Life in New York City moves fast, and change is part of the city's soul. But when a unique neighborhood starts being molded into something it's not, New Yorkers are quick to fight back.
Take the Lower East Side. Bordering the East Village and Alphabet City to the north, Chinatown to the south and Little Italy to the west, this jostling downtown neighborhood epitomizes the best things about NYC. Here a bubbling and fragrant melting pot of cultures and nationalities live side by side, working hard at their small thriving businesses, be it a bustling Chinese restaurant or an off-beat Eastern European cafe. The Lower East Side is steeped in New York history, being the first settling point for many immigrants.
Today, however, it's a neighborhood in conflict. The old and soulful is being nudged and prodded by the glossy and new. Slick bars are springing up alongside old-time family-run hotels; frosty boutiques are replacing local convenience stores. And a particularly 'revolutionary' hotel is changing the skyline for ever.
The Hotel on Rivington: for some a crazy, creative addition to the 'hood, for others an eyesore which should never have been built. It towers over its neighboring buildings, and while it's the unparalleled views of lower Manhattan that appeal to guests, it's that jarring scale that has generated the most heated debate.
The tenements of Orchard Street house sleek and exclusive clothing boutiques in one block and bargain basement stores in another. Back alleys are dotted with bargain restaurants offering standout fare to those in the know, while on the main streets grungy laundrettes and larger-than-life barbers continue to ply their trade.
For a taste of the old order, grab a matzo ball soup or a salami and pickle sandwich at Katz's Deli, a well-loved and well-worn institution made famous by Meg Ryan's faked orgasm in When Harry Met Sally. Then do a back flip and take yourself in search of wd~50, for fine-dining, some VIPs and an introduction to gentrification in full-throttle.
Local responses to this change vary from the extreme (glue in the locks of new bars - could there be a cooler welcome?) to the cautiously optimistic. But all are relieved that the Lower East Side has not yet been 'Starbucked'. It's one thing to have local businesses replaced by entrepreneurs who can see a niche, but quite another to have a bland global giant move in. Opinionated, passionate and vocal, but most importantly local - it's these voices that make a visit to the Lower East Side a fascinating experience.
Hidden down a side alley, finding Freemans feels like stumbling on a great secret - only in this case the secret is out and competition for a table is fierce. Discerning diners will not be disappointed with the innovative, fresh approach to the food, those with a penchant for the great outdoors will find the hunting theme as knowingly subversive as it is unique, and all will enjoy the well-informed, relaxed service.
For some, Libation epitomizes everything that's wrong with gentrification - it's one of those slightly bland bars that really could be anywhere in the Western world. But for an extensive cocktail list, a decent stab at the latest New Yorker fad of American tapas and friendly bar staff, you could do much worse.
Hotel on Rivington
You'll either love or hate its facade, but you can't fail to be impressed by the sleek minimalism throughout. Not forgetting the ultra-efficient staff for whom nothing is too much trouble and the vaguely famous rock-style clientele. Come here to see and be seen, and make sure you check out the view across the city from your bedroom window.