Lower East Side Things To Do and See

This post is a guide to the Lower East Side in Manhattan, with a self-guided tour and tips on places to eat, hear music and shop.  The Lower East Side might just be the most historic neighborhood in the United States. Home to millions of immigrants throughout the 19th and early part of the 20th century, this area was said to be the most densely populated neighborhood on earth. Not only does this classic enclave feature many legendary establishments from its past, but it has also emerged into one of the most desirable places in the world to live and play.  And consider joining us for one of our pay-what-you-wish tours of the Lower East Side (+30 other tours). 



Neighborhood Tours

Area Events

Where to Find Good Food

Where to Find Good Live Music

Self-Guided Tour/What to See

Hotels and Other Accommodations

Bars and Nightlife

Shopping in the LES



The Lower East Side is bounded by the Bowery in the west, the East River in the east, 14th St. in the north and East Broadway in the south.  There are several subway and bus lines that service the LES, but this self-guided tour, it’s best to use the 2nd Ave station on the F train.  We recommend using this link for directions to the tour starting point. Be sure to check out our guide to navigating the New York City subway.

If you are planning to use the hop-on, hop-off buses to navigate around NYC, keep in mind that all the major companies have stops in or at the borders of the LES.  Be sure to read our comparison post on NYC bus tours.


Click here for a movable map.

Map of the Lower East Side


We also have a downloadable .pdf file of this walking tour: Lower East Side Self Guided Tour

NYC self guide Lower East side Jonah

Yonah Schimmel Knishery
137 East Houston Street Open daily, 9AM-7PM.

Start at Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes and have a knish (pronounced: [kə-nish]).  This shop is located on Eldridge and Houston just off the 2nd Ave F train subway station. If asking for directions, make sure to pronounce Houston Street like a local. It is pronounced [House-ton], as the street in New York is named after William Houstoun, not after the namesake of the city in Texas Sam Houston.

Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery has been baking a dazzling array of big round delicious knishes since 1910. Its namesake, Yonah Schimmel, a Romanian immigrant, started selling his wife’s knishes on Coney Island in the 1890’s while training to be a religious scholar. He then abandoned his religious callings and opened this store with his cousin, Joseph Berger. Later, Yonah went back to religion and Berger and his wife, Schimmel’s daughter Rose, took over the store. These really are the greatest knishes known to mankind, round and baked, the way they oughta’ be.

Along with the traditional classics like potato and kasha, there’s sweet potato, spinach, mushroom, and even jalapeno.  In the mood for a sweet knish? They have blueberry cheese! Chocolate cheese!  Apple and Cheese!  Yum! The dumbwaiter (the elevator that brings the freshly baked knishes up from the basement) is one of the oldest in the city. That tin on the ceiling is original. This iconic Jewish New York eatery also has egg creams, latkes, kugel, and many more delights.

Lower East Side Self Guided TourRuss & Daughters
179 East Houston Hours: M-F: 8AM-8PM; Saturday: 8AM-7PM; Sunday: 8AM-5:30PM.

Continue east on Houston and stop at Russ & Daughters. This fabulous gourmet Jewish grocery has stood the test of time. Go inside! Smell everything. Breathe it in. Eat something! Gefilte fish, sturgeon, herring, trout, salmon, bagels, white fish, caviar… Joel Russ, a polish immigrant, started selling mushrooms out of a pushcart and opened this store in 1914. He put his daughters in the title and put all three to work behind the counter.  Russ and Daughters just celebrated 100 years and they just opened up a cafe on 127 Orchard Street. His grandson, Mark, now runs the business. That neon sign was made in 1951 and is one of the oldest in the city. The key word here is “Schmear” which means to coat a bagel with a small amount of cream cheese. Russ & Daughters do also host musical events  and New York musicians every so often.

Orchard Street- tenements

Now we come to Orchard Street, named after James Delancey’s apple orchards. From here you can see the tenements. They are everywhere! These buildings, typically 5 to 7 floors, 25 ft. across and 100 feet long were built in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s to house millions of newly arriving immigrants. Slumlords took advantage of the tenants in many ways.  The conditions were filthy, dangerous, and at times, life threatening. The Tenement Museum on Orchard and Delancey Streets is a must for anyone interested in this important part of NYC history.

