New York’s Lower East Side: What to Do and Where to Go!

The Lower East Side of NYC epitomizes everything this great city stands for. Packed with cultural, historical, and culinary institutions, this eclectic corner of Manhattan offers a big slice of New York life.

Steeped in Jewish heritage, the Lower East Side has an identity all of its own. If you’re looking for some great places to visit while you’re in the area, here are a few ideas.

Lower East Side Landmarks

• Metrograph

The Metrograph is a celebration of the golden age of American cinema. Housed in a seemingly industrial, nondescript building, this unique landmark is a modern cinema with a difference. There are two screens, each with a state-of-the-art digital projector and a classic film projector.

The Metrograph allows local and international filmmakers to find an audience for their independent productions. There are regular movie festivals, premieres, and special events — all aimed at giving struggling moviemakers their big chance.

You don’t have to watch a movie to enjoy this Lower East Side landmark. There’s a charming bookshop, a lobby bar, a restaurant, and a public meeting area. Grab a bite to eat, or simply sip espresso and drink in this unique cinema’s charm.

• Rue B

Rue B is a bar on Avenue B with a big reputation for jazz music. There’s live music to enjoy every night, most of which is jazz. But you can enjoy the odd rockabilly act here, too.

Aim to arrive at around 8:30 p.m., in readiness for a 9:00 p.m. opening. There’s always a queue to get in, and seats are in short supply. This is a tiny venue with a big heart. Local musicians ply their trade here with honesty and authenticity, so expect an intimate experience.

Music Williamsburg

Credit: Shutterstock

• Performance Space New York

Located on East 9th Street, Performance Space New York showcases local artistic talent. And it’s been doing so since 1980. The venue is an old public school, which simply adds to its character.

There are several cutting-edge performance spaces here, so there’s always a show to enjoy. You can also peruse a large selection of local artworks in the various artist studios hosted here. Whether you’re looking for a monologue or an original stage play, the chances are you’ll find what you’re looking for at Performance Space New York.

• Ramiken Crucible

Ramiken Crucible is a renowned art gallery on Grand Street. It plays host to many American artists, showcasing some highly unconventional works. If you’re a fan of contemporary art, this place is well worth a visit.

As well as a plethora of thought-provoking paintings, Ramiken is home to sculptures and exhibits. There’s an experimental tone to almost everything on display.

A word of warning: Some of the themes are highly controversial. This probably isn’t the place for a family day out or a first date.

Unique Experiences in the Lower East Side

• Waste Some Time at Bluestockings

Whenever you have some time to waste in this part of NYC, head straight to Bluestockings. This independent bookstore is a treasure trove of literature and journalism. While there are a few mainstream books on the shelves, the overriding theme is one of alternative literature.

You’ll find challenging reads on divisive subjects such as radical feminism, ecology, and various activist campaigns. Spend a while browsing what’s on offer, and don’t be afraid to handle the books. This is a community space as much as it is a store.

Keep checking for special presentations, author readings, and interactive workshops. These events take place regularly throughout the week. And make sure you stop by for a cup of Fairtrade Coffee in the store’s homey cafe.

Credit: Rousseau / Pixabay

• Shop at Reformation LES

There’s an alternative retail experience to enjoy at Reformation LES. You’ll find everything from jumpsuits to summer dresses here, but each item has its own, unique story to tell.

People passionate about sustainable clothing craft these eco-friendly fashions with love and passion. Repurposed fabrics and materials are used to make everything. Not only are the clothes at Reformation LES unique, but they’re also kind to the planet.

Well-paid workers in the company’s factory take personal responsibility for every garment on the shelves. You can even check which of those skilled employees made each item on sale in the NYC store.

• Enjoy Retro Gaming at Two-Bit’s Retro Arcade

If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember the classic arcade games of the 1980s. Take a step back in time and play these games of your youth again at Two-Bit’s Retro Arcade. This is a great place for a night out with a difference.

The arcade games available are constantly changing. You’ll usually be able to play classics such as Pacman, Frogger, and Space Invaders. But there’s at least one new arrival every couple of weeks.

Enjoy a range of craft beers, wines, and spirits as you enjoy a little retro gaming. Or kick back with a snack and enjoy one of the regular movie screenings. One wall of this unique video arcade is a makeshift cinema screen.

• Indulge at Doughnut Plant

Doughnut Plant on Grand Street is famous among locals — thanks to the huge selection of doughnut fillings it has to offer. You’ll find some classic flavors to try for free. But don’t miss out on the more exotic options, including peanut butter and strawberry jam, créme brûlée, and matcha green tea.

Doughnuts come out of the on-site kitchen fresh every morning. And there’s always fresh coffee to go with your doughnut. The geniuses at Doughnut Plant pride themselves on creating the freshest doughnuts with nothing but real ingredients. There are no preservatives or artificial flavorings in any of the offerings, so you can enjoy your treats without too much guilt.

Credit: Shutterstock

• Hester Street Fair

Get out and about among the real people of the Lower East Side at the Hester Street Fair. This is a celebration of local creativity and culinary skill. Enjoy a range of artisan foods, try on vintage garments, or peruse a huge range of handmade collectibles. Whatever you do, authenticity and community spirit are at the very heart of this weekly fair.

The Lower East Side isn’t always at the top of a visitor’s to-do list. But with the help of our travel website, you can experience everything this unique area of NYC has to offer. Give it a chance — it has a great deal to offer.

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