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
Even in the worst of times, a world-class city needs restaurants offering the escape of over-the-top coddling and luxurious food, with a star chef who's not just on the awning but in the kitchen and dining room, too-—in short, a place like Daniel. The most classically opulent of the city's rarefied restaurants, Daniel Boulud's 15-year-old flagship emerged from a face-lift last fall, looking about as youthful as a restaurant in a landmark Park Avenue building realistically can. The sprawling dining room no longer resembles the doge's palace in Venice. Instead it's been brought into the 21st century with white walls, contemporary wrought iron sconces and a centerpiece bookshelf lined with vibrant crystal vases among other curios. The redesign, by longtime Boulud collaborator Adam Tihany, couldn't have come at a better time. With even neighborhood regulars keeping an eye on their budgets, now more than ever the place needs to cultivate a new clientele. Despite Boulud's ever-expanding reach—he'll soon launch his tenth restaurant, on the Bowery—the chef still prowls the dining room here most nights, charming fans and sending extras to his special guests. While the setting has been revamped, the food—overseen since 2004 by executive chef Jean Franois Bruel—hasn't taken a radical turn. Still, presentations overall seemed much more up-to-date. The tiered silver tower cradling an overkill of miniature bites that used to kick off a meal has given way to a less-is-more amuse-bouche on aRead 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
Museums on the Upper East Side
RECOMMENDED: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Occupying 13 acres of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which opened in 1880, is impressive in terms both of quality and scale. Added in 1895 by McKim, Mead and White, the neoclassical facade is daunting. However, the museum is surprisingly easy to negotiate, particularly if you come early on a weekday and avoid the crowds. In the ground floor’s north wing sits the collection of Egyptian art and the glass-walled atrium housing the Temple of Dendur, moved en masse from its original Nile-side setting and now overlooking a reflective pool. Antiquity is also well represented in the southern wing of the ground floor by the halls housing Greek and Roman art, which reopened in 2007 after receiving an elegant makeover. Turning west brings you to the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas collection; it was donated by Nelson Rockefeller as a memorial to his son Michael, who disappeared while visiting New Guinea in 1961. A wider-ranging bequest, the two-story Robert Lehman Wing, can be found at the western end of the floor. This eclectic collection is housed in a re-creation of his townhouse and features Bellini’s masterful Madonna and Child. Rounding out the ground-floor highlights is the American Wing on the northwest corner. Its Engelhard Court reopened in spring 2009 as part of the wing’s current revamp. Now more a sculpture court than an interior garden, it houses large-scale 19th-century works in bronze and marble—and onRead more
RECOMMENDED: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum The Guggenheim is as famous for its landmark building—designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and restored for its 50th birthday in 2009—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
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
Tucked into the no-man’s-land between the Upper East Side and Spanish Harlem, this craft-beer cubbyhole has the sort of community-hub vibe that makes you want to settle in and become part of the furniture. The well-priced suds (including rotating craft brews and cheap cans of Genny Light) and slapdash setup appeal to a neighborhood crowd, but it's chef Corey Cova's madcap bar food that makes it destinationworthy. The Momofuku Ssäm Bar alum is a comfort-food savant, deploying local curds in a variety of kitchen-sink creations. Try the NY State Cheddar—a grilled cheese featuring an unstoppable combo of braised pork belly, fried egg and house-made kimchi—or dig into an Eggo waffle topped with coffee-cured bacon, reduced maple syrup, aged cheddar and grilled foie gras.Read more
Cocktail enthusiasts haven’t had much use for the 6 train above 42nd Street. The Upper East Side, so rich in greenery and regal townhouses, is comparatively wanting when it comes to nightlife. But the Guthrie Inn—joining Earl’s Beer and Cheese and ABV—is the latest in a series of hipster-baiting bars colonizing the upper reaches of the UES. Owner Adam Clark, who also has a hand in Earl’s next door, has squeezed this bar into a lean, wooden hallway of a space. The pressed-tin ceiling, shelves stacked with amari and exposed-brick walls may bring to mind a snobby speakeasy, but the place mostly maintains the shabby, warm comfort of a neighborhood bar—the kind of place you could roll into on a Tuesday night and throw back a martini while wearing a T-shirt and shorts. DRINK THIS: The menu—from Amor y Amargo’s Christopher Elford—is composed of classics ($10) and house originals ($12), with the latter category further divided into “Shaken & Refreshing” drinks and “Stirred & Boozy” ones. But even these creations don’t stray far from the classic formulas, with pleasing and familiar results. The stiffness of the Jackson Ward, a Manhattan variation made with Old Grand Dad 100 Proof bourbon, is leavened with herbaceous and bitter Nardini amaro and Punt e Mes vermouth. The Expat might lure sweet-seekers with its promise of pineapple juice and blended rum, but it’s a tropical drink for grown-ups, with herbal Ramazzotti tempering the sugar. The Guthrie Julep, served in a gleaming, copper-baRead more
Last year, Earl’s Beer and Cheese emerged, seemingly from the ether, along the northern edges of the Upper East Side, bringing youthful buzz and craft brews to a ’hood that had long been a wasteland for both. Now, the previously drowsy area has received another boost from the oenocentric ABV, the latest piece of a loosely affiliated mini empire that also includes the musically inclined Vinyl Wine shop and an in-the-works cocktail bar called Guthrie Inn. With exposed-brick walls, filament bulbs and orange banquettes, ABV lacks the scrappy, fish-out-of-water charm of Earl’s. But while the look is more familiar, the menu is rife with eccentric touches: vino on tap, an exotic all-European beer list and head-scratching grub from Corey Cova, who has left Earl’s to take a starring role at ABV’s chef’s counter. Not surprisingly, the place has struck an immediate nerve, filling up with off-the-clock Mount Sinai residents, thirsty East Harlemites and other locals eager for another new neighborhood joint to call their own. DRINK THIS: While Earl’s makes do with just four beer taps and a handful of craft cans, ABV delivers a hefty binder of drink options. More than 50 wines are organized under user-friendly headers such as “rich, earthy, exotic reds” and “clean, crisp, refreshing whites,” with an eye toward offbeat producers. And those Continental brews, including classics like Kulmbacher pilsner ($6) and beer-nerd bait such as Evil Twin Hop Flood ($7), offer a refreshing detour from theRead more
Shops on the Upper East Side
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
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
This Brazilian footwear and accessories brand, which has a cult following thanks to designer Giovanni Bianco’s whimsical creations, opens its first store outside its mother country. The space is set up to resemble a high-fashion art gallery, with black-and-white geometric display tables in the middle of the shop and backlit cubes set within the walls displaying goods. Shoe fanatics will find an array of styles to covet, including ballerina flats with glitter heels ($160), suede peep-toe platforms ($190), colorful studded pumps ($260) and glitter-encrusted sandals ($190).Read more