When tourists visit New York, particularly the first couple of times, they become stuck on the usual roundabout of “must do’s” and miss some of the really special things that this place has to offer. They line up for hours to go see the Statue of Liberty and shoot to the top of the Empire State Building, arrange shows and spend time gawking at the awful Times Square, hit the main museums, probably the Met and MoMA being at the top of their list. Perhaps they zip around the city on one of those red double-decker buses and get a sense of the geography. Some go on the Sex and the City tour or a Movie tour and are reminded of some of the many famous NYC locations from film and TV. Probably they visit Bloomingdales, and maybe Soho or the Meatpacking District for shopping. Without a doubt they visit Central Park.
Don’t get me wrong: all these things are essential, and some of them even I still take time out for (Bloomies and Central Park are NOT to be missed!).
But it’s when you manage to scratch below the surface of the city that you start to discover other areas. One of the neighbourhoods worth seeing is the Lower East Side. Like many areas, it used to be gritty as anything (hey, the Hell’s Angels still have their HQ here) but it’s becoming very worth a visit.
One place that may take tourists to the LES is Katz’s Deli, arguably the most famous deli in NYC, and home of that scene from When Harry Met Sally (one of my favourites). It’s also home to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, a museum housed in former tenements (buildings of no more than 6 stories) built cheaply and into which numerous immigrants were stuffed to dangeous levels. A human and moving look at New York’s past.
But the foodie set really needs to visit the LES. One of NYC’s “best” restaurants, WD-50, is here (I have eaten there; it’s a mecca if you are into foams and “clever” food. Give me Union Square Cafe or Gramercy Tavern any day). Although Magnolia Bakery is renowned for its cupcakes and attracts the tourist set, Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery is a favourite of many New Yorkers, who claim their cupcakes are the best in the city.
One of my recent discoveries has been the Doughnut Plant. This place, located on Grand Street, is attributed with starting the “gourmet” donut scene in NYC. It’s an unassuming little place, but when you get in there and sus out the product, there’s no turning back.
The creme brulee donut is small, but packs a punch. A toffee coating, filled with brulee custard, it’s the real deal. And the square jam-filled donuts solves the jam donut dilemma of all the jam being stuck in one part of the donut and mouthfuls of dry donut dough…how did no-one think of this before?
So, when you visit New York, make sure you leave aside a little time for the Lower East Side.