The Bowery Travel GuidePhoto: The old Bowery in 1955. Courtesy of Getty. Travel Features new york city
There are few places in New York City that embody the city’s gritty, artistic, and authentic spirit quite like the Bowery. What started off as a Dutch farm road became the stomping ground for gangs, sailors, shopgirls, sporting men, vaudeville entertainers, waves of Irish, Italians, Chinese, Jews and Germans immigrants and punk rockers. This iconic rough-around-the-edges neighborhood known for its skid row reputation has undergone a renaissance in recent years, transforming into a trendy hotspot for culture, cuisine and nightlife.
With the wave of intense gentrification, groups like the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors have tried their best to save favorite neighborhood hotspots and preserve the cultural and historic of the area. While they have not been able to save everything, visitors can spend a weekend in the neighborhood enjoying the new hotspots while still visiting a few of the spots that helped make the Bowery, the Bowery.
Where To Stay
Start your journey in the heart of the neighborhood: the Bowery Hotel. This vintage-inspired boutique hotel opened in 2007. Its stunning design blends old-world charm with modern amenities. The interiors are adorned with rich fabrics, antique furnishings and an impressive collection of artwork. The lobby, with its wood-burning fireplace and plush seating, creates an ideal atmosphere to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. However, it is hard to even get downstairs to the lobby with guest rooms that have floor-to-ceiling city views from the warm soaking waters of marble bathtubs.
Where to Eat
If you are staying at the Bowery Hotel, head downstairs to Gemma. The candle-lit dining room adorned with rustic wooden tables and vintage chandeliers creates the ideal atmosphere for a romantic dinner or night out with friends. The restaurant serves classic Italian dishes with a contemporary twist such as the spaghetti alla carbonara and the pappardelle with wild boar ragu. In addition to the homemade pasta, the restaurant serves crispy crust pizza with toppings like prosciutto, arugula and truffle oil. For a classic Italian end to the meal, don’t miss the tiramisu or affogato.
Phebe’s Tavern and Grill on the corner of 4th Ave and Bowery has been a neighborhood staple since 1968. If you are looking for a casual spot for drinks or a meal, this is the place to visit. It’s a favorite local hangout with a menu full of American comfort food favorites like burgers, wings, fajitas and buffalo chicken sandwiches. If you are a margarita fan, stop by for happy hour any weekday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. for $8 frozen Passion Fruit Margaritas.
If you are looking for a dinner spot to satisfy the needs of a large group, stop by Jolene at the corner of Bowery and Third Street. The restaurant offers a modern American menu that features seasonal ingredients, working with a number of small farms and producers to ensure that its ingredients are fresh, high-quality, and environmentally conscious. The fun cocktail menu makes it a great place to stop by just for drinks. Lovers in Japan made with pisco, midori, gin and citrus or the Keys to the City with brown-butter rum, clarified lime and sugar are just two highlights.
While technically just across the invisible border in Chinatown, the Kam Boat Bakery and Cafe on Bowery and Grand is definitely worth a visit. The all-in-one bakery offers a wide array of sweet and savory baked goods. The unassuming cafe is known for its Portuguese egg tarts, baked buns and mango mochi.
What to Do
Since almost the beginning the Bowery has been known as an entertainment and arts district. While the neighborhood may have shed its rough exterior, its vibrant culture and artistic spirit does remain in a few select spots, with one being the Westwood Gallery, which focuses on contemporary artists from the 1960s through today. The gallery is intent on highlighting artists who lived in one of the most artistically dense neighborhoods in New York City, so many of its featured artists have a connection to the Bowery. The modern exhibitions include artistic mediums such as painting, photography, video and sculpture.
From there, head over to the New Museum, a contemporary art museum that showcases cutting-edge works from around the world. With rotating exhibits and a commitment to highlighting emerging artists, the New Museum is a must-visit for art lovers.
Watching live music is the only proper way to end a day in the Bowery. Unfortunately the infamous CBGB music venue was one of the victims of gentrification. Rising rent prices forced the club to shut its doors more than a decade ago. Even though the space is now a designer men’s fashion store, it remains a pilgrimage site for legions of music fans who want to see the unofficial birthplace of punk music.
If you are intent on seeing live music in the Bowery make your way to the Bowery Ballroom, a legendary music venue that has hosted everyone from Lou Reed to Metallica. With its intimate setting and impressive acoustics, the Bowery Ballroom is the perfect spot to catch a live show. Or make reservations for a show at Duane Park—NYC’s only burlesque supper club. The woman-owned burlesque dinner show includes aerial, a hydraulic stage, fire-eaters, sword swallowers along with live music and full-scale burlesque shows.
Jennifer Simonson is a travel writer by trade and a lover of the world’s food, cultures, drinks and outdoor spaces by nature.