprofit that does a little bit of everything in the name of social justice. I’m also a member of the community board.
How long have you lived on the LES?
Born and raised, when nobody knew where Stanton Street was and the drug dealers wore D.A.R.E. t-shirts — gangsta. Gritty and wild, but still a great place to raise a kid!
What drew you to the neighborhood?
I guess a better question is why haven’t I lived anywhere else? I love this neighborhood for so many reasons; it has such a sense of community. I must say good morning to at least half a dozen people before I walk the 12 blocks to work everyday (cue my Disney princess moment).
Favorite block in the hood?
Stanton Street of course. I walk my dog past the Virgin Mary, a synagogue, my favorite local bar where everybody knows my name (shout out to Donnybrook!), some stoop Lady Gaga jacked the rent on, and old signs on new businesses that leave me a little nostalgic. I also really love Orchard Street.
Favorite date spot in the hood?
Elsa’s for a cocktail and just across the street for dinner at Café Cortadito. Cool little places with just enough ambiance to keep it fun. I thought the garden at Max’s on B was pretty sweet too.
Favorite coffee in the hood?
Tough, but it’d have to be Atlas Café on Clinton. Croissants, good coffee and a bench outside where you can watch people walk under the tree archway [across the street – t.r.] and wonder just how low the branches will get before the [will see if it has a name – t.r.] garden has to tie them back again. I do appreciate 9th Street Espresso’s strong brew and after 10 cups I get one free. Casa Adela steams the milk which seems to be a lost art and is a great reminder to have Bustelo with the fam as soon as possible. A few bodegas out there also deserve an honorable mention. (I take my coffee kind of seriously.)
Favorite cheap eats in the hood?
A cheese slice at Stromboli’s or Stanton Pizza, dumplings at C&C Prosperity, and sandwiches from Cibao, Castillo’s or Gaia.
Favorite dive bar in the neighborhood?
Iggy’s on Ludlow because you can catch Monday Night Football without a fuss. And when I want to class it up a bit, I walk a few steps to Local 138.
Where do you take your visitors when they’re here?
The Essex Street Market, Tompkins Square Park, a couple museums and to see live music. I also have a couple walking/eating tours that are a hit, which include great meals at some world-famous eateries, and walking through Chinatown, Little Italy, East Village and the LES. Pancakes, dim sum, smoked fish, pastrami, pho and gelato, appropriately followed by a cold beer at Top Hops. They get to hear a little history and see some great stuff along the way. You’re welcome!
How do you feel about recent changes in the neighborhood?
I really try not to complain but I just cringe when I think of the LES being a mecca for those solely interested in gaudy clubs, pretentious bars and boutique hotels. I love dancing, whiskey and fine bed linens but let’s keep the development tasteful and dignified. What makes this place so special is the diversity of people and places and it’s getting more difficult to hold on to that. My neighbors, friends and family have been getting pushed out and displaced for years and that is not cool. You know what’s cool? Organizing and uniting to build power and make positive change. Still though, this hood is awesome.
What new establishment have you been wanting to try?
As much as I try to keep up with the SLA agenda put before me monthly, I mostly just have a list of places I’ve wanted to try which continues to grow: Maharlika, Yunnan Kitchen, wd-50, Sorella, Café Katja, on and on. The options in this area are limitless.
Favorite LES memory?
Almost three decades worth so let me try and narrow it down chronologically. Learning to ride my bike in East River Park and washing down victory with a can of Sunkist, bouncing those giant rubber balls they sold at Pathmark with my sister until they finally threatened to call my mom from customer service, buying 37 pieces of candy at the Jewish bakery on Columbia with change I found in my sofa, shopping at Lucky’s (for jacks, a whoopee cushion, and a backpack in one go), hide-and- seek at Tompkins when the slide was yellow and so was one side of my reversible Bear bubble coat, standing on line for Jordans on Delancey Street, and my first ace in handball at First Park. I’ve also had some really great birthday celebrations along the way that involve rooftop views and Veneiro’s strawberry short cake so I guess I’ve been pretty lucky all these years.