Top 18 Things To Do On The Lower East Side And East Village NYC
Published by Josh Hirsch on December 26, 2019 –
New York City can be intimidating to visitors. When planning what to do and see during a trip, visitors too often get stuck going to the same tourist traps that you read about in every city guidebook. Though that is one version of New York City, that is not the only — or the best — version of it. For a truly authentic experience, we recommend finding unique, locally-developed (and locally-attended) attractions. Going where the locals go and seeing what they are passionate about showing you are the keys to seeing the real New York. In this post, we’ll explore the 18 most memorable, most locally-supported things to do on New York City’s Lower East Side and East Village.
Starting with the best, they are:
1. Sidewalk Food Tours’ Lower East Side Food Tour: Eat Your Way Through The Neighborhood
Location: Starting In Front Of The Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery 137 East Houston St, New York (10002)
Hours: 3 Hour Duration; See Day And Time Availability Here
Cost: $69 Per Person, Including All Food Tastings And A Water Bottle; 10%-15% Tour Guide Tip Is Customary
More than just a (fantastic) food tour, the Lower East Side Food Tour by Sidewalk Food Tours is a community and culture lesson rooted in and developed around the history of the neighborhood’s food. Rich in ethnic diversity and community, the culinary roots of this neighborhood reveal plenty about its history, the living and social conditions of its residents, and the spirit of perseverance and community support that define still define New York City culture today.
This three-hour guided tour includes tasting stops at seven different appetizing shops, ethnic eateries, and mom-and-pop restaurants in the neighborhood. On the way, tour participants learn about the history of the tenement buildings occupied by the poor, historic synagogues, and the neighborhood’s role as a seat of Jewish culture.
2. The Lower East Side Toy Company: Visit One Of The Last True Speakeasies
Location: 102 Norfolk St, New York, Ny 10002
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 6:30-2am; Friday & Saturday 6:30pm-4am
Cost: Free To Enter; Password Required For Admission (Find Out Today’s Password Here)
One of only two contemporary speakeasies in New York that actually operated during Prohibition, the Backroom at The Lower East Side Toy Company keeps history alive. It’s one of the best rated “hidden bars” in New York City — and there’s no questioning why. More than just a password-protected pub, the Backroom maintains its prohibition roots by serving drinks in white teacups, shots in espresso glasses, and beer inside in brown paper bags.
According to the owners, The Backroom is meant to be as historically accurate as possible, yet the 1920s period chandeliers, hardwood floors, and Victorian furniture are notably upscale. Half luxe Victorian ballroom, half authentic roaring-twenties speakeasy, the Backroom is the perfect setting for a true New York City night out on the town.
3. Joe’s Pub: Feel Welcomed At The Cabaret
Location: 425 Lafayette St, New York, Ny 10003
Hours: Daily 6pm-1am
Cost: $20 Admission Per Adult Per Show, Plus A 2 Drink Or $12 Food Minimum, Per Person (Get A $5 Parking Coupon For The Venue Here)
Joe’s pub boasts a lineup of some of the best contemporary lounge- and cabaret-singers performing in New York City (as well as comedians, dancers, and musicians). A program of the Public Theater, Joe’s Pub is, technically, an independent, non-profit music venue. Their mission and goals focus on supporting performing artists at every stage of their careers and serving both audiences and artists alike.
They promise nightly shows showcasing “vibrant culture” and operate an in-house food and drink menu that leaves reviewers raving and rarely complaining about the $12 minimum food/drink purchase requirement. Outside of the technicalities, Joe’s Pub is an intimate, modern stage for up-and-coming artists that is perfectly suited for the performance art junkie. Locals love it and visitors should seek it out.
4. The Museum Of The American Gangster: Learn The Truth About The Biggest Nyc Mob Myths & Legends
Location: 80 St Mark’s Place
Hours: Daily 1pm-6pm
Cost: Regularly $10 Per Adult For Admission, $20 Per Adult For A Guided Tour (Get A Groupon For Half-off Admission Here)
Learn about the biggest stories in American mob history during a guided tour of the country’s most carefully-curated mob museum. This museum does more than just display prohibition-era paraphernalia (though it is home to shell casings from the fatal shootout of Bonnie & Clyde, the bullet that killed Pretty Boy Floyd, and death masks of renowned robber John Dillinger).