NYC self guide Lower East side KatzNext is Katz: see detailed blog on Katz’s Deli.  When it comes to Jewish delicatessens, Katz’s is the undisputed champion. Located on the corner of Houston and Ludlow Street in the historic Lower East Side of New York, this iconic eatery (actually, the very first Jewish delicatessen) has been serving up the best pastrami and corned beef sandwiches in the world, not to mention great hot dogs, knishes, and knockwurst, since 1888. – It’s also where Harry met Sally.

Red SquareNYC self guide Lower East side red square
250 East Houston Street

As you walk East on Houston Street, just past Avenue A, look across the street and you will find Red Square, a 130-unit apartment building. Now look up. See that guy on the roof?  Vladimir Lenin, one of the leaders of the Communist Revolution. Next to him is Askew, a massive clock with out of sequence numbers.  “‘It (the clock) fit the building’s image as being a little off-center,’’ said one of the owners, according to a NY Times article.

Lenin (see close up image) purposefully faces Wall Street and the Lower East Side, according to one of the owners, to illustrate the contrast between capitalism and socialism. Red Square (this building on East Houston Street) is named for the fall of the Soviet Union and was built just about then in 1989.  Vlady has been up there since 1994.

NYC self guide Lower East side Angel OrensanzAngel Orensanz Foundation
172 Norfolk Street

Continue past Red Square and make a right on Norfolk. In the middle of the street block stands the oldest synagogue building in New York City (fourth-oldest in America) and the country’s largest synagogue at the time of its construction (it could hold up to 1,500 worshipers).  The land had originally been part of Peter Stuyvesant’s estate. Built in 1849 for Ansche Chesed (the people of kindness) in the Gothic Revival style, inspired by the Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, it was the third Jewish congregation in New York City, and the first German-Jewish synagogue in New York.

The Congregation was formed in 1825 and was made up mostly of immigrants, primarily of immigrant German Jews, but also Dutch and Polish Jews. In the 1850s, it had the largest membership of any synagogue in America. By the 1970’s membership dwindled as the neighborhood changed and the building was eventually abandoned and vandalized. Then along came Jewish Spanish sculptor Angel Orensanz. He bought the building in 1986 and turned it into an art gallery and event space, but not just any event space. Luminaries such as Whitney Houston and Maya Angelou performed here. Mathew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker were married there in 1997. The building was designated an historic landmark by New York City in 1987. Walk south on Norfolk until Rivington Street and make a right turn and walk half a block down.

NYC self guide Lower East side sugar sweet sunshineSugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery
126 Rivington Street Hours: M-Th: 8AM-10PM; Fri: 8AM-11PM; Sat: 10AM-11PM; Sun: 10AM-7PM.

Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery might have the best cupcakes and puddings around.  An intoxicating array of flavors and a sweetheart of a staff make this one of our favorite sweet spots.  Co-owners, Debbie and Peggy, both alumni of Magnolia, opened this goody shop in 2003 and it’s been a hit since the get-go. Recommendations: not easy. Put it this way: the first time you’ll try the chocolate chip pudding you might felt like you should be eating it in private.  Cupcakes: Pinch Me, Lemmon Yummy, Ooey Gooey. Pudding: Chocolate chip, banana, Chocolate Bomb. Basically, everything. Continue to Essex Street. Make a left.  Pass the Essex Street Market, which takes up the entire block.  An indoor market since 1934, it will have a new home at the Essex Crossing in the not too distant future. Stop at Delancey and Essex Street. James Delancey was a loyalist to the crown.  He was kicked him out before the American Revolution, his land was confiscated, but we still have Delancey Street. Cross Delancey and when you have some time, enjoy the film Crossing Delancey, a popular romantic comedy.

Economy CandyEconomy Candy Shop
108 Rivington St. Hours: Sunday: 9am – 6pm, Monday & Saturday: 10 am – 6pm, Tuesday through Friday: 9am – 6pm.

