I’ll just say it: I love the Upper East Side.
I’ve heard grumbles and witnessed eye-rolls from people who see it as the land of Gossip Girl and old-money families — and those who think the far East Side is for recent college grads sharing studio apartments.
While there’s truth to every stereotype, the Upper East Side I love, the one that oozes with New York history and tradition, is finally pumping some blood that isn’t blue. I’ve even heard it said that it’s the next Brooklyn. It makes me laugh, but the prediction might not be too far off base as restaurateurs continue bringing exciting new spots to a neighborhood known for its resistance to change.
The Upper East Side, which runs from the edge of Central Park to the East River between 59th and 96th streets, is evolving — especially with the Second Avenue Subway line due to open in late 2016. Within the vast grid of streets and avenues are smaller enclaves, like beautiful Carnegie Hill and Yorkville.
Here are a few reasons why this proud and pioneering Manhattan mainstay is one of my favorite neighborhoods in New York:
Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue is anchored by the vast collections at The Met (my personal favorite is the Frick, housed in one of the street’s last remaining mansions) and Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, the Guggenheim. But one of my favorite UES experiences is browsing German and Austrian art at the Neue Galerie, followed by a slice of Sacher-Torte in Cafe Sabarsky. The permanent exhibition at the Jewish Museum, which tells the history of the Jewish people through more than 800 works of art, is also well worth seeing. And make sure to get your fill of the outrageously modern Whitney on Madison Avenue before it relocates to downtown in 2015.
It’s a quintessential New York experience to stroll Madison Avenue, what just might be the most beguiling stretch of upscale shopping in the world, whether or not you’ve come to buy. I drool over buttery leather bags and handmade shoes in nearly every shop. Lexington, Third, and Second avenues are the other main shopping thoroughfares on the Upper East Side. My favorite finds include Mrs. John L. Strong, which sells distinct stationery and calendars in a tiny 100-square-foot shop, and Tender Buttons, a shop specializing in, you guessed it, buttons (believe me, it’s more interesting than it sounds). And you can’t visit this end of town without popping into The Corner Bookstore.
When I have something to celebrate, I go to Bemelmans Bar (named for the beloved author and illustrator behind the Madeline series) at The Carlyle. Just try and hold back a smile when you see the murals covering the walls in this iconic Upper East Side establishment. Step into a bygone era at Lexington Candy Shop, a diner with an impressive display of old Coca-Cola bottles, or head to Via Quadronno, arguably the most idyllic coffee shop in the city, for a great cappuccino just a stone’s throw from Central Park.
The French Connection:
For a taste of France, New Yorkers head to Ladurée for the best macarons, or Orsay for classic brasserie fare. Demarchelier is the perfect neighborhood French bistro and is now serving a special “Vermont” menu, where all of the organic and grass-fed items are from Vermont farms. For the ultimate big night out, Daniel continues to surprise with new takes on French cuisine.
The Italian Elan:
The Upper East Side has so many wonderful Italian restaurants, including the rustic chic Sfoglia, the fancier Sistina, and the little gem, Spigolo. Sicilian-influenced dishes are the star at the warm, local’s-only 83 1/2 near the East River. But my newest favorite is the uber-friendly Antonucci, where every bite evokes the real Italy.
The Gourmet Shops:
Eli Zabar has always been one of my heroes. Decades before there was such passionate interest in food, Zabar was sourcing the best-tasting ingredients locally and internationally. Though his last name has long been associated with the Upper West Side thanks to his father Louis’s eponymous specialty food store, Eli has made his own mark on the Upper East Side. His neighborhood empire includes E.A.T. (try the grilled cheese and tomato soup), the food emporiums Eli’s Manhattan and The Vinegar Factory, and the delicious restaurant TASTE.
The Bakeries and Delis:
When people stay at my apartment, I make sure to have a few small black-and-white cookies from William Greenberg on hand. The classic bakery Two Little Red Hens makes the best mini red velvet cupcakes in the city, while Lady M Confections‘ signature 20-layer Mille Crêpe is (almost) too pretty to eat. William Poll is a neighborhood institution, great for takeaway sandwiches. For a taste of the old German Yorkville, visit Schaller & Weber for sausages and smoked meats.
What’s your favorite thing about the Upper East Side? Leave a comment to share your two cents with the Intelligent Travel community.