One way that John and I have been discovering things in the city is by going on unorganized self-guided walking tours. We basically pick a neighborhood, a subway station, a restaurant, and a “landmark” of interest and just go for it. If you should decide to tour around a city this way, I highly recommend the Google Maps app on the iPhone, for which none of this wandering around would be possible.
On Sunday we walked about four miles in the East Village, Lower East Side, and SoHo. The subway station: Astor Place. The restaurant: Creperie. The landmarks of interest: St. Mark’s Place and the New York City Tenement Museum. This area is interesting because it’s one of the few “hipster/bohemian/artsy” neighborhoods in Manhattan that hasn’t been gentrified and/or taken over by Robert DiNiro. Because of this, it seems to be home to the best deals in the city as well, for example, Creperie. Honestly, this was one of the best food experiences I’ve ever had. It’s a very tiny little hole in the wall with a ginormous menu of amazing sweet and savory crepes. John and I shared a brie, avocado, and olive tapenade and ended with a Nutella, banana, and strawberry pocket full of sweet melty heaven. The best part? All under $20. All in all, we now seriously regret not moving to this neighborhood.
The Lower East Side is also known for its vital role in New York’s immigration history, most famously its tenements. Many newly arrived families shoved themselves into these incredibly tiny, unsanitary, and most certainly not up to code boxes, as described in the book How the Other Half Lives.
This history is of interest to me because my dad’s family came from Ireland to New York, and it was fascinating to walk those streets and think of what my great-great grandfather’s life might have been like when he came here in the late 1800s. The poorest of Irish immigrants came to this country after they survived the Potato Famine, which was the case in my family. The Irish weren’t very popular in New York to begin with, but this motley crew of poor, starved Catholics? Even worse. Not to mention, my great-great grandfather came from the west coast of Ireland, and so the chances that he actually spoke English were slim. I don’t know where he lived when he came here, and I don’t know when he left the city for Maryland to work on the railroad, but I like the idea of wondering what he might think knowing that his great-great granddaughter is here, living in the city where Irish Need Not Apply.
Unfortunately in my experience, maybe not so much has changed.