Jewish Institutions of the Lower East Side

Jewish institutions of the lower east side by Ari KellenAs one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York City, the Lower East Side has a long and varied history.  Starting out as a farm, it’s since been the home to all sorts of immigrant groups: Germans, Puerto Ricans, hipsters, but perhaps most famously it once served as the cultural center of New York’s Jewish community.  As much of New York’s Jewish community left the Lower East Side for the Upper West Side and the suburbs, much of that has changed.  Nonetheless, there are still some institutions in the neighborhood that remain standing, serving as a testament to the neighborhood’s Jewish heritage.  Here are a few of them:

Katz’s Deli: In 1930, New York City alone was home to over 1,500 Jewish delis.  That number has shrunk to below 50, so whoever is still standing needs to be very good at what they do.  And Katz’s, open since 1888, is very good at what they do.  As far as Jewish delis go, it’s pretty touristy, but that’s only because it’s hands-down the best pastrami in Manhattan (sorry, Fine & Schapiro).

Russ & Daughters: Over 100 years old, this is a true New York City institution, and serves what is universally considered one of New York’s best bagels and lox.  It’s been owned by the descendants of Joel Russ since it was first opened, who have stuck to the family recipe.  Here, the main focus is fish, whether that’s sturgeon, whitefish, herring and of course lox.   

Lower East Side Tenement Museum: A former brick tenement house, from 1863 to 1935 this building housed over 7,000 people from 20 different countries.  Boarded up for over 50 years, it served as a time capsule to immigrant life in the early 20th century, and has served as a museum since the late 80s.  The museum features a gift shop with an impressive book selection, and offers various special tours that reflect the experiences of various tenants.

Eldridge Street Synagogue: In operation since 1887 (even longer than Katz’s), this is one of the oldest Jewish congregations in New York City.  In addition to serving as a synagogue, it’s since become a museum that offers tours related to the history of Jews in America.  

Kehila Kedosha Janina: Most Jews who came to the Lower East Side were Ashkenazim; a smaller number were Sephardim, and an even smaller number were Romaniote, a unique sect of Judaism that originated in Greece.  Much of the already-small Romaniote community was wiped out in the Holocaust, and this is the only Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.  Every year they host the “Greek Jewish Festival”, celebrating their unique heritage through song, dance and food.

Yonah Schimmel: The potato knish is a traditional type of dumpling, consisting of a filling (most frequently potato) covered with dough.  While they’re often deep-fried and square, they’re traditionally baked and round.  And the best place to enjoy them in their original form is at Yonah Schimmel, the knish bakery that’s been open in the same location since 1910.  In addition to various knish flavors (my favorite is sweet potato), Yonah Schimmel serves some of the best latkes in the city.  Once you’ve had your fill, you can catch a movie next door at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, or maybe pick up a beer at Fool’s Gold.  

Sammy’s Roumanian: Located in an underground store front on Christie Street, Sammy’s is a true experience.  A delicious Jewish steakhouse, Sammy’s also serves traditional Jewish dishes like kasha varnishkes and kishka, as well chilled vodka.  To top the whole thing off is Dani Luv, a borscht belt-style entertainer who cracks jokes and plays live music six nights a week.  The overall experience feels like a time portal back to a 1940s Bar Mitzvah.

Kossar’s: The bialy is like a bagel, except with a different texture and an onion filling in the middle instead of a hole.  While it’s not as famous as its hole-y cousin, the bialy has an extremely loyal cult following among New Yorkers.  One of the oldest bialy spots in New York City is Kossar’s, who slings them by the oven-load every day.  In addition to bialys, Kossar’s makes one of the Lower East Side’s best bagels.

from Ari Kellen | New York City Exploration


Great Breweries in NYC

Great Breweries in NYC, by Ari KellenBreweries have been a part of New York City’s history since the days of New Amsterdam.  In the 19th century, German immigrants brought lager beer with them to New York, and by Prohibition there were 70 operating breweries in New York, most of them in Brooklyn.  Yet by 1976, there were zero.  But starting in the 80s and 90s, a homebrewing scene began to flourish in New York, which has since spawned numerous great breweries around the city.  Here are a couple of these, based off an article that I found online:

Threes Brewing: In addition to brewing, this place hosts art shows, concerts and community meetings.  They have a kitchen space that hosts restaurants from all over the city in two-week residencies, meaning that there’s something new every time you come.  Many of the beers here aren’t distributed beyond the brewery, so this is the best chance you have to taste them.  There are 24 different beers on taps, ranging from house-made to brews from out of state.  

Other Half Brewing Co: It’s pretty small, and can get really crowded on a weekend night (seating is limited to a single table).  But it’s not a place you want to miss; luckily, the brewery has plans to double the tasting room’s size.  This isn’t a place with any sort of “fancy” atmosphere, with a beat-up antelope head on the wall and an even more beat-up bartop that once went on tour with the Rolling Stones.  But the beer here is some of the best in New York.  If you ever decide to come out to Red Hook for some beef rib at Hometown, a couple games of Mini Golf at Brooklyn Crab or a sandwich at DeFonte’s, be sure to visit.

Singlecut Beersmiths: After falling in love with European lagers, Rich Buceta became a passionate homebrewer, quitting his job in advertising to get into brewing.  Starting out as a keg-cleaner, he’s started Singlecut, an Astoria brewery with an emphasis on fresh lagers.  The barn-like brewery regularly hosts live music, which has become a part of the brewery/bar’s culture: Buceta plays guitar, the bartenders are musicians in a band, and the bar features a top-notch record collection.

Transmitter Brewing: At this Long Island City warehouse, the brewers are constantly experimenting with brewing methods, yeast and bacteria strains and barrel aging.  The barrel collection includes casks that have held every sort of alcohol, from red wine to rum.  Since most of what they make is small-batch, beers tend to run out quickly, so visit the sampling room as soon as you can.

Bronx Brewery: This place is just a good time.  On weekend nights, it feels more like a house party than a brewery, with foosball tables, comfortable couches, a small bar and a dog-friendly backyard.  Even though they don’t have a kitchen of their own, you can order from all sorts of local restaurants, and there’s a free catered dinner on Friday nights.  

Gun Hill Brewing: Soaring ceilings and a no-nonsense atmosphere make Gun Hill a great place for novices to learn more about craft beer.  The goal here is to make great beers that don’t intimidate people.  If you’re a Yankees fan, it’s a good place to catch a game.  Across the street is a food truck with hearty Dominican fare, with Gun Hill customers getting a discount.  

Flagship Brewery: Staten Island is a place with plenty of great stuff, but it can be hard to get people out there.  Yet for those tenacious few who can get onto the ferry from downtown, Flagship Brewery is a short walk away from the landing.  Fridays and Saturdays offer live music, which on other days alternates between comedy, trivia and charity events.  

from Ari Kellen | New York City Exploration