We’re excited to announce that starting on June 12th, our popular tour of the Secrets of the Lower East Side is back — and it’s got a fun new tasting element! With Museum at Eldridge Street docent Richard Soden, stroll through the neighborhood’s 100-year-old history with the street smarts he’s earned as a long-time Lower East Side resident. Learn about what life was like for Jewish immigrants at the turn of the last century, where children played, where people shopped and ate, how they received the news, and even where they banked.
Once the most densely populated district in the world, the Lower East Side of Manhattan has witnessed significant changes over the past century. In the early 2000s, the neighborhood underwent a period of rapid gentrification, making it one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Manhattan. It’s where you can find alleys and tenement buildings adjacent to chic boutiques, up-and-coming restaurants and trendy music/arts venues. Altogether, these elements make up the eclectic, quirky and uniquely diverse fabric of the Lower East Side.
While there, discover tenement architecture and locate Jewish motifs on buildings throughout the Lower East Side. Visit upscale fabric shops and clothing stores dating to the 1890s. You’ll start at The Pickle Guys, the last of the Lower East Side’s 60+ pickle shops. At The Pickle Guys, you can purchase over 30 different types of pickled treats, making them “the old-fashioned way.”
The New York City pickle scene hit its peak in the late 19th through early 20th-centuries when the city experienced a large influx of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. These immigrants flocked to the tenements of the Lower East Side, bringing their traditional cuisine with them. Of the foods they introduced to New York, the kosher dill pickle was the most significant. This cucumber pickle is made with a brine of salt, water, dill, and garlic.
Pickles were cheap for vendors to make and for customers to buy. In the late 1800s, you could get a whole cucumber pickle for a penny. By the 1920s, according to the Tenement Museum, a pickle would be about five cents. These affordable prices made pickles a favorite grab-and-go street food. They were sold from large wooden barrels at pushcarts, stationary stands, and storefronts on the streets of the Lower East Side. At one point, there were estimated to be more than 80 pickle vendors on Essex Street alone, with more than 200 pickle vendors in all of New York City.
In the 1930s and 40s, Mayor LaGuardia made it his mission to clean up the Lower East Side streets and get rid of the congestion caused by the proliferation of pushcarts. Street vendors were moved into indoor public markets like the Essex Street Market, which opened in 1940. Today, there is one remaining pickle vendor on Essex Street, and the original Essex Street Market has a new location. As the sole pickle vendor in the Lower East Side, The Pickle Guys carry on a tradition set forth more than 100 years ago.
In addition to a pickle tasting, you’ll encounter Jewish delis and appetizing stores like the famous Russ & Daughters, Judaica and clothing stores, remnants of the Yiddish Theater District, and other Jewish cultural and religious centers. You’ll also explore the more recent history, including how the neighborhood has been transformed and adapted to new trends and cultures in the 21st century. This tour costs $40 per person and includes three tastings. Untapped New York Insiders get $5 off. If you’re not a member, join now (and use the code JOINUS to get your first month free).
Secrets of the Lower East Side Tour & Tasting
Next, check out The Top 10 Secrets of the Lower East Side!