How to Spend a Perfect Day on the Bowery

Once New York City's street of the down and out, the Bowery today is thriving with hip shopping and trendy eateries.

Over a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt compared the Bowery to hell, calling it “a highway of seething life, of sordid and terribly tragedy.” Its skid row reputation went as far back as the 1700s: New York City’s oldest street was known for drawing drunkards, the homeless, criminals and other unsavory characters.

How times have changed: Today, this Lower East Side strip is filled with edgy (and expensive) boutiques, buzzworthy restaurants, glamorous hotels and popular bars. 

Where to Eat

Starting in Chinatown and heading north towards Greenwich Village, the Bowery hosts restaurants and eateries of all kinds. The new Rice & Gold from Top Chef’s Dale Talde serves up a variety of Asian favorites such as dumplings, pho and bibimbop while adjacent to the Bowery Hotel. The dining room’s custom, graffiti art installation is an eye-popper. Gemma skews heavily towards Italian cuisine, and is the type of place (festooned with hundreds of candles, and inside the Bowery Hotel) that attracts scenesters with a romantic hankering.

For more flavors from Europe, try Cherche Midi for a taste of France: Keith McNally’s brasserie features crimson leather banquettes, large mirrors and fried frogs legs. Cata for Spanish tapas, oysters and an interesting gin-centric cocktail list.

Gemma dining room in NYC

Where to Play

While a stroll down Bowery is entertainment in and of itself, especially if you know the avenue’s seedy history, there’s an eclectic batch of galleries, museums and venues to pop into for some additional cerebral stimulation. The New Museum showcases contemporary art including film, painting, mixed media and sculpture while the International Center of Photography is dedicated to its namesake medium. Once the evening rolls around, venture over to Duane Park for a night of classic burlesque or grab a drink and enjoy a rock, pop or alt-rock band’s set or two at The Bowery Electric.  

Duane Park

Where to Shop

Unless you’re looking to furnish a restaurant or buy industrial-grade kitchen appliances, you may pass by the majority of Bowery’s storefronts without giving them a second glance. However, even if you’re not in the market for stacks of dishes at wholesale prices, you won’t have to leave empty handed.

Patagonia, the trusted, international outerwear and gear purveyor, can supply you with gloves and extra layers, and New York’s only Nudie Jeans outpost sells ethically made clothes from the Swedish company. People who wear the jeans swear by the 100 percent organic denim feel and look.

As your last stop, check out the furniture and home decor at Olde Good Things so you don’t have to lug around a heavy, antique mirror all day. Of course there is also interesting hardware, lighting, tin creations and more. The chandeliers, Persian carpets and rock posters alone are reason enough to check out John Varvatos’ Bowery shop, but you will also want to get your hands on his meticulously crafted, hip men’s duds and accessories.

Where to Drink

North of Houston St., the west side of Bowery is lined with bars and eateries ranging from coffee shops to casual neighborhood dives to dimly lit, upscale hot spots. Heche en Dumbo is the place to be for cocktails infused with south of the border flavors and liquors as well as a dinner and brunch menu brimming with fresh guacamole and tacos, and Sláinte, a big, brick-walled bar with televisions virtually always showing soccer matches, serves up classic pub eats and more than 30 beers from around the world.

The Wren and Saxon + Parole are both hailed for their cocktail programs. Saxon + Parole have an interesting Cocktail Cabinet membership program, and The Wren offers inventive cocktails that include The Woodsman, made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, allspice dram, peach bitters and scotch. Don’t let that stop you from ordering a full meal too.