Right below Cooper Square lies the Bowery, a 1.25 mile stretch that is the city’s oldest thoroughfare. It’s a block richly layered with history and culture; originally a vast farmland in the 1600s when the Dutch first settled on Manhattan Island, it has become a site for artistic and multicultural expression throughout the centuries. Today, the Bowery is as much a reflection of the past as it is an exciting ode to the future. The block is a beautiful combination of both old and new, filled with trendy restaurants and bars, museums, as well as restaurant and lighting supply stores that have been around since the early 1900s. To get a taste of this historic boulevard, stop at any one of these 10 spots.
There’s something wholly intimate and inspiring about Bowery Poetry that stays with you long after the show is over. The venue, founded in 2002 by Bob Holman, welcomes an eclectic mix of performers whose poetry spans from the spiritual to political, spoken with true passion and meaning. Event highlights include the Bowery Slam and PoetNY Open Mic night, plus tons of great workshop offerings for those looking to learn and deepen their craft. Pop in and explore what this type of art has to offer.
New Museum is a grand seven-story architectural structure that is definite standout on the Bowery. It was founded in 1977 by Marcia Tucker as a springboard for local artists to display their work in hopes of gaining public recognition and acceptance and still remains a large cultural imprint in the neighborhood. The museum’s current exhibitions are Cheryl Donegan: Scenes and Commercials and Pia Camil: A Pot for a Latch. Visit on the weekend to gain access to the Sky Room, as well as the New Museum café for some drinks and snacks.
The antique furniture store, Olde Good Things, contains an impressive array of antiques and repurposed materials. The store is one of the largest architectural antique dealers in the country, and it’s no surprise it’s found a home right on the Bowery. It’s got an impressive selection of furniture with friendly staff who are passionate about the store and its items. Step inside the spacious shop and peruse for a bit; there’s lots of little trinkets and wonders abound. Come in with an open mind, and you’ll likely leave with something amazing.
It’s hard to miss the neon blue Bowery Electric sign if you’re strolling the Bowery at night. This rock music venue has live music every night of the week with a different vibe depending on the room you’re in. Hang out at the bar for a great happy hour deal with drinks like I Wanna Be Sedated and Teenagers from Mars, then venture downstairs to continue the night. The basement venue is an intimate space with good sound quality, plus a full bar and disco ball.
The Light District on the Bowery is a small strip of family-owned lighting stores, many of whose storefronts have been around for quite a while. If you’re looking for new lights or want to know just how much the Bowery’s changed over the last few decades, visit any one of these shops and talk up the owners for an inside scoop. Some Bowery lighting favorites are Lighting by Gregory and New York Lighting, but it depends on the type of fixture you’re looking for. Either way, it’s worth the time to pop in a few of these stores and get a feel for what the Bowery was like before the trendy restaurants and bars took over.
The Wren is one of Bowery’s biggest highlights; it’s a restaurant/bar located right next to Great Jones St. that is so cozy and comfortable it’s easy to forget you’re in the big city. Make no mistake, though — this bar is an always-happening spot that’s got an Irish pub vibe with some of the best drinks on the block and awesome music to match. Score a seat at the bar (there are also tables toward the back) and ask the bartender for a Wren Old Fashioned or the Partridge In A Pear Tree, and enjoy this homey ambiance. Snack on the Autumn Burrata with candy-stripe beets and definitely get an order of the Fish & Chips, a house special.
Wise Men is a Bowery local’s favorite hangout for good reason. It’s got an always-friendly atmosphere and a sexy retro vibe with black, white, and red geometric shapes covering the walls and floor tiles. The bar was opened in 2012 by friends Caroleyn Ng, Danielle Levitt, and Christina Chin, whose parents ran a popular steakhouse in Chinatown in the 1970s by the same name. It’s a sleek space teeming with the it-crowd, all who come to dance and sip on some delicious cocktails. Enter through the huge photograph on its outside wall and enjoy the Huckleberry or Red Seal cocktail to get you in the dancing mood.
Just a few steps off the Bowery is One Mile House, a speakeasy style bar that induces just the right amount of nostalgia. With a great selection of local and craft beers, and antique decor like old subway tiles, this throwback bar is a great place to unwind and surround yourself with good company. Enjoy brews like the Knee Deep Breaking Bud or Maine Lunch IPA either before or after a night at the Bowery Ballroom, or as a casual first-stop pub before a long night out. It’s a fun Bowery hangout, especially since the food is a must-try too. The burger is a pub favorite, but try any one of the small plates that are equally pleasing to the palate.
Until recently, the wall on the corner of Houston and Bowery was just a large blank canvas on the other side of a handball court. With thousands of people passing by it each day, it’s no wonder the real estate development company Goldman Properties decided to use the wall as an art project, legally commissioning artists to create murals. Famous graffiti artists like RETNA, Kenny Scharf, and Os Gemeos have taken over the wall for weeks or months at a time, gracing locals and tourists with their artistic prowess. The space is a definite must-see and perfect for your Instagram feed.
These recommendations were updated on February 9, 2017 to keep your travel plans fresh.