Rather, it seeks to explore and educate about the human side of New York City’s most notorious criminals and criminal spaces. Moreover, the information it presents goes above and beyond just telling the stories of gangsters and molls. According to the Smithsonian’s review of
the collection, its narrative is one of “an intricate and alternate, extra-governmental economy—and social order—that [is] inseparable from American history as a whole.”
5. Yokkoyama Hat Market: The Modern Day Mad Hatter
Location: 116 Eldridge St, New York, Ny 10002
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 2pm-8pm
Cost: Free To Enter
This quirky Lower East Side store offers visitors the opportunity to pick up unique shirts and accessories as well as custom, fashion-forward and off-beat hats. One of the few true milliners in the city, Yokkoyama Hat Market is both storefront and design shop, with customers able to custom-order hats on a walk-in basis during business hours and by appointment at other times.
Though not a large or outwardly impressive venue, Yokkoyama Hat Market represents a kind of retail diversity rarely seen outside of the neighborhood. The Lower East Side is known for its rags-to-riches business successes, and visitors can feel good about supporting a local family-owned business while taking in the unique atmosphere and product offerings of both the market and the neighborhood around it.
6. Trash & Vaudeville: Make A Punk Rock Pilgrimage
Location:96 E 7th St, New York, Ny 10009
Hours: Monday-Thursday 12pm-8pm; Friday 11:30am-8:30pm; Saturday 11:30am-9pm; Sunday 1pm-7:30pm
Cost: Free To Enter
Another unique shopping venue, Trash and Vaudeville is an iconic East Village store that was in no small part responsible for shaping the New York punk rock movement of the ‘70s. Though the East Village itself is “more pop and less punk than ever,” Trash and Vaudeville’s continued place in the neighborhood is guaranteed by its place in its residents’ hearts.
The stock in-store is good quality at fair prices, giving off a cool, counter-culture vibe without being behind the trend. Fashion-forward folks and grunge, punk, goth, and metal enthusiasts, alike, can find something they have to have. Anything but a museum, Trash and Vaudeville offers a one of a kind shopping experience that honors the mythology of an era without feeling like a mausoleum.
7. Hester Street Fair: The Most Accessible Market In New York Based On Price, Location, & Attendance
Location: Corner Of Hester And Essex; F J M Z To Delancey; F To East Broadway.
Hours: Every Saturday & Some Sundays April-October; 11am-6pm
Cost: Free To Attend
Priding itself on transcending the boundaries of both “food courts” and “flea markets,” Hester Street Fair lives up to its claims of being a one-of-a-kind cultural and community happening. Fair organizers seek to celebrate the diversity of the Lower East Side neighborhood and New York City at large while actively seeking out and supporting a large number of women, minority, immigrant, LGBTQIA, and other vulnerable vendors.
Events have unique themes ranging from a vegan festival to a celebration of the fair’s small-business roots (which saw the founding brands — which have since become neighborhood favorites — come back to the street fair setting). Visitors can expect to find a wide variety of locally sourced and created products, food, and music you wouldn’t see anywhere else.
8. Bowery Ballroom: The Most Popular Live Music Venue
Location: 6 Delancey St, New York, Ny 10002
Hours: Doors Often Open At 7pm Or 8pm; See Events Calendar Here
Hailed as “hands down the best music spot in New York,” the Bowery Ballroom should be on every music lover’s trip itinerary. Notable features include the city’s best sound system, cozy floor-specific bars, and a lineup of music industry heavy-hitters (including Lauryn Hill and Kanye West) and indie darlings alike.
The venue also boasts a full theater-style stage and three levels of mixed seating areas and standing room, so visitors are able to get as close to the performance as they want. While a concert may be an unusual trip inclusion, seeing a concert here would be well worth it. The quality of the listening experience, the physical venue, and the music/musicians featured ensure that every kind of music taste can be sated here.
9. Le Petit Versailles: A Community Garden & Public Art And Performance Space
Location: 346 East Houston Street, 247 E 2nd St, New York, Ny 10009
Hours: View The Calendar Of Events Here
Cost: Free To Attend; Donations Welcome
Established in 1996 as a hub for LGBTQ community development that continues to thrive today, Le Petit Versailles hosts a packed program of “cultural events that attract people from around the world” as a kind of lived-history exhibition.
