Gorgeous prewar apartments owned by blue-blooded socialites, soigné restaurants frequented by Botoxed ladies who lunch, the deluxe boutiques of international designers.… This is the clichéd image of the Upper East Side, and you’ll certainly see a lot of supporting evidence on Fifth, Madison and Park Avenues. Recently, however, pockets of downtown cool have migrated north, notably the growing food-and-drink enclave pioneered by Earl’s Beer and Cheese.
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Encouraged by the opening of Central Park in the late 1800s, affluent New Yorkers began building mansions along Fifth Avenue. By the start of the 20th century, even the superwealthy had warmed to the idea of giving up their large homes for smaller quarters, provided they were near the park, which resulted in the construction of many new apartment blocks and hotels. Working-class folk later settled around Second and Third Avenues, following construction of the defunct elevated East Side train line, but affluence remained the neighborhood’s dominant characteristic. Philanthropic gestures made by the moneyed classes over the past 130-odd years have helped to create the impressive cluster of art collections on Museum Mile—from 82nd to 105th Streets, Fifth Avenue is lined with more than half a dozen celebrated institutions, including theMetropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and The Frick Collection.
To find out more about things to do, see, eat and drink in Manhattan, and discover other neighborhoods in the area, visit our Manhattan borough guide.
Map of the Upper East Side and travel information
The Upper East Side of Manhattan is east of Central Park, running from Fifth Avenue to the East River and extending north from E 59th Street to E 110th Street, where it borders East Harlem. The neighborhood encompasses several sub-nabes: Lenox Hill (E 59th St to E 77th St from Fifth Ave to Lexington Ave), Carnegie Hill (E 86th St to E 96th St between Fifth Ave and Lexington Aves) and Yorkville (E 79th St to E 96th St from Third Ave to the East River).
Restaurants on the Upper East Side
While New York is home to plenty of top chefs, haute-cuisine dominance has long been a grudge match between two French contenders, each recognizable—like Diddy or Prince—by a single name. Though Jean-Georges had the edge for a little while, 2009 has been the year of Daniel. In the past 12 months, Daniel Boulud earned his third Michelin star, graced the big screen in a documentary biopic, refurbished two restaurants, opened another and announced plans to expand to Singapore. Caf Boulud, located inside the posh Surrey Hotel, is the latest venue to receive a face-lift. Like good plastic surgery, the nips and tucks by Jeffrey Beers are so understated, it’s not immediately clear what’s changed. The designer replaced the carpeting, upholstery, lighting and artwork, but left the dining room’s clubby spirit intact. The overhaul was implemented last August when the well-heeled clientele fled to the beach. It’s more a gift to the regulars than a ploy to drum up business. The place has been an uptown mainstay for more than a decade, a power room with a loyal neighborhood following and its own seating hierarchy at dinner and lunch. In 2008, Gavin Kaysen took over as executive chef. He gave up the top post at El Bizcocho in San Diego to work under Boulud. Though the menu combines the young American’s whimsy with the older Frenchman’s understated refinement, the restaurant remains a reflection of the icon whose name adorns the marquee. Named for the modest caf the Boulud family once ran onRead more
The only menu you’ll find here is for drinks. The fish prepared at this tiny outpost of a popular L.A. sushi spot is governed entirely by chef Kenji Takahashi’s whim. There’s nothing to fear (except maybe the wasabi—they use the much spicier real stuff): Sasabune’s omakase is culled from Takahashi’s daily New Fulton Fish Market finds. He and his team dole out raw numbers, from favorites like salmon and yellowtail to more exotic sea creatures, including bonito in a spicy-sweet homemade soy sauce and a black cod in an eel sauce you’ll want mop up with your fingers.Read more
For the best fix for a late-night sushi jones, you’ll need to go east…Far East. No matter: locals, sushi snobs and off-duty chefs alike crawl in to this completely conventional façade on First Ave until 2:30 a.m. to sample an original selection of raw fish. The Sushi Seki formula: unusually flavored variants of popular sushi cuts (milky king salmon, medium-fat tuna, chopped and deep-fried egg) complemented by a dollop of subtly head-turning sauce (jalapeño atop yellowtail, an oniony tofu sauce above leaner tuna, sesame oil bathing snow crab). Although Seki peddles the sushi standards, too, it’s sushi omakase, starting at $50, which keeps the cabbies idling outside. Piece-by-piece, it’s a fun ride that justifies the off-the-track location and steep prices.Read more
The decor and chaotic bustle evoke a brasserie you might see in a Godard film. The large portions of robust, earthy food are served in overgrown vessels that barely fit on the diminutive tables. Bone marrow (la moelle), simply prepared with only sea salt and grilled toast, comes with actual bones in an earthenware crock. Bigger appetites will appreciate the choucroute garni—a sausage-bejeweled heap of cured cabbage with white wine and juniper berries. The 120-bottle-strong beer list is encyclopedic. And for those who can’t tell a port from porter, there’s a dedicated beer sommelier who can pair artisanal brews with just about anything.Read more
Museums on the Upper East Side
RECOMMENDED: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum The Guggenheim is as famous for its landmark building—designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—as it is for its impressive collection and daring temporary shows. The museum owns Peggy Guggenheim’s trove of Cubist, Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist works, along with the Panza di Biumo Collection of American Minimalist and Conceptual art from the 1960s and ’70s. In addition to works by Manet, Picasso, Chagall and Bourgeois, it holds the largest collection of Kandinskys in the U.S. In 1992, the addition of a ten-story tower provided space for a sculpture gallery (with park views), an auditorium and a café. RECOMMENDED: 50 best New York attractionsRead more
