Once a decaying corner of Manhattan whose best days—as a chaotic melting pot for recent immigrants and bohemian types—seemed long behind it, the Lower East Side has undergone a staggering renewal in recent years. Its idiosyncratic flavour and grit remain, bolstered by a slew of hip restaurants, rollicking bars and modish boutiques that have cropped up across the area. In fact, there’s most than enough in the LES to fill out your next NYC weekend.
Like the neighbourhood itself, the Thompson LES straddles a tenuous line between raw and refined, unkempt and upscale. Cement ceilings and strong, industrial lines serve as a canvas for urbane design elements: Lee Friedlander lightboxes, Ryan McGinness paintings and a Warhol graphic emblazoned across the floor of the rooftop pool.
New Orleans-bred owner Din Yates brings a healthy dose of Cajun charisma and flavour to this amiable hole-in-the-wall sandwich spot. Try the shrimp-and-oyster po’boy for some crispy, savoury goodness, or sample the braised beef, which comes on homemade challah bread with a dollop of horseradish. And make sure to save room for a few beignets (New Orleans’ famous mini-doughnuts) for dessert.
The home base of wunderkind molecular gastronomist Wylie Dufresne, wd~50’s ever-evolving menu showcases a wildly inventive clash of flavours and textures that will simultaneously delight and confuse the hell out of your taste buds. It’ll be a meal you’ll never forget—even if you aren’t totally sure exactly what it is you’re eating.
The Meatball Shop
Now a mini-empire of three locations (with two more on the way) and a cookbook, this is the spot that started it all. Mix and match the innumerable options of inventive meatballs, zesty sauces and serving styles (with pasta, on a salad, in a sandwich), and don’t forget dessert: the homemade ice cream sandwiches are not to be missed.
Clinton Street Baking
Instead of braving the lunatic morning rush at this ultra-popular brunch joint, stop by for its lesser-known, yet equally delectable dinner menu. Their take on fried chicken and waffles—doused in a warm apple butter syrup that will haunt your dreams—rivals the best the South has to offer.
The Back Room
Hidden beneath the faux façade of a toyshop, you might have some trouble find this underground speakeasy. Given the eccentric details and opulent, Wayne Manor-esque environs—the stellar cocktails are served in teacups, 1920s-style; bookshelves open into secret rooms—it’s well worth the effort of tracking it down.
Housed in a former piano shop, this bi-level watering hole hosts nightly live music from emerging local acts, as well as a rotating cast of genre-bending DJs. Stop in for a Manhattan and get a taste of (pleasantly unpretentious) NYC hipsterdom.
Ale Et Ange
A favourite of Yasiin Bey (the artist formerly known as Mos Def), this under-the-radar boutique crafts hardy work shirts, slim-cut slacks, ball caps and tees from statement-making deadstock fabrics—African prints, loud florals and classic railroad stripes.
Small but formidable, this menswear-nerd hangout carries a well-curated mix of buzz brands like Gant Rugger, Mark McNairy and Yuketen. But the real draw here is the shop’s own private label—a dapper collection of perfectly cut trousers, sportcoats and shirts, all hand-tailored in the USA.
Freeman’s Sporting Club
The sartorial offshoot of neighbouring (and excellent) restaurant Freeman’s, FSC offers a Wes Andersonian vision of old-school American hunting garb and the Ivy League professorial look: tweedy shirt-jackets, three-piece suits, and Maine-made moccasins. Be sure to check out the four-seat barbershop in the rear for a quick cut or shave.
The Reed Space
Streetwear kids revere this place for its array of tricked-out kicks, but you’re here for the off-kilter art prints, the unrivaled selection of obscure magazines and fashion journals, and the minimalist threads from hard-to-find labels like White Mountaineering and Norse Projects.