Occupying just 20’x60’, Le Petit Versailles makes the most of every inch. This not-for-profit community garden and outdoor gallery/performance venue transforms a once-neglected lot into a space for celebrating nature, fellowship, music, and visual and performance art. The venue itself is stunning, featuring volunteer-tended gardens entwined with sculptures and other remnants of past art installations. Events regularly include experimental film screenings and performances that seek to probe political and ideological landscapes. They welcome the public and maintain a busy schedule of free-to-attend exhibitions, events, and performances.
10. Obscura Antiques & Oddities: An Eclectic Treasure-Trove
Location: 207 Avenue A, New York, Ny 10009
Hours: Daily 12pm-8pm
Cost: Free To Enter
Obscura Antiques and Oddities is dedicated to all things weird. While this venue — a shoppable museum of oddities — is not for the squeamish among us, lovers of the bizarre and macabre will find their time here, if not their money, well spent More or less a curio shop, the storefront features everything from antique butterfly displays and real-bone dice to desktop taxidermy, antique medical instruments, and more. The owners specialized in acquiring unique and difficult-to-find antiques and are always willing to walk visitors through their collection, explaining the origins and finding processes for any number of items.
Since its appearance on Discovery Channel’s “Oddities” program, the store has become much more popular, so visitors should plan on encountering a crowd within the dim, twisting aisles.
11. Movie Night @ Bryant Park: Feature Films Under The Stars
Location: Bryant Park Lawn (Find It On A Map Here)
Hours: Almost Every Monday From June-august. Seating Opens At 5pm, Screening Starts At 8pm. View The Movie Lineup Here
Cost: Free To Attend
Catch a free outdoor movie screening at Bryant Park on the Lower East Side. The New York City alternative to a drive-in theater, Bryant Park Movie Nights presents a unique opportunity to get out in nature and a rare opportunity for a free show in the city.
Attendance is free and there is no ticketing, though there is a security screening process. The events are BYOB (bring your own blanket; no chairs allowed) but not BYO beer, as outside alcohol is not permitted in the park. However, both seating and food and wine concessions, curated by the organizers of the Hester Street Fair, open at 5PM. All visitors have to do to attend is arrive early to claim their spot on the lawn.
12. Goldbar: A Uniquely New York City Nightclub
Location: 389 Broome St, New York, Ny 10013
Hours: Thursday-Sunday 11pm-6am
Cost: Cover Charge Varies Depending On Business; Cocktails Start At $20; Table Service Starts At $188; Bottle Service Starts At $1,000
While nightclubs are not everyone’s style, Goldbar has created a one-of-a-kind style of clubbing. Worth visiting for the venue alone, the space is literally gold plated (and gold-leafed). In addition to its unique gold-luxe theme, Goldbar’s walls are covered with golden skulls (replicas), creating what visitors have called a kind of ossuary- or catacomb-like atmosphere.
Moreover, Goldbar’s atmosphere is not its only luxury amenity. Featuring live DJs, top-shelf-only cocktails, and in-house specials (including the much-acclaimed “gold rush”) are reportedly every bit as extravagant as the setting. Notably, though, despite its opulent interior decor and menu stylings, this club is still known for being both contemporary and fun. Visitors should plan on arriving early, as the cover change gets higher as the crowd gets larger.
13. Stomp Off-Broadway: A New-age Percussion Show With An Old Rock & Roll Soul
Location: 126 2nd Ave, The Orpheum Theatre, New York City, Ny 10003-8377
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 8pm; Saturday 3pm & 8pm; Sunday 2pm & 5:30pm
Cost: Starting At $81.87 Per Person (Follow The Instructions Here For $49.50 Per Person Tickets)
More than just another off-Broadway show, STOMP is part music ensemble, part performance art, and all fun. Performers wield everyday objects (like brooms, garbage cans, and wooden posts) to create an almost two-hour-long percussive experience that pushes the boundaries of musical creation.
STOMP is not a new attraction — it just celebrated the 25th anniversary of its inception and the 22nd anniversary of its arrival at the Orpheum Theater in the East Village. Yet despite its longevity, STOMP remains at the cutting edge of performance art shows, striking a delicate (if loud) balance between being a pop culture phenomenon, a neighborhood fixture, and an exploratory space where time passed and age accumulated are irrelevant (though all audience members must be at least 5 years old).