In 1937, Economy Candy opened and now almost 80 years years later, this candy shop is still going strong with what is most likely the most extensive selection of candy in the city.  From old hard to find favorites like Squirrel Nut Zippers, Chuckles, and Charleston Chews to modern sweets like Pop Rocks, Pez dispensers and Big League Chew, Economy Candy has thousands of types of sweet treats. They also have a huge assortment of Ritter Sport chocolate bars and an incredible range of Jelly Belly flavors! When you leave the shop, with 25 pounds of your favorite teeth decayers, walk south on Essex Street until you come to Delancy Street.

Williamsburg Bridge (built 1903)

One of three bridges that link Brooklyn to Manhattan (the Brooklyn Bridge (1883) & Manhattan Bridge (1912) are the other two), the Williamsburg Bridge was the world’s longest suspension bridge until 1924. As you cross Delancey, heading south on Essex, look to your left and there sNYC self guide Lower East side bridgehe is!  The northern most of the three bridges that link Brooklyn to Manhattan (from south to north think BMW {Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg}) it transports folks back and forth via foot, bicycle, subway, and automobile, from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Williamsburg, Brooklyn is home to Peter Luger’s world renowned steak house (cash only, reservations strongly recommended) and one of the coolest ‘hoods on the planet. On a nice day… we suggest biking or walking.  From Manhattan: there are two lanes to enter: one for walking. One for cycling. Enter both at Clinton Street and Delancey, and make sure you’re in the correct lane!

  • Manhattan landing: Delancey and Clinton, Lower East Side.
  • Brooklyn landing:  Grand Street and Broadway, South Williamsburg.
  • Span: 1,600 feet (490 m) long.
  • Entire bridge length: 7,308 feet (2,227 m)
  • deck: 118 feet (36 m) wide.
  • Heights of towers:  is 335 feet (102 m)

Seward Park High School and former site of Ludlow Street Jail Seward Park High School
350 Grand Street, currently the Seward Park Campus, with five different high schools.

Past Delancey on the corner of Essex and Broome is the site of the former Ludlow Street Jail which was opened from 1862 until the 1920s.  Politician Boss Tweed, the head of NYC’s infamous Tammany Hall, the powerfully corrupt political machine that reigned over the city in the 1800s, died in here in 1879. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, a destination unto itself (see our self-guided tour of this lovely final resting place.) Once the jail was closed and the building demolished, the new high school building went up in 1929. Among its famous alumni are many actors and comedians such as Walter Matthau, Zero Mostel, Tony Curtis, Estelle Getty, Jerry Stiller, and Keenen Ivory Wayans. Another graduate was infamous Soviet spy Julius Rosenberg who, together with his wife Ethel, were accused of betraying the United States. They were tried, convicted, and executed in 1953.

NYC self guide Lower East side Pickle guysPickle Guys

49 Essex Street, corner of Grand Street Hours: M-Th: 9AM-6PM; Fri: 9AM-4PM; Sat: closed; Sun: 9AM-6PM.

At the turn of the 20th Century, Essex Street was teeming with pickle stores. But now it’s only the Pickle Guys, who opened their shop in the 21st Century.  You will never find a snappier, juicer or more delectable pickle than the full sour pickle right here. This really is a throwback to the time when pickle kings like Izzy Guss still had their doors opened. Enter this storefront, and soak in the wonderful aroma.  Nothing but barrels of pickled treats and a great staff. The guys are at your service and ready to answer any questions. Want something besides a full sour or half sour pickle? How about a spicy pickle? How about pickled mango, garlic olives, peppers, pineapple? Cross Essex Street. Walk East on Grand Street.

NYC self guide Lower East side KossarsKossar’s Bialys

367 Grand Street, since 1936 Hours: Open Every Day
6 AM-8 PM

The bialy was named after Białystok, Poland (at the time under Russian occupation). Russian Jewish bakers started baking these delicious treats at the turn of the 20th century right here on the Lower East Side. In the glory days of Bialys there was actually a Bialy Bakers Association!!  Kossar’s has been at this location at Grand and Essex Streets since the early 1960s Morris Kossar’s son-in-law and daughter, Daniel and Gloria Kossar Scheinin sold the business in 1998. The interior is true baker’s bliss. In addition to bialys, bagels, bulkas and pletzels come fresh out of the giant oven. Bialys usually measure up to 15 cm (6 inches), it’s a chewy yeast roll similar to a bagel, but the bialy is baked, not boiled like a bagel. Bialy center is depressed, but happily filled with garlic, poppy seeds, bread crumbs, or onions. Other things to try: bulkas (small loaves), or pletzels (Jewish flatbread, with onion and poppy seed). Walk a few doors east and you’re at the Doughnut Plant!

