Lower East Side: History and Luxury and Cheese Grits, Oh My (NYC Adventures #7)

Last week I made my much anticipated trek around the Lower East Side. Forgive me if I wandered into SoHo without realizing it. The neighborhood lines are blurry in NYC, I never see them when I’m crossing the street.

I started the day at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where I have dreamed of going since 1998  when I first read about it on the Newsies fanfiction websites (and that’s as far as we need to delve into that topic.) This museum is a semi-restored tenement built in 1863 that housed residents in its 22 apartments until it was condemned in the 1930’s. Being half-Irish, I chose an hour-long tour called “Irish Outsiders,” which immersed our group into the life of Irish immigrants in the 1860’s. There are a slew of tours to different apartments and focusing on different ethnicities and time periods in the building’s history.

I was mildly concerned when our guide urged us to be chatty – I’m not a big fan of interactive. But the conversation wasn’t too forced. The tour was informative and intense – the living room of the apartment was set for the funeral of the baby daughter of a family who had lived there (all the apartments’ stories are documented from the lives of actual tenants.) Our guide backed off from the intensity a bit by apologizing profusely to the two children on the tour for the tiny casket – I say, own it. Infant mortality was part of life in the 1860s, and kids should know the truth of our history.

This National Historic Site is expensive. I fully respect that the money goes toward preserving and restoring the building. However, to pay $23 for an hour tour that does not let you explore the full museum seems a bit outrageous.

I next went out on the streets of the LES on a Tenement Museum walking tour – “Outside the Home.” We had a knowledgeable and approachable guide, and I learned a lot about the history of the buildings around the neighborhood that I never would have known doodling  around alone, and it was a beautifully mild March day. Once again, it is simply an issue of money – the two tours together made for a rather expensive day.

I was starving from all the walking and thinking, so I headed to the Clinton Street Bakery for midday breakfast – what could be better? I walked past the Essex Street Market, which someone recommended to me  – I wish you could bookmark reality like you bookmark websites. My memory is too faulty for all the things I want to do. At the restaurant, I ordered an egg and cheese biscuit with tomato “jam.” This apparently is just a fancy word for ketchup, which is not my favorite thing, but overall it was enormous and delicious – as were the cheese grits I got on the side. There might not be anything in the world so comforting as cheese grits.

I intended to swing by an art gallery but instead – in a beautiful New York moment – I ran into a friend I haven’t seen in a while and we  chatted on the corner for an half hour. It blows my mind how these serendipitous meetings occur – five minutes later or one block north and we would have missed each other. I didn’t get to the gallery, but it turns out the exhibit had already closed, so it was just as well. New York is a lot like Oz: people – and exhibits, plays, restaurants, flowering trees – come and go so quickly here.

The centerpiece of my day, which I have been looking forward to for a year, was FREE: a deep-tissue massage at Haven Spa on Mercer. I had a gift card that I had received in November 2010 (delayed gratification, indeed). The massage was lovely, though a drop in the bucket of what is necessary to untangle my back. The spa is dark in an attempt to soothe, but perhaps could be cheerier.  And as a first time client, I got a gift bag that included a sample of an exfoliant that smells like lavender mint, which might be the most calming scent I have ever inhaled.

My final stop of the day was Housing Works Bookshore Café, for The Moth StorySlam. The Moth has a great podcast, simply people telling stories on a theme. The theme for this event was marriage. I love that storytelling is having this kind of resurgence in pop culture. You would have thought the event at Housing Works involved rock stars – I waited on line for two hours to get in, and had to sit on the floor for the two-hour gig. It was nerdy hipster heaven. But…is it really necessary to make people wait like that? If they sold tickets online it would eliminate a lot of the wasted time. I was exhausted by the time I got inside, and to then try to avoid being stepped on for two hours diminished my pleasure in the experience a bit. I would love to perform for The Moth one day, but I may stick with listening to the podcast until then.

It was a lovely day pushing my LES boundaries. There is still much to eat and explore there. My next tour will be a self-guided cupcake and doughnut extravaganza!

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Categories: New York City | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Lower East Side: History and Luxury and Cheese Grits, Oh My (NYC Adventures #7)

  1. Maayan

    DUDE. Take me on the cupcake tour!! I loved this 🙂

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