Lower East Side
The Lower East Side, sometimes abbreviated as LES, is a neighborhood in the southeastern part of the New York City borough of Manhattan, roughly located between the Bowery and the East River, and Canal Street and Houston Street. Traditionally an immigrant, working classneighborhood, it began rapid gentrification in the mid-2000s, prompting the National Trust for Historic Preservation to place the neighborhood on their list of America’s Most Endangered Places.
The Lower East Side is roughly bounded by the Bowery to the west, East Houston Streetto the north, the FDR Drive to the east and Canal Street to the south. The western boundary below Grand Street veers east off of the Bowery to approximately Essex Street.
The neighborhood is bordered in the south and west by Chinatown – which extends north to roughly Grand Street, in the west by Nolita and in the north by the East Village.
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Historically, the “Lower East Side” referred to the area alongside the East River from about the Manhattan Bridge and Canal Street up to 14th Street, and roughly bounded on the west by Broadway. It included areas known today as East Village, Alphabet City, Chinatown, Bowery, Little Italy, and NoLIta. Parts of the East Village are still known as Loisaida, a Latino pronunciation of “Lower East Side”.
The neighborhood has become home to numerous contemporary art galleries. One of the very first was ABC No Rio. Begun by a group of Colab no wave artists (some living on Ludlow Street), ABC No Rio opened an outsider gallery space that invited community participation and encouraged the widespread production of art. Taking an activist approach to art that grew out of The Real Estate Show (the take over of an abandoned building by artists to open an outsider gallery only to have it chained closed by the police) ABC No Rio kept its sense of activism, community, and outsiderness. The product of this open, expansive approach to art was a space for creating new works that did not have links to the art market place and that were able to explore new artistic possibilities.
Other outsider galleries sprung up throughout the Lower East Side and East Village—some 200 at the height of the scene in the 1980s, including the 124 Ridge Street Gallery among others. In December 2007, the New Museum relocated to a brand-new, critically acclaimed building on Bowery at Prince. A growing number of galleries are opening in the Bowery neighborhood to be in close proximity to the museum. The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, which opened in 2012, exhibits photography featuring the neighborhood in addition to chronicling its history of activism.
Social service agencies like Henry Street Settlement and Educational Alliance have visual and performing arts programs, the former at Abrons Arts Center, a home for contemporary interdisciplinary arts. The neighborhood is also home to several graffiti artists, such as Chico and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
As the neighborhood gentrified and has become safer at night, it has become a popular late night destination. Orchard, Ludlow and Essex between Rivington Street and Stanton Street have become especially packed at night, and the resulting noise is a cause of tension between bar owners and longtime residents. However, as gentrification continues, many established landmarks and venues have been lost.
The Lower East Side is also home to many live music venues. Punk bands played at C-Squat and alternative rock bands play at Bowery Ballroom on Delancey Street and Mercury Lounge on East Houston Street. Punk bands play at Otto’s Shrunken Head and R-Bar. Punk and alternative bands play at Bowery Electric just north of the old CBGB’s location. There are also bars that offer performance space, such as Pianos on Ludlow Street and Arlene’s Grocery on Stanton Street.
The Lower East side is the location of the Slipper Room a burlesque, variety and vaudeville theatre on Orchard and Stanton. Lady Gaga, Leonard Cohen and U2, have all appeared there, while popular downtown performers Dirty Martini, Murray Hill and Matt Fraser often appear. Variety shows are regularly hosted by comedians James Habacker, Bradford Scobie, Matthew Holtzclaw and Matt Roper under the guise of various characters.