Must-See Lower East Side
by Chris Wallace, 03/18/2014
New Museum. Photo: Julienne Schaer
Arts & Culture
New York City has long been a movie town, both as a shooting location and as a cineast paradise, and there are numerous repertory, indie and art-house venues spread throughout the City. The Sunshine Cinema is an art-house with stadium seating and big screens, and the venue features sleeper and breakout indie films for good, long stretches, in case you missed them when they premiered. A couple of blocks north, the Anthology Film Archives screens hard-to-find world cinema, as well as classic and newly made avant-garde films.
If you prefer art you can view from a closer vantage, there is a range of destinations. The New Museum is the Lower East Side's primary cultural hub, mounting contemporary art shows that draw interest from observers around the world. The works on display are serious, but the institution certainly has a whimsical side: in the past, passersby could jump onto a slide in the museum or see a rainbow-colored "Hell, Yes" affixed to the outside of the building. The museum's bookstore is worth a visit for those seeking tomes about such subjects as architecture, design and art criticism—and, if you're hungry, the Hester Street Café (a newish collaboration with the well-known LES weekend market, Hester Street Fair) has a range of sandwiches, salads and baked goods, as well as caffeinated drinks, to keep you sated.
The Tenement Museum, meanwhile, makes for an illuminating exploration of New York City history. Six immaculately restored apartments, from five different decades in the building's 150-year history, re-create precisely what the tenement apartments would have looked like over the years. Walking tours of synagogues are offered by the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy LTD, which focuses on preserving Jewish sites and culture in the area through private and customized jaunts. A few blocks away, in what was the first synagogue built in the area, the Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue provides a lens into the lives of some of the neighborhood's first Jewish inhabitants. The 1887 synagogue was restored in glorious detail over the course of more than 20 years. In addition to showcasing the area's history, it still hosts services. The renovation was by no means staid—it includes a stained-glass window by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans.