Walking Off the Lower East Side
I'm at Sugar Café at the corner of Allen St. and E. Houston St., a 24-hour cafe that's been open a little more than a year. A long narrow joint that best accommodates parties of one or two, the west wall consists of retractable glass doors that open up in season and the interior walls are painted bright white. The scrambled eggs, toast, and potatoes cost $3, and the coffee is strong enough.
I plan to walk through the Lower East Side this week, guiding my feet with only the vaguest of agendas. I want to pay attention to small things, the details, vignettes, and cameos that may help unveil this area to me. I'll know what I'm looking for when I find it.
Though I decided to eat breakfast at Sugar in advance, that's mostly the extent of pre-planning. Except for 27 Eldridge. I'm reading Richard Price's new novel Lush Life, enjoying the author's portrayal of the Lower East Side, and that specific address is critical to the plot. Don't worry, no spoilers ahead.
I've also walked into the heart of political controversy. City planners are currently revising the zoning plan for a vast swath of the East Village and the Lower East Side, 111 blocks in all, to curb the recent expansion of expensive high-rises in the area. Too many unwieldy buildings now loom over the historic tenements, and the creeping upward development threatens to literally overshadow the street life below. But preserving the character of the neighborhoods while still allowing for moderate growth, especially upwards, is a delicate task for the planners. At the public hearing just last night (NY1 News story), protesters claimed that the city's rezoning plan protects the wealthier areas at the expense of the poor.
Getting here from the Village: A good way to walk to the Lower East Side from Greenwich Village is to walk east on Bleecker to Bowery, and then east along E. 1st Street to where it merges with E. Houston. I've had a thing for E. 1st Street every since I wrote the post about Trotsky's little boy. It's impossible to write about the Lower East Side and not bring up issues of poverty, whether historic or current, just like it's impossible to write a New York novel without discussing social class.
Images: Dorothea Lange. Crowds around post office. Lower East Side, New York. June 1936. FSA/OWI Library of Congress. LC-USF34-009180-E DLC (b&w film nitrate neg.); and WOTBA, Sugar Cafe, Tuesday, May 13, 2008. 11 a.m.
Part of a series about the Lower East Side. See related posts.