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
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
While many neighborhood Japanese joints serve sushi rolls with wacky names, Sushi of Gari chef Masatoshi Sugio prefers to play with unusual ingredients and oddball combinations. Adventurous eaters brave long lines to cram into his small place and order a sushi tasting menu (Gari’s Choice) that runs between $70 and $80. Sugio has been known to pair seared foie gras with daikon radish; salmon with tomato and onion; and spicy tuna with mayo, Tabasco and sesame oil. Less adventurous souls can order regular sushi and sashimi—which are supremely fresh, if not especially memorable—or hot dishes like negimaki, teriyaki, tempura, udon, soba and dumplings. If you want sashimi, pay the extra $13 for the “special” version, which swaps in exotic fishes for the usual tuna and yellowtail.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 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
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
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
One of the largest Gallic cultural centers in the country, this language and cultural center has extensive offerings of theater, dance, music and performance throughout the year. Among its impressive facilities is the Haskell Library, stocked with French-language newspapers, magazines, DVDs and books.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
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
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
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