The Williamsburg Bridge, one of the sights of the Lower East Side.
Just a handful of years ago, one mention of this New York neighborhood would conjure up images of a decidedly dodgy and desolate area overrun with heroin dealers and other lowlifes. Not anymore. Now the blocks spreading out below Houston, sitting to the east of Bowery, lay claim to some of the citys hippest restaurants, live-music venues, bars and boutiques. Synagogues dotting the landscape are a reminder that this was once a Jewish stronghold back in the day. Now the 20-something artist, fashionista, musician and designer have invaded, mixing in quite readily with the multi-ethnic immigrants who set up shop long ago on and around Orchard and Ludlow Sts. and are still thriving today. The result: a colorful blend of young and old, modern and vintage, experimental and old school that has kept the oh-so-urban L.E.S. down to earth even through its latest cultural evolution.
Schillers Liquor Bar Believe the hype. This place is as good as they say it is. Hordes gather here nightly for the surprisingly affordable and flavorful food - from the huge helping of fish and chips to the lamb curry and the thick-cut pork chops with sautéed onions and roast potatoes. 131 Rivington St., 212-260-4555.
Clinton St. Baking Company Hands down the best weekend brunch in town. Mouthwatering delights include the steak and eggs and yes, when you ask for medium rare, it comes out medium rareto the fluffy mound of blueberry pancakes and brioche French toast. 4 Clinton St., 646-602-6263.
aKa Cafe Light and fruity white sangria goes well with the Hubbard squash soup. Heck, it goes well with everything. But its the mini-mountain of savory sloppy Joe on a brioche roll that keeps me coming back for more. 49 Clinton Street, 212-979-6096.
71 Clinton Fresh Food This place is great for special occasions, read: its pricier than your average L.E.S. eatery. From the pickled duck breast with Japanese turnips, pears, maytag miso and pea greens to the poached striped bass with bacon sunchoke puree, these colorful, creative dishes will make your taste buds sing. 71 Clinton St., 212-614-6960.
1492 This Spanish hot spot with a garden in back serves up small and larger servings of tapas sans the grease. The springy grilled baby squid and crispy-on-the-outside, molten-on-the-inside Serrano ham croquettes are especially good. 60 Clinton St., 646-654-1114.
Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery For the sweet-tooth junkie, this is it: a spin-off of the much-loved Magnolia Bakery (well, sort of. These are ex-Magnolia employees striking out on their own). Try the cupcakes, or better yet, get a honking slice of the Sunshine or pumpkin cake and wash it down with an espresso drink that will make your toes tingle. 126 Rivington St. 212-995-1960.
Shop Large by L.E.S. standards, this dreamy two-room corner boutique catches the eye with its display of sexy bikinis hanging in one of its windows. But its not just about looking good on the beach. Shop also carries the latest designs by Ella Moss, Twinkle, Corey Lynn Calter and other coveted cutesy brands. 105 Stanton St., 212-375-0304.
Edith and Daha A vintage shoppers heaven, this store is jam-packed full of designer fashions of yesteryear that have made a comeback in todays retro is cool era. One recent great find: a vintage YSL navy nylon mini-duffel handbag trimmed in brown leather for (just!) $70. 104 Rivington St., 212-979-9992.
TG 170 Pricey but irresistible fashions are on offer here for the well-heeled fashionista. Pick up a hipper-than-thou handbag by Kooba and pair it with some Seven jeans, a trend-setting top by Ulla Johnson and dangly Bing Bang earrings by Anna Sheffield. 170 Ludlow St., 212-995-8660.
American Apparel Newly opened, this store houses a veritable rainbow of cotton briefs, tee-shirts, tanks and bikinis. Not only are the products cool, but so is the concept driving the company: All of its garments are made in Los Angeles and are billed as sweatshop free. 183 E. Houston St., 212-598-4600.
Jelena Behrend Studio Only the most gorgeous jewelry from chunky chain necklaces to the most delicate circlet earrings and bracelets is on display at this little shop. All of the pieces are made with loving care by the voluble and work-obsessed Jelena. 188 Orchard St, 212-995-8497.
Pianos This two-story bar in a former piano store is stuffed to the gills with 20-something hipsters every weekend and most weekdays. Rock bands play fairly regularly in the sound-proofed back room and DJs spin a wide array of tunesfrom 80s to hip hop to garage rockupstairs. 158 Ludlow St., 212-505-3733.
151 A flight of stairs leads down to an unmarked door into a dark and dingy retro living-room-cum-basement bar. This is a good place to gather with friends as there are plenty of seats to be had cushy and otherwise and drink prices wont break the bank. 151 Rivington St., 212-228-4139.
Tonic The phrase tragically hip was coined here. On some nights, 80s revival will tickle your fancy and on others, electronica rules the house. Rock out to live bands upstairs. Or descend into the Subtonic Lounge where you can groove to DJs spinning dance music or get soused sitting in one of the jumbo carved-out wine casks in back. 107 Norfolk St., 212-358-7501.
The Delancey Opening on May 29, The Delancey is the latest in a string of new nightclubs to grace the Downtown area. This one sports three levels, including a performance room, a lounge with fireplace and a 2,500-square-foot rooftop garden a la tropical rainforest. (Wow.) Check out the first rock party on June 3, called UP, which will be giving away drinks to one and all. 168 Delancey St., 212-254-9920.
Max. Fish Where hipster grunge meets bohemian chic. Cheap drinks and a hopping yet fairly low-key atmosphere are the big selling points for this jukebox bar. If your friends arent doing it for you, you can try your hand at Ms. Pac Man or play pool in the back. 178 Ludlow St., 212-529-3959.
Williamsburg Bridge Well, really, its the view from the bridge looking back at Manhattan thats a sight to behold. Pedestrians can gain easy access to the 1,600-foot structure spanning the East River. Delancey and Clinton Sts.
Tenement Museum Want to know how hard life was as an immigrant during the 1870s through the 1930s? Take the Tenement Museums 40-minute blast-from-the-past tour, which takes you through rooms restored to reflect those tough times. 90 Orchard St., 212-431-0233.
Katzs Delicatessen Katzs window dressing is what draws you close: dozens of sausages strung up in a row. Its all about the meat at New York Citys oldest deli (opened in 1888). It also happens to be where Harry met Sally or more accurately where Sally faked her orgasm. Order a sandwich piled high with pastrami, or tuck into a frankfurter or knockwurst instead. 205 E. Houston Street, 212-254-2246.
Sunshine Cinema In what was once a vaudeville theatre, Sunshine offers a fine selection of foreign and independent films to the viewing public. It also poses as a welcome respite from the sometimes harsh climes of New York City. 143 E. Houston St., 212-330-8182.
Toys in Babeland This women-run sex toy store boasts a ton of functional and fun eye candy attracting locals and tourists alike. You can easily spend an hour in Babeland browsing through the cornucopia of sex books, magazines and toys lined up like so many little soldiers on the display tables inside. 94 Rivington St., 212-375-1701.