NYC self guide Lower East side DoughnutsDoughnut Plant
379 Grand Street Open daily: 6:30 AM-8PM

In 1994, Mark Isreal said it was time to make his donuts. He turned the basement of his tenement apartment into a bakery and swept New York City up into tidal wave of mass donut addiction.  For five years he baked in his basement by night and sold his donuts to gourmet spots like Balducci’s and Dean and DeLuca by day. Word caught on fast. People gobbled up more and more and so he baked. Cake filled, creme brulee, dough seed, and fresh fruit. Then the time had come. He thought big and expanded. There are stores on Grand Street, Chelsea and Brooklyn (just about to open!) The delicious donuts are handcrafted daily, with no eggs or preservatives and no trans-fat. Here are some mouthwatering delights you might look forward to:

  • Filled doughnuts: filled with house made jams, creams and custards.
  • Yeast: Light, airy, fluffy yeast-raised doughnuts, with a slight chew.
  • Ice cream summers
  • Gourmet coffee
  • Red eye affogato espresso over handmade coffee ice cream.
  • Blackout — chocolate cake doughnut, filled with chocolate pudding, dipped in chocolate glaze and sprinkled with chocolate cake crumbs.
  • Tres Leches — the sweet taste of the authentic “three milks” cake, delivered in a round cake doughnut.
  • Carrot Cake — traditional carrot cake with lots of real carrots, raisins, walnuts and spices, with a cream cheese filling.
  • Doughseeds — mini, round filled doughnuts. Launched with their signature Creme Brûlée, flavors now include Rose (with a rose water pudding and dipped in a rose water glaze, topped with an edible rose petal), Hazelnut Chocolate, Matcha Green Tea, Peanut Butter & Blackberry Jam, Pistachio, Strawberry & Cream and Wild Blueberry & Cream.
  • Serious coffee!! Doughnut Plant serves coffee from Intelligentsia, Toby’s Estate and a seasonal guest roaster.



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There are a few companies that offer tours of the Lower East Side, with many of them being food tours.  However, you have come to the right place.  Free Tours by Foot offers several tours of the neighborhood, including a food tour, a street art tour and a self-guided, do-it-yourself version.



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The Lower East Side is full of great celebrations all year round. From pickles to pancakes to petrifying,  look no further.  There’s something for everyone. Cultural events that take you back in time, art exhibits featuring great new work, cutting edge film premieres, it’s all here.  Here are some standouts:

  • Pickle Day: Every October, Orchard Street is filled with pickle vendors and pickle fans from everywhere can revel in the delights of everything pickled. This is a true celebration of the historic pickle and its prominent role in the history of New York City. Don’t forget to take our Lower East Side Food Tour which takes you to the pickle guys, the last bastion of true pickledom on the Lower East Side.  http://www.boweryboogie.com/tag/les-pickle-day/http://lowereastside.org/special-events/pickle-day/
  • Taste of the Lower East Side:  April 15th, 2015- 125 West 18th Street.  Hosted by the legendary Grand St. Settlement http://www.grandsettlement.org/, this is a culinary celebration for everyone.  Dozens of vendors come together to serve up their delights and carry on the rich tradition of the Lower East Side.  http://tasteofles.org/.
  • Nightmare NYC: This Suffolk Street space becomes a terrifyingly fun haunted house every year from late September through Halloween.  We pass right by it on our Lower East Side Food Tour and it’s very spooky! http://nightmarenyc.com/.
  • Lower East Side Film Festival: In its fifth year, this popular cinematic festival takes place June 11th-21st, 2015  Click here for more http://www.lesfilmfestival.com/.


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If you are looking for a place to stay on the Lower East Side, you can’t go wrong. From budget friendly to mid-level to luxury, you will find it. Do you want historic charm? Luxurious hip? The Lower East offers countless delightful choices for every traveler.   Below are some great options.  For more ways to save on accommodations in the Big Apple, be sure to check out our Guide to Visiting New York on a Budget.

