The one-time hub for 20th-century immigrant groups from around the world, Manhattan’s Lower East Side has a rich and vibrant past. Travel back in time when visiting the neighborhood’s old-school eateries, retro businesses, and perfectly preserved public spaces. Here are some of our favorite Old New York finds on the Lower East Side.
Back when this tenement apartment building was first built in 1863, it housed nearly 7,000 immigrants. Today, the structure is home to the Tenement Museum, displaying the restored apartments of immigrant residents from 1863 to 1935. Tip: you can only see this throwback via a guided tour, so be sure to plan ahead when visiting.
Tenement Museum, 103 Orchard St, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 982 8420
Timeless New York flavors find a home at Katz’s Delicatessen. It began as a small deli on the Lower East Side in 1888 and has evolved into an internationally known symbol of the city. Here, modern-day diners can enjoy classic Jewish dishes, such as fist-sized knishes, matzoh ball soup, and the iconic thick-cut pastrami sandwiches, perfected over the last 100 years.
Katz’s Delicatessen, 205 E Houston St, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 254 2246
Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream
Bringing back the all-American ice cream parlor, Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream is an old-school establishment serving contemporary tastes. Here, retro décor pairs perfectly with riffs on classic ice cream flavors, such as bitter dark chocolate and bourbon vanilla. For à la mode appetites, the parlor also whips up flavors of the future, such as burnt sage, black coconut ash, and olive oil.
Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream, 2 Rivington St, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 209 7684
Essex Street Market
Founded in 1940, Essex Street Market is New York City’s most historic public market. Built by and catering to the immigrant groups of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, this neighborhood fixture boasts everything from Latin grocery items and kosher smoked fish to Greek pastries. Perhaps most enticing of all is the market’s animated atmosphere, which blends languages and smells and provides a glimpse of a New York gone by.
Essex Street Market, 120 Essex St, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 312 3603
East River Park
Manhattan’s East River Park hasn’t changed much since opening in 1939—and that’s just how the locals like it. For nearly 80 years, the 57.5-acre public park has been the neighborhood’s best bet for taking in timeless New York City sights such as the Brooklyn Bridge and East River.
Russ & Daughters Cafe
Enjoy a taste of Old New York at Russ & Daughters Cafe, a spin-off of the 100-year-old institution Russ & Daughters. Headed by the fourth generation of the Russ family, the café specializes in traditional New York noshes. Bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese, chopped liver, and mustard-smothered potato knishes all grace the tables at this old-meets-new eatery.
Russ & Daughters Cafe, 127 Orchard St, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 475 4880 ext. 2
Please Don’t Tell
A modern-day speakeasy shrouded in old-school secrecy? Do tell. Located behind a phone booth situated inside a hot dog chain is Please Don’t Tell, a cocktail bar serving unique drinks and Old New York vibes. With more than 1,400 Yelp reviews, this so-called speakeasy is hardly a secret, but you’re unlikely to have a more intoxicating bar experience anywhere else in the city.
Please Don’t Tell, 113 St Marks Pl, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 614 0386
Kids (and kids at heart) are sure to be sweet on Economy Candy, a retro candy store carrying more than 2,000 treat varieties. Since 1937, New York has satisfied its sweet tooth here, where old-fashioned pick ‘n’ mix, old-school candy bars, and forgotten favorites such as jelly beans and gumballs grace the shelves.
Economy Candy, 108 Rivington St, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 254 1531
Nothing says “Old New York” like the most quintessentially classic of local dishes: the doughnut. Since 1994, Doughnut Plant has fueled locals’ mornings with their all-natural yeast, cake, and filled doughnuts, homemade jam fillings, and other traditional touches. Retro flavors, such as peanut butter and jam, oatmeal, and double chocolate, round out the Plant’s menu of old-school offerings.
Doughnut Plant, 379 Grand St, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 505 3700 ext. 379