Not all that long ago, New York’s Lower East Side was mostly populated by skint artists, insalubrious rockers, the narcotically challenged and an ethnic mix of people to whom it was just, well, home. There were also only two real places to eat: Katz’s Deli and El Sombrero. You prepped for a four-band bill at the Mercury Lounge with cheap tacos and tequila shots—and attempted to stave off hangovers with a 4 am knish.
Now the neighborhood flaunts Michelin stars and international luxury hotel brands—grumbling about the past won’t change anything. But wildly successful hotelier Sean MacPherson was actually a central figure in the notorious heyday of Downtown NYC nightlife. And his first LES property, The Ludlow—opened in 2014—feels as perfectly Lower East Side as The Bowery Hotel feels East Village (and The Marlton feels West Village).
Admittedly, weekend late nights on the LES can now find one navigating what feels like a casting call for The Bachelorette. But plan right, and you can also enjoy a fabulous Saturday and Sunday here, without ever going north of Houston Street.
Here’s how to do it.
Loft King Room at The Ludlow
Noon: Arrive at The Ludlow, drop your bags, request an upper floor room with a sprawling city view. Take leisurely a stroll, arriving for lunch at Dudleys, a groovy all day affair where you can order everything from rice bowls to cheese toasties to schnitzel salads.
3 PM: Check in, spend a lazy hour flopping around on the extremely comfy bed, while raiding the minibar and taking in the glorious New York panorama.
4 PM: Pop out to contemporary galleries like Richard Taittinger, Rachel Uffner and Marianne Boesky, to get a vibe on the burgeoning LES art scene—which has been stealing the conversation away from Chelsea. Stop in for a naughty souvenir at Babeland.
Richard Taittinger Gallery
Dirty French at The Ludlow
7 PM: Settle in one of the cushy Lobby Bar sofas, order up grilled oysters and a round of particularly stiff tipples, like the Ludlow Gimlet and the bourbon based Pigalle. Groove to your fave Prince, Talking Heads and Duran Duran classics, which make up the hotel’s retro cool soundtrack.
8 PM: Do early cocktails at the sceney Leadbelly, or catch the next indie darling at the Rockwood Music Hall.
10 PM: Late dinner at Dirty French, the hotel’s supremely buzzy restaurant, which serves up surprising takes on French classics like Provencal scallops, short rib Bordelaise and duck a l’orange. It’s a particularly electric scene after 9pm.
Midnight: Watch Scorcese’s Gangs of New York back in your room. It’s set in turn of the century LES.
10 AM: Order up room service coffee.
11 AM: Take a walk around the Lower East Side when it’s actually quiet. If the weather isn’t cooperating, pop in to the Tenement Museum for an enlightening bit of LES history.
Noon: Have the hotel book ahead for brunch at the perpetually cool Freemans. Hard to imagine, but when Taavo Somer opened it in 2004, there was nothing else like it (old-timey style, plentiful taxidermy, classic Americana cuisine). Despite the scores of imitators since, it’s still the hippest and the best. Indulge in such hearty fare as baked skillet eggs shakshuka, buttermilk pancakes and stone-ground cheddar cheese grits.
2 PM: Check out the current exhibitions (which at the moment include Nicole Eisenman’s Al-ugh-ories and Andra Ursuta’s Alps) at the New Museum, one of NYC’s most forward-thinking art institutions.
3 PM: Take a caffeine break at Caffe Vita, which, despite the Italian moniker, is actually an export from Seattle, serving exquisitely realized, house roasted coffee.
4 PM: Undertake a uniquely LES shopping spree, including stops at the Odd and Assembly boutiques, and a retro vinyl pilgrimage to Deadly Dragon Sound.
7 PM: Believe the hype with dinner at Ivan Ramen. Start with furikake spare ribs, before moving on to the delectable main events, like chicken dan dan and spicy red chili ramen.
9 PM: Join the local cocktail disciples warming the seats Attaboy, a sophisticated spot lorded over by Milk & Honey alums Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy. There’s no drinks menu…so consider it an adventure and an edification.
9 AM: Have a lazy breakfast of smoked salmon scramble and crispy potato pancakes at Clinton Street Baking Company, before checking out and showing up late to the office.
Rina Raphael is a features & fashion editor at TODAY. This is her take on four places she likes, and one place she doesn’t.
Culturefix – "This bar/art gallery/performance space is my favorite hangout in NYC. Besides boasting great grilled cheese sandwiches, Culturefix hosts an array of interesting, unique events, including classical music concerts on Sunday evenings. It’s not pretentiously annoying, I swear. (Really.)"