14. C.O. Bigelow Apothecary: A “Portal” To Vintage New York City
Location: 414 6th Ave, New York, Ny 10011
Hours: Monday-Friday 7:30am-9pm; Saturday 8:30am-7pm; Sunday 8:30am-5pm
Cost: Free To Enter
C.O. Bigelow Apothecary is the country’s oldest apothecary still in operation. Patrons can expect the same attentiveness and custom formulated health remedies that characterized the business’s pre-1900s services. The interior of the store, containing numerous antique display items, is a landmark that still features its original ceiling, flooring, and chandeliers.
The store now carries a wide variety of rare, unusual, and international cosmetic and pharmaceutical products in addition to its own concoctions, enabling it to rival contemporary chain pharmacies (though some of its own products use formulas developed 100 years ago).
Each item represents either a preservation of history or an intentional discovery of advancing medicine. This careful balance between the old and new makes the apothecary a unique venue to visit and explore.
15. Performance Space New York: A New Space To Probe Old Wounds
Location: 150 1st Avenue 4th Floor, New York, Ny 10009
Hours: See The Performance Calendar Here
Cost: Tickets Start At $5
Performance Space New York — an events and performance art venue formerly known as Performance Space 122 (PS122) — calls itself “the birthplace of contemporary performance art as it is known today.” Following a recent rebrand and relaunch, Performance Space’s new events series aims to celebrate and steep in the history of Performance Space itself within the East Village neighborhood.
While the updated venue has lost much of the gritty, grungy vibe that locals loved, the performances themselves remain just as cerebral, boundary-pushing, and important as ever. Visitors can expect to encounter a wide variety of dance-, theater-, fashion-, film-, visual art-, and literature-based performance pieces spanning from nostalgic exploration of the neighborhood’s roots to the impassioned, frenetic drive to predict and shape its future.
16. Metrograph Art House Theater: Full-Service Dinner & A Show
Location: 7 Ludlow St, New York, Ny 10002
Hours: See The Screening Schedule Here
Cost: Regularly $15 For Adults, $12 For Seniors; $12 For The First Screening Of The Day
For a one-of-a-kind movie experience, nothing in New York City beats the Metrograph Art House Theater. More than anything, Metrograph aims to create a sense of luxury and accommodation that provides a fresh take on how things were done in the “golden age of Hollywood.”
Offering a mix of vintage and cutting-edge features, the theater is capable of screening 16mm, 35mm, digital projection, and 3D films. Its calendar often includes an almost-equal (though classics-heavy) mix of old and new (and popular and indie) releases. Its glamorous art-deco-themed interior and in-house Michelin-rated restaurant, bar, candy store, and bookstore make it a more self-indulgent and self-contained going-out experience — and a more intentional and opulent movie-going experience — than that of any other theater is the city.
17. Economy Candy: Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth At New York City’s Most Iconic Candy Store
Location: 108 Rivington St, New York, Ny 10002
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 9am-6pm; Saturday-Monday 10am-6pm
Cost: Free To Enter
Economy Candy was established in 1937 and has been “bringing sweetness to the neighborhood” ever since. New York City’s oldest candy store, visitors can expect to find everything (and anything) they’re craving, and then some. Besides updating the stock to include contemporary candies, little else has changed at Economy Candy since its opening after the Great Depression, which is just one of the many reasons locals love it and visitors flock to it. The biggest reason, of course, is the selection.
Economy Candy carries over 2,000 different kinds of candy, including an extensive selection of vintage candy. They boast that “if they still make it, we have it” which enables the store to deal not only in confectionery products but in nostalgia as well.
18. The Cactus Store New York: An Unexpected Oasis In The Urban Jungle
Location: 5 Essex St, Ny 10002
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11am-7pm; June-october
Cost: Free To Enter
What started as a one-time pop-up cactus nursery on the Lower East Side has blossomed into a regular seasonal venue bringing desert vibes to the concrete jungle. Visitors can enjoy browsing through the nursery’s hand-selected collection of rare and otherworldly cacti. Unlike other nurseries, Cactus Store does not bring in large flats of the same variety of plant hoping to sell out; they search private greenhouses and acquire unusual cacti to put together something part plant-boutique and part living art gallery exhibit. Xerophile lovers who want to take a piece of the experience home but can’t justify taking that many prickles on public transit are welcome to take photos and/or check out the owners’ book about the collection and their processes for curating it.