This week, Here editors are paying homage to the New York City neighborhoods they call home. Digital Editor Annie Werner shares her guide to Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
As Here Magazine’s token Manhattanite, I feel I have to defend my neighborhood of choice. I’ve lived in decidedly cooler neighborhoods like the Village, Williamsburg, and Bushwick. I ultimately settled on the Upper East Side four years ago because of the things it is not: a hipster scene, far from work.
But since then I’ve come to really appreciate this classic NYC neighborhood. The UES consists of a surprisingly vast area—spanning from 59th Street up to 96th—with smaller ‘hoods within the UES (Yorkville, Carnegie Hill, Lenox Hill). And sure, west of Park Avenue you’ll find Birkin bags and wife bonuses, but I assure you that most of the UES is quite accessible and worthy of exploration.
Most tourists filter in and out of Museum Mile and never see much else of the neighborhood (I will say that living in such close proximity to Central Park, The Met, Guggenheim, Cooper Hewitt and countless other institutions has its perks).
But there’s plenty of unexpected and delightful UES finds—from wurst sausage stands to divey piano bars—and if you find yourself up here, I do encourage a Gossip Girl photoshoot with your crew on the steps of The Met, but then you should follow the below itinerary if you want to make the most of this iconic New York City neighborhood.
9:30 a.m. — Local Brews
Birch Coffee is a local chain with several locations throughout the city, but their coffee is excellent and they’re a Manhattan-born institution. Birch Coffee locations are not just filling stations for people anchored to a laptop—it’s really about the brew here. But if you need a place to chill and/or work for a minute, try Cafe Jax or DTUT (the latter turns into a craft beer haven at 5 p.m.).
10:00 a.m. — Proper Manhattan Brunch
Cafe D’Alsace is my brunch spot of choice—the interior is homey and beautiful like a French Alpine country bistro. The Lump Crab Omelette and shakshuka are excellent—the Crepe Souffle is <insane. It’s not hip or trendy, but it’s been a neighborhood staple for years. You’ll probably find most young folk at The Penrose for brunch on weekends, and their food is great, but it’s got that Brooklynification effect, and that’s not what we’re going for here. Both have outdoor seating if the weather’s nice.
11:15 a.m. — The Highest Bidders
Most of the shopping on the UES is terrible unless you haven’t been to a megamall in 10 years. Doyle Auction House is the exception—peruse surprisingly affordable estate sales and other unique home goods, artworks, and jewelry on consignment from UES heiresses passed. Blue chip auction houses are an UES specialty (e.g. Christie’s, Sotheby’s), but Doyle is much more accessible and you truly won’t find anything like it anywhere else in the city.
12:00 p.m. — The Other UES Park
Central Park is obviously iconic, but over on the far east side of the Upper East Side is the beautiful and underappreciated Carl Shurz Park. Home to the NYC Mayor’s house, Gracie Mansion, this riverside park is full of intricate landscaping kept up by a neighborhood gardening association. There are also dog parks(!) for large and small pups and a NYC Ferry Dock.
1:30 p.m. — Wurst Fest
A century ago, the UES was a thriving German, Austrian, and Hungarian neighborhood of which only a few remnants remain. Schaller’s Stube Sausage Bar is a great lunch option attached to an 82-year-old German butcher shop, one of the oldest in Manhattan. You can’t go wrong with any of the experimental and quality wursts, but my favorites are the Schaller Double and Steuben’s Reuben. Just because this place is part of an established institution doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to try new things—check out their vegan Beyond Meat options on the menu as well.
If you want more of a sit down vibe, you have to go to Café Sabarsky inside the Neue Gallery. Housed in a 19th-century former Vanderbilt mansion (I mean, can you even get more UES?) that is now home to one of the best collections of Eastern European Expressionism (that you should also check out), there’s nothing cozier than the wood-paneled walls and marble tables. I once sat here with a hot cocoa and watched the first snowfall on Central Park. Magic.