Beecher’s Cheese – "I’d like to think of myself as a budding mac ‘n cheese critic and this cheese factory/restaurant serves the most effortlessly gooey, tasty dish (appropriately) called ‘the world’s best mac ‘n cheese.’ Not an exaggeration."
Daha Vintage – "Roughly half of my clothing purchases in the last year come from this awesomely affordable vintage shop, which consistently stocks a wide array of unique clothing in the most brilliant of fabrics. You can score an amazing dress for under $80."
Despaña – "This authentic little Spanish shop sells small bites like croquetas, sardine toasts, and little sandwiches that you can just grab and go. (Also, free cheese samples!) Highly recommended if you need a snack break during Soho shopping excursions. It’s the best ‘fast’ food in the area."
NOT SO MUCH
Clinton Street Baking Company – "Don’t do the cliché NYC ritual of Clinton Street Baking Co. for weekend brunch. (Unless you enjoy waiting an hour in line, you’re better off ordering their famous pancakes during the evening, when there’s no line.) If you do get tired of waiting, head across the street to Pause, a teensy café that might not look like anything special but sells the best egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches in the LES. (Their secret? They use Fontina cheese and ciabatta rolls)."
In his book Eat Me, notable flapjack flipper Kenny Shopsin writes of pancakes: “They are flour and milk drowned in butter and some form of sugar. They’re crap.” We love crap!
● Clinton Street Baking Company (Lower East Side) – Even fashion x-rays throw carb-rexia to the wind for these scrumptious slapjacks. Blueberry buttermilk ‘cakes are the fairest of them all. Fluffy pillows of the nutritionally void. Unlike socks-n-sandals or back hair, it is totally acceptable to order a supper stack. ● Tom’s Restaurant (Prospect Heights) – Born back in ’36 and still rolling with the whippersnappers. Harvest pancakes studded with tryptophan BFFs cranberries and sweet corn — b.y.o. turkey gristle. Lemon ricotta with lime butter, famous banana walnut, boy. Free coffee, cookies, and lollipops while you wait. Old but spry. ● Public (Nolita) – Nerdy library gimmick can’t obfuscate simple beauty of coconut plus ricotta plus mango plus pancake. Pour out some ginger lime sizzurp. Books are for wussies and tropical fruit is for men. Save some room for kangaroo too.
● Shopsin’s General Store (Lower East Side) – Much like cranky owner Kenny Shopsin, these pancake flavors are tripping balls. Mac and cheese, s’mores, butterscotch, the ever popular “slutty” — infused with the essence of stripper perfume, Parliament Lights, and pumpkin. Put years on your life by memorizing your order (“Tasty II”) before approaching diminutive Essex Street Market stall; the pancake Nazi don’t play. ● Balthazar (Soho) – Though scenetastic breakfast starts many a player’s day at McNally’s faux bistro original, apple cinnamon pancakes are for the people and thus only available during weekend brunch. Do like the tourists: smother it in maple syrup and don’t look back. Plus bowls of coffee to make your teeth grind. ● Norma’s (Midtown West) – Come early, leave poor. Burger Joint’s evil twin pumps out clever hotcakes — think lemon mousse, hot chestnut, dollops of Devonshire cream. A mere $20-plus per stack. Awesome place to squire treating in-laws. Just beware the OJ hustle: waiters swoop in with pitchers of spendy “fresh-squeezed” and fill you up before you can say boo. ● Sarabeth’s (Upper East Side) – Lemon and ricotta buttermilk delights — worth braving Connecticut’s embassy to the UES. Easy-listening jams and cozy pastel space puts a happy face on patrons’ rotting souls. Bring kids or rent some. Xoxo. ● Kitchenette (Tribeca) – Country kitchen with kitschy ‘50s charm and oh-so-modern ‘tude flips up griddle goodies galore. Four-grain ‘cakes come berried, lumberjacked (add two eggs and bacon), or Bridgehampton, baby — shrunk to silver dollar size and slathered in yogurt. For the alcoholics among us, available until 4:30 in the pm. ● Good Enough to Eat (Upper West Side) – Say it three times fast with a hangover: Peter Paul pancakes, please. Tongue twisters thankfully go down easier than ’09 Lohan with Belgian chocolate and coconut. Or opt for single, massive apple ‘jack decorated in cinnamon sugar and sour cream. Disarmingly friendly farmhouse may promote paranoia: There must be spit in my pink lemonade! Relax. ● Bubby’s (Tribeca) – Rib-stickin’ Southern cookin’—also the name for your belly after inhaling a stack of extra fluffy sour cream slapjacks. Banana walnut version claims to be sautéed, but doubtful your arteries can tell the difference. Perfect double shot of nostalgia and cholesterol. Is that Harvey Keitel?!