Literary City Guide | LOWER EAST SIDE, NYC

Everybody ought to have a Lower East Side in their life.
— Irving Berlin


Kathryn Chou

When Kathryn isn’t busy writing about food chances are she’s eating it. She’s constantly in search of her new favorite thing, be it craft beer, an artist, lunch spot or author. Her political views range from pro-doughnuts to anti-peacamole. Kathryn attended university in Washington D.C. where she majored in journalism, but is happy to be living back in New York where she grew up. Home is where the good bagels are.



Relationship to the Lower East Side: I grew up just a short train ride outside the city’s borders, but after getting a taste of Manhattan it was impossible to go back to cookie-cutter suburbia. 

Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: B.J. Novak

Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: April Bloomfield

Writing soundtrack: Silence and the occasional taxi horn. And sometimes a mellow playlist.

Pen or Pencil: Pen

Coffee or Tea? Tea

Paperback or Hardback? Paperback. They were made for subway rides.

Good Reads


Mast Books. Glossy eye-catching book covers splay across the tables and shelves of this used and rare books store. Mast Books specializes in art, photography, design and fashion books as well as modern literature and poetry. If you're looking for a great coffee table book, this is where you want to go.

St. Marks Bookshop. Undulating bookshelves snake around this surprisingly spacious bookstore. There are plenty of niche magazines, and it's a great place to go to find and support small press publishing. 

Bluestockings. Self-described radical bookstore, Bluestockings holds over 6,000 titles on topics such as feminism, gender studies, political theory and the environment. They also have a fair trade cafe offering Zapatista coffee and Mister Sister vegan cookies. The space doubles as a community center where you can join a reading group, knitting circle or attend a yoga class.


Little Free Library. You don’t have to be a New York City resident to take out a book at University Settlement’s Little Free Library, which is located on the corner of Rivington and Eldridge Streets.

Hamilton Fish Park Library. Named after New York’s governor in 1848, Hamilton Fish Park Library serves as a true community-gathering place. Behind the library’s inviting red doors you’ll find a multi-use room for the community, a gallery space that features rotating art exhibits and librarian-led events for toddlers, adults and everyone in between. Each week they hold a free movie night and screen a new film from the library’s collection.


Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Once a gathering spot for great literary minds like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, this cafe embodies the spirit of the Beat Generation. Nuyorican Poets Cafe always has a packed calendar of events so chances are you'll catch a poetry reading, jazz show or live performance no matter when you go.   

KGB Bar. This bar showcases both up-and-coming and established literati. Be it poetry, non-fiction and fiction readings to discussions on an author's craft this bar offers it all for no cover. Not to mention KGB Bar has 50 varieties of vodka that might help get your own creative juices flowing too. 


Creative Little Garden. Tucked between Avenues A and B on Sixth Street sits the Creative Little Garden- an oasis of tranquility in New York City. From the crawling vines to the colorful birdhouses that dot throughout the space, this garden is a great place to spend the afternoon with lunch and a good book.

The Library. For a taste of the grit of old New York head to The Library. This bar flaunts an unapologetically punk rock vibe. With its shelves lined with classic books, a projector on the back wall that plays old school movies like Ghostbusters and a juke box filled with punk rock tunes it’s easy to see how this bar is surprisingly charming. Not to mention their two-for-one happy hour is one of the best in the neighborhood.

C.W. Pencil Enterprise. For the pencil and stationary enthusiast it doesn't get much better than C.W. Pencil Enterprise. Pencils line the shelves sitting in glass jars that are labeled with the pencil’s origin: Sweden, Japan, New Jersey, Tennessee. Be sure to plunk two quarters into the tiny blue box that dispenses vintage pencils at random.

Vola Vida Gallery. To get a real flavor for New York’s art scene head to Vola Vida Gallery, the only gallery in New York City devoted solely to street art. What’s great is that art pieces change every two weeks in this gallery mirroring the spontaneous and unpredictable spirit of art on the streets.

Coming Soon. This thoughtfully curated store showcases objects that are just as much utilitarian objects for the home as well as beautiful pieces of art.