Budget Friendly

  • Comfort Inn – Lower East Side, 136 Ludlow Street, 212-260-4141.  Located in the center of the Lower East Side and very reasonably priced.  Check out their reviews on TripAdvisor.  You can also book a room there.
  • Sohotel – 341 Broome Street.  You really can’t go wrong with this classy and very affordable boutique, located right on the border of the Lower East Side and Little Italy.  Read SoHotel’s reviews on TripAdvisor.
  • GEM Hotel–  135 E. Houston Street.  This very affordable 45 room hotel puts you right in the heart of the Lower East Side. In fact, the iconic Yonah Schimmel Knishery is right next door! Read their reviews on TripAdvisor.

Higher Priced Options:

  • SIXTY Lower East Side – 190 Allen Street.  Located in the middle of all the excitement, this four-star boutique hotel offers a uniquely luxurious experience. Two NYC legends, Katz’s and Russ and Daughters are just steps away.  Read their reviews and book on TripAdvisor.
  • The Hotel on Rivington – 107 Rivington Street.  This 20 floor 4 star designer hotel offers luxurious accommodations right in the heart of the Lower East Side.   The legendary candy store, Economy Candy, is directly across the street.  Read their reviews and book on TripAdvisor.
  • The Ludlow Hotel – 180 Ludlow Street.  Less than a year old, this hip upscale hotel by hotel extraordinaire, Sean MacPherson, brings a special blend of luxury and super-cool to the historic neighborhood. Read their reviews on TripAdvisor.



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The Lower East Side is well known for its dazzling array of delectable delights. There is, of course, Katz’s Deli
and there is also Russ and Daughters, both the deli on East Houston and the new restaurant on Orchard Street. There are also our fabulously amazing food stops on our Lower East Side Food Tour:

  • Yonah Schimmel
  • Prosperity Dumplings
  • Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery
  • The Pickle Guys
  • Kossar’s Bialys
  • The Donut Plant

Click on our Self-Guided Lower East Side Food Tour for more details on these fantastic spots.

But that’s not all! Not even close! Here are a few more recommendations, some more budget friendly than others, but all worth checking out!

Budget Friendly  

  • The Meatball Shop – 84 Stanton Street. This counter service joint features a build-your-own-meal menu, where you get to choose from a mouthwatering array of meatballs. Open late in case of an after-midnight craving. www.themeatballshop.com, Hours: Sun-Thurs, noon-2AM, Fri-Sat, noon-4AM.
  • Kuma Inn – 113 Ludlow Street.  A great South East Asian tapas spot is widely regarded as one of the Lower East Side’s best spots. www.kumainn.com
  • Shopsins – 120 Essex Street,Essex Street Market. You don’t want to miss this tiny breakfast and lunch café with the giant menu. It’s right inside the Essex Street Market. Just before we cross Delancey on the Lower East Side Food Tour, we pass right by this one of a kind eatery.  The owner is famous for his sassy attitude and this establishment was featured in a documentary titled “I Like Catching Flies“. http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/shopsins/, Hours: Wed-Sat, 9AM-2PM, Sun, 10AM-2PM, Mon-Tue-closed.


  • An Choi – 85 Orchard Street.  Great Vietnamese spot featuring pho and sandwiches.
  • Clinton Street Baking Company – 4 Clinton StreetConsidered one of the best brunch spots in the country, people come for the world class pancakes as well as every other fantastic delight. Go! It’s worth the long wait. https://clintonstreetbaking.com/


In a Category All It’s Own

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If it’s nightlife you want, the Lower East Side is as good as it gets.  Bursting at the seams with a vibrancy that is second to none, this hood is the archetype of gritty chic.  The Lower East Side has it all: clubs and pubs, posh lounges and dive bars; big screen TVs for your favorite ballgame; In search of great happy hours and  great bar food?  Craving a 4 am sandwich?  How does an afternoon microbrew sound? Or maybe you’re feeling more glass of wine at sunset or Bloody Mary Sunday Brunch? The Lower East Side will never let you down.

