Staples and Hidden Gems of the Lower East Side: From Dive Bars to Dance Clubs
Whether you are a native, transplant, or visitor to the lively city of New York, at least one night of your life here should be spent on the Lower East Side (LES). While some may find the trendiness of this neighborhood distasteful, there is quite literally something for everyone and every budget; do not let its reputation deter you. This guide is a probably all-too-brief overview of the must-try LES bars. Hopefully, you will be convinced to head downtown and party your ass off like every proper denizen of NYC should.
Off the Beaten Path
Welcome to the Johnson’s is the diviest of dives. Based on the name and reputation, this style is certainly intentional. Decorated like a living room from a Roseanne fever-dream, this place will make anyone feel right at home (or like you need to shower).
Photo Credit: http://www.morganjosephhamilton.com/theses/
Come for the novelty, stay for the much lauded $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon special. Though it’s not a place to see and be seen, it is a good bar in which to play pool, pump the jukebox full tunes, and hang with your crew on a filthy old couch.
Iggy’s Keltic Lounge
Iggy's is less of an Irish Pub and more of a dive with an alternative vibe. If you dig men with ear gauges or are a man with such accoutrements, this is the spot for you. On one of the trendiest streets, this stands out for its completely unassuming storefront and interior. Don’t be fooled: you are guaranteed to have a good time at Iggy’s. Seemingly an odd addition to this neighborhood, it continues to draw crowds looking for a vibrant, conversation friendly atmosphere (it probably also has to do with the amazing drink specials every night of the week). Frankly, one of the best bars on the Lower East Side.
Home Sweet Home
If you are looking for cheap drinks and a dance floor, Home Sweet Home may be the place for you. This bar has a similarly dingy atmosphere as Welcome to the Johnson’s, except Home Sweet Home takes it up a notch: they decorated their space with mounted and stuffed critters (yup, folks, it’s a shrine to Taxidermy).
Photo Credit: Spin magazine
Though you won’t find many PETA enthusiasts milling about this grimy dungeon, you will come across people in their early twenties looking for affordable drinks and dancing. The make-shift dance floor is a tight square of space towards the back of the bar. Expect to hear your favorite hits from high school and college.
With a Twist
If you’re looking to impress a date and/or your friends, take them to Spitzer’s. Spitzer’s manages to be both a small space for intimate chats and a lively place to meet new people. Billed as a “gastropub” this bar takes on the task of providing an extensive beer selection, while also offering great food. Always a positive atmosphere and a perfect place to kick-off your night. Don’t be shy: grab a spot at the communal table and impress people with your ability to consume both beer and food.
The Back Room
This is a must for anyone venturing to the LES. A popular speakeasy during Prohibition, the owners saw fit to keep the space intact. The only way you will spot the entrance is by the bouncer standing next to a short gate. I’ve never seen a line, but another way to spot this gem is by noticing small groups heading into an alleyway. Yes: the gate leads you down a set of stairs and through an alley (beware of rats!). Head up another flight of stairs and you’re in a fabulous speakeasy.
Photo Credit: ForkandPlate.com
Most drinks come in white coffee cups, while beer is presented in a paper bag. The sheer novelty of this place has yet to wear off for me and I’m sure anyone and everyone could enjoy this space.
If you don’t mind cheesiness and love to have a good time, get to La Caverna stat! Designed to look like a cavern or the inside of a volcano, depending upon whom you ask, this whimsical locale is a dance and hookah bar.
Photo Credit: Guestofaguest.com
Large enough that you can commandeer space for you and a big crew, but not so big that you could ever get lost in the crowd. Come for the novelty, stay because it’s awesome and you’re having an amazing time. Get there before 11pm to avoid a line.
If You’re Feeling Sexy
Beauty and Essex
They have remained a hot spot for a number of years now. Still one of the best bars on the Lower East Side, it would seem its popularity has yet to wane, so get while the getting’s good! Walk through the pawn shop and enter the beautiful space that makes up the main floor. Hang at the bar with patrons who are dressed to the nine’s or grab a table upstairs for dinner. A very sexy atmosphere with great bartenders who aim to please.
Dinner on Ludlow
If you’re looking for something a little less flashy, but you still want to be part of a scene, go to Dinner on Ludlow. No one actually eats dinner here: they come for the party scene. Drop your coat at the make-shift coat check on the second floor, then stay to groove to Hip-hop and R&B tunes. Afterwards, head upstairs to the main bar contained in what looks like an atrium, trees and all.
Photo Credit: Dinner on Ludlow
This third floor is expansive and would feel overwhelming if not for the brighter mood lighting. Up top, the music is strictly current dance hits, so if that’s not your scene, feel free to hit on all the single people milling about the palm trees. Maybe a little bro-y with a hint of desperation, but a guaranteed good time.
The perfect combination of the previous two bars: sexy, but not thirsty; trendy, but with less bro-tastic energy; pricey, but not too pricey. Everyone who works or patronizes this LES bar is attractive. Cocktail hour on the enclosed roof is the perfect time to hit this spot, as you will avoid the line and be able to snag a table. Later on in the evening, if you’re looking to dance, head downstairs where a DJ will spin the hottest tracks. You will encounter bottle service, but thankfully they avoid making a scene when delivering the goods. No sparklers necessary at this cool joint.
Should you ever seek a good time out in New York, there is no doubt you will be able to find it nearly anywhere. However, the vibe and variety of the Lower East Side is not to be missed. Whether you’re looking for something low-key, wildly unique, or uber-trendy, this area has it all. If you feel that some of the above places are out of your comfort zone, I would strongly encourage you to try them out anyway. You don’t know what you’re missing until you see it for yourself. Seriously: some of the best bars in the city are on the Lower East Side. Have fun out there and drink within reason, because cabs and dry cleaning aren’t cheap!