2:30 p.m. — Secrets at The Met
I’m just going to come out and say that The Metropolitan Museum of Art is my favorite place in the world. I own a painting of The Temple of Dendur in my apartment, which may even make me a Met fanatic. I’m 100% sure I haven’t even seen all of it, and that’s part of the fun. Each time I go, I’m transported to whole new aesthetic histories—The Met is much more immersive than the chilly exhibits in The Great Hall would have you believe. Below, I’ve listed out some of my favorite hidden secrets at The Met that you probably wouldn’t find if you didn’t know to go looking for them. I suggest you write down the gallery numbers now and not look any of them up online beforehand so you can be delightfully stunned upon arrival:
Cubiculum, Gallery 165 – One of the most stunning rooms in The Met, this bedroom was originally built ca. 50-40 B.C. and preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius (i.e. the disaster at Pompeii) and reinstalled right here in New York City for you to marvel at.
Astor Court, Gallery 217: This reconstructed Ming Dynasty garden will have you zen’d out in no time.
Jain Temple, Gallery 243: It’s hard to believe this Indian “architectural ensemble” was thrown out for a renovation of the original temple in the 16th century. You can walk up inside of it. It’s arresting.
Vélez Blanco Patio, Gallery 534: This was once the patio of a Spanish castle in the early 16th century, and that’s just about everything you need to know about that right now.
The Met Rooftop: I’m sure you know The Met has a rooftop with rotating summer sculpture exhibits. But what not even many locals know is that it’s open an hour past The Met’s closing on Fridays and Saturdays (10 p.m.) and you can enjoy a good cocktail and a sunset if you get the timing right. Try to get up there by 8:30 or 8:45 p.m.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of this, I’d recommend perusing the spoils of The Frick Collection, a smaller nearby museum and former home of the early 20th century American industrialist Henry Clay Frick.
5:00 p.m. — Battle of the Great UES Piano Bars
A classic and sophisticated UES piano bar is at The Carlyle Hotel’s Bemelmans Bar. The walls are lined with Ludwig Bemelman illustrations—the artist of the iconic Madeleine children’s book series. You can’t go wrong with a martini and their spicy bar crackers. (Note that a cover charge will be applied after 9:30 p.m. or whenever the Jazz Trio starts playing).
If that’s a little too stuffy (and pricey) for you, my typical song-filled haunt is Brandy’s Piano Bar on 84th and 2nd Ave. Patrons belt showtunes in the intimate and criminally underrated space. If you get here at 5 p.m., plan to stay late because it gets better as the evening progresses (for reasons!). Or, come back after dinner (but before Ethyl’s).
7:30 p.m. — The Dinner Bell Rings
Flora Bar is one of the best restaurants in the city, but it’s often overlooked as a white tablecloth museum bistro. With an inventive menu in a beautiful space at The Met Breuer, Flora Bar had a natural wine list before it was cool.
Most guidebooks will recommend San Matteo Pizzeria e Cucina on 81st and 2nd, but I prefer their 92st St. outpost, San Matteo Pizza & Espresso Bar for a chill night out with some woodfired pizza and Lambrusco (the eggplant parm is the best I’ve ever had). Local Italian transplants order pick up from this place and speak their native tongue to the Italian owners—it doesn’t get much better.
Kaia Wine Bar is an awesome unique option on the UES—if there’s another South African restaurant in NYC, I haven’t found it yet. Excellent regional wines pair with South African small plates like elk carpaccio and Cape Malay-spiced beef at this Michelin-recommended standout. Don’t sleep on their bread plate either.
9:00 p.m. — Post-Dinner Drinks
If you want to skip Brandy’s Piano Bar, try Caledonia for well-curated and obscure whiskey and bourbon selections in a candlelit setting; try Bondurants for Southern sophistication, lively crowds, and good cocktails; and try Supply House if you want to sample some local craft beers.
11:30 p.m. — Where to End the Night on the UES
Ethyl’s is really the only answer. You probably wouldn’t believe this kind of establishment exists in such a “proper” neighborhood, but locals are glad it does. Burlesque dancers grace this dive on any given night and the music is always on point for dancing.
The Upper East Side Essentials:
Where to Stay on the Upper East Side:
The Carlyle and The Surrey are two classic (and very expensive options) on the UES, but for something more affordable, I’d venture a tad south to the modern Pod 51. It’s the kind of hotel that’s great if you’re not spending a ton of time in your room, which you shouldn’t be!
Upper East Side History:
This dispatch on the architectural history of how the UES came to be the UES as we know it is fascinating and will make you stop and appreciate the surrounding buildings a little more as you traipse from venue to venue.