And if it’s music you want, it’s music you will get.  The Lower East Side features a wide variety of music that’ll have you  singing and dancing  your way down Delancey Street. In the mood for some jazz? How about a little punk? or maybe house? Need a rock & roll fix? Or maybe some great blues? The Lower East Side has it all.  Here are some of our top picks:

Happy Hours:

  • The Magician – LES. From 5-8 p.m.  $3.50 drafts. Cash only, 118 Rivington Street between Essex and Norfolk Street on the Lower East Side (212-673-785).
  • Local 138 – 138 Ludlow Lower East Side from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. every day,

Other Recommended Bars

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  • Mercury Lounge – 217 East Houston Street, Originally, this was where the servants for the Astor Mansion lived. It has been a 250 seat live music venue since 1993 and is where the band, the Strokes, got their start.  http://www.mercuryloungenyc.com/
  • Bowery Ballroom – 6 Delancey Street, This standing room only venue has a seating capacity of 575 people. It opened in 1998. New York Magazine calls it the best music club in New York City.  http://nymag.com/listings/bar/bowery_ballroom/

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While shopping the Lower East Side has changed over the years, there are still some old time neighborhood favorites worth the visit.


Fine Italian made dress shoes for men can be had at Cellini Uomo. Celebrating all kinds of footwear for men in fine leathers snake skin, crocodile, and alligator. Select brands allow customization of leathers and skins.
133 Orchard Street | www.celiiuomo.com | (212) 219-8657

Michele Oliveri is another men’s shoe store with a huge variety of dress and casual shoes from around the world
118 Orchard Street | www.moshoes.com ; www.alligatorworld.com | (212) 505-9664

Moo Shoes boasts vegan, cruelty-free footwear for men and women
78 Orchard Street | www.mooshoes.com | (212) 254-6512

Discover winter and summer Fedoras year round at A & N Headwear. This friendly hatter has been selling hats in his ultra-slim shop for many years: Wool felt, fur felt, royal beaver, velour, Panama straw. Brands include Stetson and Selentino.
145 Orchard Street | no phone or website | hours are unpredictable but is usually open in the afternoon

COATS & JACKETS (leather, fur)
The best time to buy fur and leather is always when it’s hot outside and no one is thinking about the cold. With over 40 years in business, Daniel’s Leather, the walls are lined with a huge variety of furs and leathers. If you don’t see it, ask if they have it in their warehouse. Custom requests are welcome.
Daniel’s Leather, Inc | www.danielsleather.com | (212) 674-8868 | Ask for Lou

Don’t let the window display detour you. Orchard Corset is one of the few remaining shops in the city with such a vast selection of underpinnings. Unlike ‘intimate apparel’ shops of today, you won’t find any underwear prominently displayed. Instead this modest shop keeps everything under wraps, tucked away in boxes lined from floor-to-ceiling, stocking fine bras and panties — brands as Le Mystere, and Walcoal, in many styles you won’t find in department stores.
157 Orchard Street | www.orchardcorset.com | (212) 674-0786 | Sun – Thurs: 10am-6pm / Fri: 10am-3pm / Sat: closed


At Giselle there are three floors full of racks and racks and racks of fine designer clothing! Brands include Basler, Bianca, Escada, Etro, Lafayette 148, Laurel, Leo Guy, Raoul, Sonia Rykiel, Stizzoli, Catherine Malandrino, Love Moschino, Ted Baker and many more.
143 Orchard Street | www.giselleny.com | (212) 673-1900 | Sun – Thurs: 9am-6pm / Fri: 9am to sundown / Sat: closed

Once the destination for getting a real deal on fine designer fabrics, upholstery fabrics, and draperies, the Lower East Side is still the place you can go and shave 50% and more off the retail price!

– Joe’s Fabric Warehouse has three full floors of the most current designer and imported upholstery fabrics, drapery fabrics and trimmings in stock. As well as upholstery services.
102 Orchard Street | www.oesfabrics.com | (212) 674-7089 | Sun-Thurs: 9am-6pm / Fri: 9am-4pm / Sat: closed

– Belraf dressmaking Fabrics | 159 Orchard Street | (212) 505-2106 – call ahead for hours

Written by Dante Salerno