Exuding a cosmopolitan, refined air that is reminiscent of Paris or other European cities, the Upper East Side (the UES, to local cognoscenti) has a reputation as being a bastion of wealth and privilege. Even though it was built by American “royalty” families like the Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, Kennedys, Carnegies and Rockefellers, whose elaborate mansions once anchored Fifth Avenue, there are affordable housing options throughout the neighborhood. The further east you move, away from Central Park and the more commercial avenues, the more likely you are to find quiet, tree-lined streets with historic townhouses and brownstones. Keep your eye out for reasonably priced apartments in pre-war low-rise and even a few high-rise buildings.
With abundant, beautifully landscaped green spaces, including the oasis of Central Park acting like a backyard, the area is quiet and lushly green. You can relax and unwind in John Jay Park, Carl Schurz Park or take a stroll along the East River Promenade. The whole neighborhood seems isolated from the workaday chaos of the city at large. Add to that the history of the neighborhood and the abundance of cultural institutions, and you have a uniquely welcoming neighborhood.
Known for its abundance of high-end retail shopping, especially on Madison Avenue, the Upper East Side is host to the Barneys New York flagship department store. Here you can find upscale goods, fashion and home decor items. You will also find the edgy runway-inspired Alexander McQueen collections. If you are dying to treat your feet to red-soled opulence, be sure to visit the Christian Louboutin boutique. These are only a small sampling of this high-end shopper’s paradise that features everything from designer boutiques that offer the ultimate in haute couture to resale shops where you can find last season’s best on sale at hefty discounts .
There are many unique dining experiences, from fine dining to the casual bite-on-the-go, awaiting you in the UES. Sushi is going through a renaissance in the city, and the best omakase-style sushi can be found at Sasabune on E 73rd Street. Omakase sushi means that you leave the choice of ingredients, preparation method and presentation to the chef. Elegant French cuisine can be experienced at JoJo, E 64th Street, housed in gorgeous townhouse. Just for fun, visit the Lexington Candy Shop on Lexington Avenue, to get a taste of an old-fashioned soda fountain.
Central Park Zoo. If you would like to see animals in more natural habitats, Central Park Zoo is the place to go. There are forests full of monkeys, rainforests where birds fly around free of cages, and an Arctic habitat where penguins and polar bears frolic. There is even a children’s petting zoo where the little ones can get up close and personal with friendly critters. Located at Fifth Avenue and E 64th Street (SE corner of Central Park).
Museum Mile. Want to soak up some culture? You will find outstanding collections featuring history, design, and art that represent the finest objects from around the world. There is no way to visit and fully absorb all of these museums in one visit, so start at one end and work your way to the other, or select your favorites and take your time exploring thousands of years of treasures. Be sure to tour the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see over 2 million objects that span more than 5,000 years of man’s creative, collectible, efforts, from ancient Egypt to paintings by the great Impressionists. The Met has more than seven million visitors every year, making it the city’s most popular tourist attraction. Located on Fifth AVenue, between E 82nd and E 105th Streets.
Walking a few blocks north of the Met, you’ll arrive at the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum. If contemporary art is your passion, a stop at the Guggenheim is mandatory. Housed in an unusual cylindrical building that is a model of contemporary architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the collection features works by Kandinsky, Picasso and other modern masters. The collection is displayed along a massive spiral ramp that rises throughout the interior of the building.
Although not part of the Museum Mile, the Frick Collection is only about ten blocks south of the Met, so it is within a reasonable walking distance. The Frick Collection is housed in an early 20th century mansion that has been turned into a gallery. The collection showcases the artwork of more traditional masters, such as Vermeer, Monet and Renoir. The Frick also offers a European concert series, which you can hear for free if you linger in the garden courtyard. Tickets are required to observe the concert from inside the museum. Unfortunately, children under ten years old are not permitted in this museum.
Gracie Mansion. Gracie Mansion became the official residence of the NYC mayor in 1942, under the pretext of keeping the mayor safe from Nazi attack. There are tours conducted on most Wednesdays, but reservations may be hard to obtain. In the meantime, you can stroll over the beautiful terraced landscape of the Carl Schurz Park, which surrounds the mansion and overlooks Hell Gate, the name given to the confluence of the Harlem River, the East River and Long Island Sound. Located at East End Avenue and E 88th Street.
Sugar East. Ready for a unique entertainment experience? Time to visit a secret, upscale speakeasy! As you descend the secret staircase, which is lit and mirrored, contributing to the dizzying sense that you are stepping into another place and time, prepare yourself to arrive in the midst of 1950s Havana nightlife. With a grandfathered tobacco license, Sugar East is one of only seven places in the city where you can legally smoke inside the bar. Sugar East is a feast for your senses. Your eyes are filled with colorful decor, influenced by Art Deco style, with cozy wood-paneled walls and intimate leather booths. Small plates and exotic tropical cocktails are served, enlivened with smoke, vivid colors and taste-tempting flavors. There are live DJs spinning tunes Thursday through Saturday. Located at 1125 1st Avenue, Lower Level.
What You Might See
The Upper East Side is home to many stars of stage and screen, as well as other dignitaries and public figures. Be on the lookout as you stroll through the neighborhood, go on shopping sprees or take time out for a leisurely meal. You are more likely to spot a celebrity right next to you in the UES than anywhere else in the city.
The UES is known for its sense of style, grace, and elegant buildings. As such, it makes an exciting backdrop for filmmakers of all types. You might catch a live filming of a TV series or movie.
What’s In The Future
With the opening of the 2nd Avenue subway in 2017, which has multiple stops throughout the Upper East Side, there is a surge in the construction of luxury high-rise buildings near these transportation hubs. One such building is going up at 760 Madison Avenue. It is going to house the flagship Giorgio Armani boutique on the ground floor, while the upper-level residences will have Armani-designed interiors. It is reported that Armani himself plans to live in the building. Residents will find themselves immersed in a comprehensive Armani-brand experience.
What You Might Not Know
In addition to priceless collections of artifacts from all over the world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is home to the entire collection of baseball cards of Jefferson Burdick, who is considered the “Father of Baseball Cards,” although he never attended even one Major League Baseball game during his lifetime. In this collection is one of the rarest baseball cards of all time: a 1909 T206-series card of Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop Honus Wagner. It is believed there are fewer than 60 of these cards in existence today. A similar card recently sold at auction for $3.12 million.
What We Love
The Upper East Side has a tranquil, unhurried vibe, in spite of being home to a plethora of restaurants and shopping opportunities. There are renowned private schools, many playgrounds, safe streets and Central Park as a backdrop, attracting families to choose this as their home. It has historic architecture, storied museums, and recreational opportunities abound in its many beautiful parks. Young professionals are flocking here, and intermingling with the retirees what have lived here for years.