The Lower East Side of Manhattan was, not all too long ago, a neighborhood of gritty, intimate rock & roll clubs (The Mercury Lounge, Arlene’s Grocery, Pianos), broken up only by Katz’s Deli, and one actual restaurant: El Sombrero. Yet in the past decade-and-a-half, it has been invaded by trendy hotels, upscale boutiques, and, yes, even Michelin-starred restaurants.
But the shambolic, down and dirty soul of the neighborhood is still there, if you know where to look. And downtown dance mavens The Knocks can usually be found hanging out in many of the places that give it that soul. The duo have been on the scene since 2010, and were already known for their inimitable remixes for the likes of Katy Perry, Ellie Goulding and Sky Ferreira. But their wildly eclectic 2016 debut album 55 – which actually featured 55 collaborations, including the likes of Fetty Wap, Carly Rae Jepsen and Justin Trantor – hit #2 on the US dance charts and sealed their status as hot commodity. An ongoing creative relationship with Wyclef Jean has only served to up their profile.
To fete their new single and video “House Party” (with Captain Cuts), we asked them to take us through some of their fave LES spots – none of which, we’re happy to say, require the use of a Platinum Card.
ForgetMeNot is the go-to date spot in the LES if you want to have a couple of margaritas and eat amazing Mexican-meets-Mediterranean food. It’s a place that transforms you, and makes you feel as if you’re weirdly somewhere tropical in the middle of the New York City winter. The staff is super friendly, giving it that totally neighborhood vibe, in the sense that everyone always seems to know each other. In the summer, you can sit outside and people watch, while dining until 2am – which is a definite game changer.
We probably eat at this Vietnamese spot 2-3 times per week – An Choi is easily the best Pho in the city, as well as the best vibe. They also play the most incredible gangster rap, mixed with completely chilled-out hip-hop tunes. The head chef Matt is a good friend and a huge music fan. You can catch him at all of the good parties, and even the warehouse late nights.
When you walk by Cheekys you may not notice that it’s a restaurant. The signs are hand-written on paper with small drawings of chicken and fish…but if you know, you know. They make the best chicken biscuit, and once you have one you will be back for four more that same week. The beef and pork sandwiches are also popping. It is dangerous having this place so close to our studio because after a full day of work, it’s hard not to hop over and eat one of these fried masterpieces.
Goa Taco is a new addition to the LES… and has since become an instant hit in the neighborhood. They make large tacos in Paratha shells, that are unlike any you’ve experienced before, filled with lamb, beef, tofu, chicken – and each one is perfect. The staff is super cool and they always listen to Drake, which is another win in our book. Better yet, their guacamole can hang with the best.
Forever a staple on the LES – although recently it has definitely blown up a bit. It can be quite crowded, with a line out of the door on weekends; but if you go there during the week, you can still get that original energy that it’s had for years and years. They have great shot + beer deals, along with incredible drunk snacks like pork mac & cheese, dumplings and even oysters. The pool table in the back has cheetah print and there’s a T-Rex head framed on the wall. Back in the day we would host weird acoustic shows there because they have an upright piano along with a DIY karaoke stage. One of the best features: you can text message your order to the bar and they will bring it straight to your table.
Mr Fong’s is one of the best bars in the LES/Chinatown area right now. It’s a watering hole for the cool kids and always features really good music. Late at night, a wild guy with dreaded hair will spin vinyl 45s of all dancehall jams; other times, a really hip girl will be on the 1s and 2s playing indie-rock classics. The drinks are Chinese-inspired, and the strong ones will really get you going.