Marshall Stack. Named after the iconic amplifier, Marshall Stack exudes all the coolness of rock and roll with none of the grunge. This sleek, intimate, neighborhood bar offers a variety of craft beers amongst a bevy of bar snacks where the duck club panini is the star of the menu. 

Good Eats


Black Cat LES. This cozy coffee shop is adorned with strings of Christmas lights, and scattered with books, board games, clocks and old lamps. For a healthy jolt of caffeine, try the Dirty Kitty- a white chocolate, dark chocolate espresso topped off with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. There is also a large selection of loose leaf teas. 

Lost Weekend. Part coffee shop, part surf shop - this cafe brings some much-needed west coast vibes to this hectic city. Unwind with a cup of New Orleans coffee and a pastry at this sunny, laidback coffee shop.

Cake Shop. This Ludlow Street mainstay has everything there is to love about the Lower East Side all conveniently located under one roof. Cake Shop is a music venue, coffee shop, vegan bakery, bar and record shop all at the same time. With wood panel walls throughout, Cake Shop has that '70s basement feel, which is all the reason to love it more.


Farmhouse. This restaurant brings a little piece of the country to the city. From their French toast with a custardy center served with mixed berries during breakfast, and their mozzarella sandwich made with local cheese and fresh basil pesto at lunch to their handmade raviolis with fillings like mushroom and butternut squash at dinner- it's hard to go wrong here no matter what time of day.

The Spaghetti Incident. Thanks to The Spaghetti Incident (Guns N’ Roses fans anyone?) it is now possible to eat spaghetti on the go. Choose from any of the nine fresh-made spaghettis and ask for it in a to-go cone.

Spitzers Corner. With a selection of up to 40 craft beers Spitzer's is the kind of neighborhood place every beer connoisseur wishes they had on their block. Their truffle mac & cheese is the kind of decadent bar food that's just what you need to cut through a hoppy IPA.

Mission Cantina. This modern Mexican restaurant makes no claims to being authentic Mexican food, nor does it want to. The vibrancy and ingredients of the dishes are all reminiscent of Mexican food, but it’s also a mélange of inspirations chef Danny Bowien draws from all corners of the globe. The menu changes constantly but the crunchy fried chicken wings and a few tacos are a good place to start!

Lam Zhou Noodles. If you’re looking for a good dinner for less than $15 on the Lower East Side, Lam Zhou is the place to go. What this bare-bones noodle shop lacks in decor it makes up for in deliciousness! Grab a bowl of hand-pulled noodles and an order of steamed dumplings and slurp up all the sites, sounds and people that make this Fujianese hole-in-the-wall so great.


Doughnut Plant. This doughnut shop puts the old debate of yeast vs. cake doughnuts to rest because at Doughnut Plant they are both equally delicious. All of their doughnuts are filled with house made jams, creams and custards. Any of their doughnut flavors won’t disappoint, but tres leches is a cult favorite.

Panade Puffs & Pastries. Grab a homemade choux pastry at this shop that specializes in puffs! You can choose from cream fillings such as green tea, sesame, vanilla and chocolate and even add fresh fruit to make it a more substantial snack.

Abraço. Nothing against the coffee at Abraco, but what you really want here is the olive oil cake. One slice is all you need- luxuriously thick, nutty and just a tad sweet.

Economy Candy. Everything from penny candies to European chocolate bars can be found at this candy shop that has been a mainstay on Rivington Street since 1937. The aisles are jam-packed with every candy imaginable. There is also a generous selection of dried fruit, nuts, halvah and gourmet chocolates.

Art on Lower East Side

KATHRYN'S 5 Favorites

1. Favorite view: Central Park West skyline as viewed from the Jackie Kennedy Onassis reservoir.

2. Favorite place to write: Buried under my comforter in bed with a cup of tea by my side. 

3. Favorite museum: Museum of Modern Art. On UNIQLO Free Friday Nights, admission is free every Friday evening from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.

4. Favorite coffee shop: Black Cat LES

5. Favorite thing about the Lower East Side: This neighborhood truly has an appreciation for art and desire to push culture forward, which you can feel when you walk the streets and talk to the people here.