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The Bowery Boys Tour of NYC's Historical Lower East Side | LOCALS. | Travel + Leisure

GREG: New York City...

...this can be a very daunting place.

There are 8.6 million people.

TOM: There's more than 800 languages.

There are 12,000 places to get a drink...

...there are 24,000 places to be fed!

GREG: There's just like so much sensory overload...

...it can be absolutely crazy.

TOM: And that's why we're going to take you to...

... our favorite neighborhood, the Lower East Side.

GREG: This is really a microcosm of New York City...

...to understand the Lower East Side...

...is to understand the city as a whole.

TOM: So Greg and I host a biweekly podcast...

...called the Bowery Boys...

...which is all about New York City history...

...and we started it right here in this neighborhood.

GREG: In a way we start the podcast in 2007 to kind of like...

...get a grasp on our own streets and the places where we lived...

...and the things that we saw every single day.

GREG: This is really hard to believe Tom...

...but in 2010 there were about 71,000 residents...

...in this area that we're calling the Lower East Side today.

But a hundred years before that...

...there were over half a million people.

It was the most densely populated neighborhood on Earth.

One of the most important aspects to New York City's personality...

...are all these immigrant communities who began coming to New York...

...starting in the 1830s.

TOM: The Irish, then the German, Italian, and then the Eastern European...

...and Jewish populations.

Millions of them settled in the Lower East Side and many of them lived...

...in tenement buildings just like this.

KAT: We are now in our newest exhibit...

...called "Under One Roof."

This is a tour that you can take any day of the week...

...here on the Lower East Side.

So we're looking at how three very different families...

...live in one building over the second half of the 20th century...

...and what their experiences were like.

We invited these families back to help us tell their family story in a museum.

So Bella Epstein returned to this building after about 50 years away...

...and the first thing that Bella did when she came back to this space...

...was go up to this window, would have looked out onto an air shaft...

...and yells "Rosetta!"

TOM: Her old friend?

KAT: Her old friend, right?

She had a best friend in the building...

...Rosetta di Benedetto, who was the daughter-

TOM: Italian.

KAT: Italian immigrants. Exactly. And Bella and Rosetta became really close...

...friends even though they had different religions. Their parents...

...spoke different languages.

So you've got this really interesting dynamic that runs through...

...Lower East Side history, of the second generation figuring out...

...what they have in common with each other across their parents' differences.

GREG: Thousand and thousands of people lived on this block alone.

TOM: It makes you understand then why there were so many bars in the neighborhood.

There were German-operated beer gardens and saloons and...

...these were places you know that people in the neighborhood would go to at night...

...because they just wanted to get out of their apartments.

So we decided to take a little break.

GREG: Beer break as we do.

TOM: Here at Café Katja which is an Austrian-themed bar and...

...restaurant that opened in 2007.

GREG: Would this kind of experience have existed...

...in the 19th century, late 19th century perhaps?

TOM: Well, remember that there were hundreds of thousands of Germans...

...who were immigrating through this neighborhood.

A lot of times people didn't want to stay in the buildings too long...

...they wanted to get out, they wanted to go someplace.

So they came to places like this. They came to restaurants that...

...served food that they knew from their homeland.

GREG: Yeah a little bit of that tradition still remains...

...in the Lower East Side.

GREG: If you've seen the movie "When Harry Met Sally"...

...you know a lot about Katz's Deli.

"Yes! YES! YES! Ahhh!"

"I'll have what she's having."

GREG: Katz's is indicative of the Jewish deli style...

...that thrived here in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

TOM: Probably the most famous eatery on the Lower East Side that dates...

...all the way back to 1888.

GREG: Russ & Daughters, which has been in this neighborhood, actually been...

...on this spot since 1914.

TOM: Yeah, celebrating 104 years.

And Russ & Daughters is a great example of of an appetizing deli that serves fish and dairy.

This block of Orchard north of Delancey is interesting...

...because it's part of the old Lower East Side Bargain District.

There's still some vendors here where you can pick up luggage or clothing...

...and you can even bargain with them.

GREG: Yeah, I actually come here all the time for luggage.

TOM: All the time? How often do you buy luggage?

GREG: Well, you know when I need luggage...

...I have a lot of baggage.

TOM: Oh.

Now, we're gonna take you inside a family-run business that's been operating...

...in this neighborhood since the 1930s.

Let's go to Economy Candy.

MITCHELL: There's over 2000 different varieties of candies, chocolates...

...dried fruits, nuts. If they make it, we have it.

TOM: Yeah walking around in the store and seeing all of these older candies...

...candies from yesteryear, it's a little bit like time travel.

MITCHELL: My Dad likes to say "Oh my Dad was a terrible buyer...

"...it's just left over from the '30s."

But you know we--

TOM: That's not true. MITCHELL: Not true! Not true!

It's really stepping back into the past, forget your worries at the door...

...you're surrounded by candy and you can still get it for almost a penny.

We give out samples of halvah to the local tourists and they're like...

..."What the hell is this?"

This is the Lower East Side. It's crushed sesame, honey...

... it's different, but it is what people ate on the Lower East Side.

TOM: Economy Candy is a store that has actually seen the neighborhood change.

MITCHELL: In the '30s and '40s and '50s, my grandfather would tell stories about...

...how everyone helping each other, making sure to look out for each other.

In the '70s and '80s it wasn't really that great down here.

Early 2000s we started getting hotels that popped up...

...hotels brought restaurants, restaurants brought bars.

You know it's really totally changed the neighborhood.

TOM: When we first moved in 20 years ago, Gertel's Bakery was still on Hester...

...now it's a condo.

Across the street from it is a cat boutique!

Where you can literally pay to go pet felines.

GREG: But! If there's one thing we've learned, since we've started recording our podcast.

It's that neighborhoods, in New York City especially...

...neighborhoods are constantly changing.

MITCHELL: With the business going out, it kind of lost a lot of that neighborhood...

...relationship with everybody.

There's not everyone on the streets to see each other-

TOM: People do spill out onto the streets on Saturday night.

MITCHELL: You do not want to be around here after nine o'clock...

...'cause that's when the bar scene happens.

TOM: We have stumbled through that. GREG: Yeah, yeah.

TOM: Many, many music venues still carry on this live music tradition...

...that has existed in the Lower East Side since the 1960s.

GREG: The Lower East Side is quite renowned for launching a lot of musical careers.

People like...

...Lady Gaga.

TOM: Right, in a lot of different musical venues that are still operating today.

There's Arlene's Grocery.

There's The Bowery Ballroom, of course.

Mercury Lounge, where The Strokes were discovered.

GREG: The 1960s and 1970s brought us punk music...

...art music and lots of artists who lived and worked here on the Lower East Side.

Artists like the Ramones, Blondie, and The Velvet Underground.

TOM: It was in this building in 1965 that Lou Reed and John Cale got together...

...and created what would become The Velvet Underground.

GREG: On this corner of Ludlow and Rivington is very important to Beastie Boys fans.

The 1989 album "Paul's Boutique" featured on the front of the album cover...

...this corner.

We've stopped to have a cocktail at Piano's...

...one of the best music venues here.

TOM: I think it's fair to say that the Lower East Side has never been...

...a more popular destination.

TOM: As you can see, the story of the Lower East Side is the story of immigrants.

It's the story of America.

GREG: So thank you for joining us on this tour of the Lower East Side.

You may like our podcast if you've liked what you've seen. You can find it wherever...

...you find your podcasts.

TOM: Thanks for joining us on this walking tour.

GREG: Have a great New York week whether you live here or not.

TOM: See you real soon.