The opulent residence that houses a private collection of great masters (from the 14th through the 19th centuries) was originally built for industrialist Henry Clay Frick. The firm of Carrère & Hastings designed the 1914 structure in an 18th-century European style, with a beautiful interior court and reflecting pool. The permanent collections include world-class paintings, sculpture and furniture by the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Renoir and French cabinetmaker Jean-Henri Riesener.Read more
The Asia Society sponsors study missions and conferences while promoting public programs in the U.S. and abroad. The headquarters’ striking galleries host major exhibitions of art culled from dozens of countries and time periods—from ancient India and medieval Persia to contemporary Japan—and assembled from public and private collections, including the permanent Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III collection of Asian art. A spacious, atrium-like café, with a pan-Asian menu, and a beautifully stocked gift shop make the society a one-stop destination for anyone who has an interest in Asian art and culture.Read more
Founded in 1897 by the Hewitt sisters, granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper, the only museum in the U.S. solely dedicated to design (both historic and modern) has been part of the Smithsonian since the 1960s. The museum hosts periodic interactive family programs that allow children to experiment with design.Read more
Bars on the Upper East Side
The Upper East Side has its share of low-key gems (Torishin) and crown-jewel restaurants (Daniel), but verifiable hot spots? There are few. The idea of a hobnobbing scene in Manhattan’s stuffiest zip code seemed laughable a few years ago—as likely as an electrodisco party in Greenwich, Connecticut. But the Penrose—named for a neighborhood in Cork, Ireland, where two of the owners grew up—is finally bringing a bit of the indie-chic East Village to Gossip Girl territory. Operated by the gastropub specialists behind the Wren and Wilfie & Nell, the joint would be run-of-the-mill farther downtown, where the trifecta of reclaimed wood, craft pours and pedigreed pub grub long ago joined the ranks of food-world clichés. But it’s a welcome change up here, where the only other option in a ten-block radius is Jones Wood Foundry, and locals have responded in droves. Step inside and it’s easy to see why the handsome joint was an insta-hit—antique lights cast a golden glow over a long, curving bar in the front room, while elegant patterned wallpaper and aristocratic framed portraits decorate nooks in the back. DRINK THIS: Skip the foofy cocktails (they read better than they taste) and opt for a draft beer or a dram of the brown stuff instead. The craft-brew list ($5–$9) offers familiar, solid standards (Kelso Nut Brown) and a couple of Irish imports (Guinness Extra Stout)—fine enough drafts for a laid-back night with pals. Those looking to break out of the Guinness-at-an-Irish-bar rut canRead more
Order a drink and the barman does something odd: He offers you an ashtray. Yes, it’s a legal cigar bar. Beer glasses are frosted, martinis are shaken, and the selection of single-malt Scotches and cognacs is topflight. The celeb clientele has included Robert De Niro, Quentin Tarantino, Jessica Simpson and John Mayer (woo woo!).Read more
The luxe setting and monied crowd at Daniel Boulud’s Deco beauty might seem a little stiff—but barkeep Cameron Bogue’s drinks are so delicious and exquisitely executed, you won’t mind sharing your banquette with a suit. A sloe gin fizz was a stunner, combining sloe gin with lemon juice and homemade rhubarb bitters, crowned with a silky egg-white head. The La Terre was an earthy, complex blend of red vermouth, Aperol, grapefruit juice and house-infused beet gin. All of this refinement will cost you: Canapés (snacks are made at Café Boulud next door) are $28 for four people, and cocktails top out at $19.Read more
Shops on the Upper East Side
A life-sized zebra welcomes shoppers at Alexis Bittar’s boutique, a veritable safari of the designer’s most colorful accessories. Best known for his Lucite jewelry (small square bangles, drop pendants, block rings), Bittar has also expanded his collection to include precious metals. Choose from silver, gold or rose-gold pieces, adorned with semiprecious stones and Swarovski crystals.Read more
Barneys sets the prodigious record for housing the most progressive, conceptual and hard-to-find labels in the city. You'll find Balenciaga and Commes des Garcons; Lanvin, Azzedine Alaia and Dries van Noten. The ground floor offers an excellent selection of accessories such as Hermes watches, Pucci scarves and an in-store shop from Parisian luggage company Goyard, while the shoe department hosts almost every Manolo Blahnik on over (as well as a range of pairs from Miu Miu, Christian Louboutin and Lanvin).Read more
The security to get into this global boutique may be stricter than that to board an international flight, but once you’re safely ensconced you’ll have access to a wealth of products, all organized by country. Each display houses its nation’s claim to fame, like Victorian-style garnet jewelry ($40–$400) from the Czech Republic, Technicolor hand-blown glass vases ($33) from Poland and flamenco dancer figurines ($104) from Spain. Brand names have no significance to Hanaa Shoukry, the enthusiastic director of purchasing and merchandise, who hand-selects each item based on history, tradition and culture.Read more
You needn't be a budding Martha Stewart to get your creative juices flowing at this DIY haven. The five-story second Manhattan outpost (the first is on the Upper West Side) offers foolproof crafts that any age or skill level can master. Decorate your own prebaked chocolate or vanilla cake ($24–$48) with fondant shapes, edible glitter, embellishments ($1–$5) and spray coloring in a motorized rotating booth, or make a scented candle ($20–$70) and then watch it take form at the Skinny Dip, a flowing wax-cooling river. Buy a yearly membership ($36) and you can paint ceramics ($12–$120), bead jewelry ($12–$45), create scented soap ($8–$24), or make functional glassware such as trivets, vases and coasters ($22–$99) whenever you’d like (otherwise, it’s $12 for a one-day pass). Those who don’t want to get their hands dirty can have a pro apply glitter tattoos ($5) and hair feathers ($6) at a station on the first floor, or hit the retail area to pick up quirky gifts such as Seedling Design Your Own Superhero Cape kits ($40).Read more