I successfully tried to get up a bit earlier today and started the day with a walk across the East River on Williamsburg Bridge, which took me right into Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I went there for two reasons: Sunday shopping on Orchard Street and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
Orchard Street used to be a bargain place for decades. On Sunday mornings the shops put up a kind of street market and people from all over New York came for bargains. High quality clothing, hosiery and leather goods were offered much cheaper than elsewhere. This apparently is over now. Today shopping opportunities on Orchard Street were pretty poor. A few shops offered cheap belts and scarves on the street.
A few more had clerks on the street to bring you in for leather coats and furs. Has the Lower East Side lost its attractiveness for shopping?
My breakfast had been sparse today, so I felt like lunch. The first place I thought of was Katz’s Deli, well known from “Where Harry met Sally”. It is not far from Orchard, so I walked over. But it was packed and you had to get a ticket for whatever (to be allowed in?). I hoped this is just a Sunday thing and started looking for another place. I learned that on Sundays you don’t have lunch but brunch and that every brunch goes with drinks. Several places offer a fixed price for “bottomless” drinks. So you can get as many Mimosas, Margaritas or Bloody Marys as you like. But not before noon. That’s not allowed as I learned later. I had my brunch at Spitzer’s where you share big wooden tables and benches and have omelets, salads or sandwiches and Mimosas or Bellinis. I had a Fried Catfish Sandwich and a Mimosa – just because I didn’t even know what a Mimosa is. Ok, it is just sparkling wine and orange juice. The catfish was delicious. I think I never had catfish before.
After brunch I went to the Tenement Museum. Its mission is to preserve and interpret the history of immigration through the personal experiences of the generations of newcomers who settled in and built lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. They bought and restored a tenement house on 97 Orchard Street showing the lives of immigrants from different countries in different periods and for two years now they have a new visitor center on the block.
You can book various tours in the tenement building and through the neighborhood, all of them caught my interest. So I decided to become a member and now can join all their tours for free and get a 10% Discount in the store (books, books, books … very dangerous). The next available tour was Shop-Life, so I got a ticket. A young guy called Brendan took us into the basement of 97 Orchard where shops used to be. We first visited a German Beer Salon, opened up in the 1870s by John and Caroline Schneider, immigrants from Bavaria. He explained that at that time the Lower East Side was called “Klein Deutschland”, because it was mainly populated by German immigrants. He also pointed out that “Klein Deutschland” was a bit strange because Germans from Bavaria or from Baden had nothing in common with Germans from maybe Prussia. Different languages, different culture, different food. But they all populated the Lower East Side before later on Eastern European Jews came and the Germans moved elsewhere. In the Beer Saloon every one of us was handed a card with the data of a person visiting the Saloon on a Sunday morning and we had to think about and explain why this person came there. There were businessmen, a shoe maker and a lace merchant who came to meet customers. The landlord, who came to see if the business was going well. A widow who maybe was looking for a new husband.
Afterwards Brendan took us into the Schneider’s apartment behind the saloon. It was tiny but well equipped. He did a really great job in giving us an image of Caroline Schneider preparing food for the customers in her kitchen. Bratwurst, a pot roast and mashed potatoes were set up on the stove.
The last stop was the second shop on the other side of the house. There we were given a brand new multimedia presentation of three shops having existed there during the years. A kosher grocery, an auctioneer and a hosiery shop. We were asked to pick up an object from a shelf, place it on one of the electronic tables and by touching and a phone receiver each visitor was told an individual story based on his object. Mine was a photo album belonging to the hosiery shop in the 1970s. It was a great tour and I do not regret having bought the membership. I definitely want to get more of it. Ah well, yes I did buy a book – 97 Orchard Street, an edible history of five immigrant families. That book I had seen a woman reading at the Greenpoint waterside.
Today’s last event took me to a Manhattan neighborhood I hardly knew so far. NoLIta – North of Little Italy. Perched in between SoHo in the west and the Lower East Side in the east. Lots of nice little shops and restaurants in similar building structure but less posh than in SoHo. Well worth another visit. There in McNally Jackson Bookstore I joined a free Fiction Writing Class by Gotham Writers Workshop. The young woman who organized it addressed me asking if I had taken classes before. I looked familiar to her. Maybe I met her at check-in for my one day Travel Writing class three years ago, but I did not remember her. She turned out to be the person who had handled my registration for the class starting next week. But this was just exchanging emails.
Although it was just an hour the class was really good, reminding me of things I had learned before but forgotten. I will go to more of these.
The bookstore as well is great. They do have a section for Travel Writing where I found Agatha Christie’s memoir of touring the world. Wonderful! I really need to find a clever solution to get stuff sent home.
What I learned today:
All about life in a German Beer Saloon on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1870s.