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 a
Venue says: “Join us for brunch Saturday and Sunday $13.95 including two complimentary drinks!”
Upper East Siders can continue their search for the perfect pint at Doc Watson’s, the neighborhood’s local Irish pub. Though the bar offers a few signature cocktails and wine options, the beer menu is much more extensive. Like any Irish bar worth its salt, Doc Watson’s has Guinness on draft ($8), and it also carries the slightly harder-to-find Magner’s Cider ($6). The food menu mainly offers standard bar fare, but with an Irish twist—the list of starters includes deep-fried bratwurst wrapped in bacon ($10), cheddar jalapeno pretzel bites ($7) and beer-battered fried mozzarella with marinara ($11). Doc Watson’s offers a variety of different burgers and sandwiches ($13-$17), plus chicken pot pie ($18), buttermilk-fried chicken ($18) and a traditional Irish breakfast—black pudding, sausages, baked beans, eggs, soda bread, the whole deal—served all day ($18).
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.
At this canine-themed mini-chain of luncheonettes, even Fido can tag along for family brunch. Although pups aren't allowed inside, they can munch on doggie treats and wait for a tasty morsel of human food to drop from your family's patio table. With such a hearty array of pancakes, waffles, omelettes, frittatas and wraps, there might even be enough leftovers for a doggie bag.
Museums on the Upper East Side
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.
While the Guggenheim’s collection of modern art works is certainly impressive, it is impossible to separate the museum’s contents from its form with architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s brilliant and controversial design. Opened in 1959 on Fifth Ave across from Central Park, just months after Wright’s death, the concrete inverted ziggernaut (a Babylonian step pyramid), stomped on the expectations and tradition of clean square galleries exemplified and cherished by the neighboring Upper East Side museums, like the nearby Metropolitan Museum. Instead Wright combined his use of geometric shapes and nature, to create a gallery space that presented art along a flowing, winding spiral, much like a nautilus shell, with little in the way of walls to separate artists, ideas or time periods. Best experienced as Wright intended by taking the elevator to the top of the museum and following the gentle slope down, the art is revealed at different angles along the descent and across the open circular rotunda in a way that even the most well known Monet landscape might seem like a revelation. This unusual, bold way of approaching art, both as it is displayed and viewed, has inspired spectacular exhibits by highly-conceptual contemporary artists such as a series of films by Matthew Barney and hundred of Maurizio Cattelan's sculptures hanging from the ceiling. Considering the steep price of admission ($25, students and seniors $18, children under 12 free), make sure to take a break from the captivat
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.
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.
Bars on the Upper East Side
You’ll miss the entrance of this uptown lounge at least once, if not twice. Recheck the address all you want—this is the place. Inside a small leather-and-accessories shop with a pair of gold-leaf scissors emblazoned on the window, the shopkeeper-host leads you through velvet curtains and into a warm drinkery overseen by the Gilroy trio Steve Laycock, Josh Mazza and Francis Verrall, with former Dead Rabbit bar maven Pamela Wiznitzer behind the stick. With two bars turning out stellar cocktails and Ducks Eatery chef Will Horowitz whipping up food to match, this neighborhood haunt is a destination to look out for—literally.
The idea of a hobnobbing scene in Manhattan’s stuffiest zip code seemed laughable a few years ago. 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.
Venue says: “Main Bar: Su-W 11a-2a Th–Sa 11a-2a Cocktail Lab:M-F 6p–2a Sat-Sun 12-2aGrowler Bar: 7 days a week 12-2aEspresso Bar: 7 days a week 6a-4p”
The Alewife team crosses the East River this fall, debuting two bars, including this Upper East Side hangout. A custom draft system controls the pressure for optimal fizz. To pad the boozing, chef Michael Haigh (the Vanderbilt) will dole out gussied-up bar snacks such as sriracha peas, house-made Cool Ranch chips and truffle popcorn. Keg pallets and lighting fixtures fashioned from plumbing parts decorate the space, including a 65-seat biergarten.
Choice acts keep New York’s most dapper nightspot on the map, while the steep cover charge and white-jacketed service makes sure riffraff doesn’t scuff up the bar’s most valued draw: original Ludwig Bemelmans murals. Mixologist Brian Van Flandern’s spiffy (and pricey) potions preserve the bar’s classic character. Try the popular Paradise cocktail (pear vodka, Aneri and prosecco with lime and bitters), or a rum, lime, tonic and Martell cognac concoction named for the spot’s longtime barkeep, Tommy Rowles.
Shops on the Upper East Side
Ranking among the city’s top tourist attractions, Bloomie’s is stocked with everything from bags to beauty products, homewares to designer duds. The cosmetics hall, complete with an outpost of globe-spanning apothecary Space NK and a Bumble and bumble dry-styling bar, recently got a glam makeover. The compact Soho outpost concentrates on young fashion and cosmetics.
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.
This UES family-owned shop has been in the haute couture–recycling business since 1954 and is the place to go if you want to score Dior, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana dresses for 70 to 90 percent off retail price. While you shouldn’t schlep your bags of less-than-luxe stuff here expecting a trade (they only buy first-tier designer labels that are less than two years old and in great condition), come here if you want to treat yourself to something luxurious without breaking the bank.
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).