New York, 14-Apr-2018

A much lower-key day planned for Saturday. We walked around the Lower East Side and visited the Tenement Museum. Oh, and tried out other places for food (duh). Oddly enough, hardly any photos for the day.

We arranged to not meet Celeste until lunchtime, which gave us time to do some laundry. The hostel didn't have machines, so we went to a laundromat a couple blocks away. There was an attendant, so it was easy to get change without having to have the right bills to put into a machine. While things were washing, I went to grab some breakfast that we ate while being mesmerized by the clothes going clockwise, then counterclockwise, then clockwise again. We're easily amused. Drying was quick, and after folding, we were back at the room with time to spare.

Lower East Side walk

Having met Celeste a bit before noon, we started our Lower East Side walking tour at the end of it so we could have some knish at Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery. We perused the display case and then found a table. There was one many serving the half-dozen tables, and he was in constant, deliberate motion. We split a spinach and a sweet potato knish, as well as a plate of coleslaw. As we were eating, a tour group of about a dozen people came in, so it was interesting to listen to what he was telling the group.

After finishing lunch, we walked the length of Sara D. Roosevelt Park to the beginning of the tour. It being Saturday, we weren't able to go inside the Eldridge Street Synagogue and Museum but admired it from the outside. The Jarmulowsky Bank building was undergoing renovation, so we only got a look at it through the protective mesh.

We were on a roll enjoying the sun, so we continued to look at building architecture from the outside rather than trying to go in. The Kletzker Brotherly Aid Association building used to house a society founded by Polish immigrants to help people settle into life in New York. It now houses the Bow Look Funeral Home. As you can tell by the name, we had slipped back into Chinatown, which has been slowly expanding over the years.

The Forward Building housed the Yiddish-language daily paper Forverts until the paper moved uptown in the 1970s. A block or so over was Shteibl (“little room”) Row which used to house one- and two-room synagogues established by Hassidic Jews.

Next up was Kossar's Bialys, and not ready to eat, we just looked through the window. Things there did look very good. We skipped the Tenement Museum since we would be going on a tour there later in the afternoon. The Angel Orensanz Foundation building was easy to spot, with brightly-colored pillars at the sidewalk. There were several congregations which used the synagogue before moving uptown, and the building was eventually abandoned and vandalized in the 70s. It was restored by the Angel Orenzanz Foundation about thirty years ago, and the interior is now an art gallery.

Our plan for later in the day was to go to Katz' Delicatessen for dinner after the Tenement Museum, but as we walked past it, the line was not only out the door, there were a few dozen people wrapped around the corner. And that wasn't close to dinnertime. We decided we would try to find another place to eat.

The last stop on the tour (well, Schimmel's Knish Bakery was the last stop, but we had already gone there) was Russ & Daughters which is known for its lox. but the store was packed with a long line. As you can guess, we punted on that, too.

We still had quite a bit of time before our museum tour, so we found a pop-up café to get something to drink and have a seat.

Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum offers tours of restored apartments and businesses from different time periods. Some tours included costumed interpreters representing past residents, others walk around the neighborhood describing how immigrants shaped the culture of the Lower East Side.

The tour we took, Under One Roof, was relatively new. They had been working on it for several years, and while most building tours happened in the building a few doors down the street from the visitor center, our tour was upstairs. Rather than being led by a tour guide, the leader was called an educator, and the reason became evident before too long.

The apartments in the building were about 700 square feet, huge by Manhattan standards. The educator covered three different immigrant families, the Epsteins (the parents were Holocaust survivors), the Velezes (the mother left Puerto Rico for garment work), and the Wongs (the mother was also a garment worker). The apartment was divided into three sections, each restored and decorated to represent one of the families, so the educator could talk about each while moving through the same apartment.

The families lived in the building recently enough that the curators were able to speak with the children who lived in the apartments, and one of the surviving parents, Mrs. Wong.

As we went from room to room, the educator told various stories, but also solicited questions and comments from the group. The stories of the Epstiens seemed to create the most feedback, as there were people of Jewish descent in the group who talked about stories from their parents and grandparents.

The most interesting part was how the Velez sons became supers in the building, and therefore knew Mrs. Wong well, who moved out in 2011 (she was there for about a half-century, and because of rent control, was paying about $80).

After we finished with the apartment, the last room was a small recreation of a garment factory, with different stations where you could hear and watch testimonials. The way things were set up was very clever; you could touch objects and a testimonial would start. Some were tablets, but the fact hidden by a piece of sheer cloth draped over. Others were projectors onto walls or the floor.

Photos weren't allowed in the building, unfortunately.

Dinner and dessert

Since we abandoned going to Katz's Deli, we settled on a German restaurant nearby. We split a Reuben, spätzle, and roasted vegetables. The sandwich was pretty large, so we had plenty to eat. Then a block away at a pie shop, we shared slices of coconut custard, banana cream, and apple pies.

The weather through the whole day was in the 70s, but it was quickly getting chillier. We bid Celeste a good night and went back to Harlem, picking up some breakfast food and then settled down for the night.