The Lower East Side is Gone!

My City Is Gone

The Lower East Side is Gone
Thoughts at 3AM
By Rev. Jen Miller

I Can't sleep! Watched the final Bourdain "Parts Unknown" about the Lower East Side last night. Heartbreaking on many levels. On the surface, Bourdain had everything. He got to go around the world, making a TV show, eating exotic food and interviewing celebrities. But, I guess depression does not discriminate. Now he's gone and so is the Lower East Side.

Technically, if you look at a map, the Lower East Side still exists. One of the many things I loved about the old neighborhood is that it was straightforward to the point where if anyone ever asked you how to get there, you could just tell them to look at a map of Manhattan and find the lower east side of the island.

​But, really the "neighborhood" is gone. I wish Bourdain and I could have been pals. I think he would have liked cooking with me on the little gas stove and chillin' at a Troll Museum party where bands often played in my bathtub, which was in a closet in the kitchen. I gotta say, even by LES standards, the Troll Museum was weird. But, it was magical and it was my home of 21 years.

​In the episode, he visited many places but it was also clear just how many places have vanished and how many apartments are being warehoused. And, the food! It was never so much about the food as it was the company. South side of Delancey is maybe the most painful. Olympic Diner where they could somehow manage to f**k up a grilled cheese and the Greek guys would scream at each other for no apparent reason. The "chef" told me his name was "Sexy Lover Boy."
Next door, there was Jade Liquors, frequented by the OTB crowd. Outside of Jade, there was "The Stonehenge of the Lower East Side": a giant pile of discarded Georgi Vodka bottles. Now, that block is gonna be a billion-dollar complex.

Essex Street Market, the only place I ever got my groceries (created under Mayor LaGuardia to get the pushcarts off the street and make it look less like a ghetto) is gonna be flattened. Down the street, the other abandoned Essex Street Market once let me install a 3-day Troll Museum exhibition. (Now flattened.)

​Up the street from that, on Stanton, you could get the "to-go" Margaritas at the Hat. When the Smithsonian visited the Troll Museum, I took the crew (who'd carried a crane up my 82 steps) there and we downed a few "to-stay" pitchers of the infamous beverage. At Yonah Schimmel, a couple blocks away, I'd get a mushroom knish and the guy who worked there would give me a free piece of fresh rugelach.

But, probably, the place that means the most to me and, I think is still standing, is Rosario's. I don't know why people were always throwing free food at me, but I'd try to pay Sal for my slice and he almost always said, "No. It is from my heart to your stomach." THAT is the real essence of the old Lower East Side. A tough town, but people shared the love.

Rev. Jen Miller is an American performer, actress, writer, painter, director, preacher, and poet from Manhattan, New York City.
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