The Lower East Side has been a haven for immigrants through the past all the way up to the present day. This is one of the rare neighborhoods that contains a vibrant shopping district as well as generally lower prices than many of its purportedly posher counterparts.
Apartments on the Lower East Side have definitely risen above their original tenement origins. Settled first by Irish and German and then mostly Jewish immigrants, the neighborhood at one time had the highest density of people per square mile. Whole families crammed together in two- and sometimes one-room apartments in tenement buildings. A worthy testament to this mostly vanished way of life can be found at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum on Orchard Street near Broome. The guided tours are recommended for anyone who thinks that there couldn't possibly be any apartments on the Lower East Side that are smaller than their place.
Although there are precious few remnants of the area's Jewish roots, thankfully there still exist two culinary classics. One is Katz's Deli on Houston, where your doctor would recommend you have your cholesterol checked before ordering the monstrous pastrami sandwich. The other is Ratner's, a kosher establishment which has recently made a nod to the changing makeup of the area by opening a hip bar in the back. These venues are popular with residents of nearby Lower East Side apartments and out-of-town visitors alike.
Cross over Houston Street to the lettered avenues and you'll be arriving in what used to be known as Alphabet City. In the early eighties this was an area to be tread carefully during the day, and avoided altogether if possible at night. Time certainly has had an effect here, however. The same residents who were quick to avoid the area started flocking here in hopes of escaping the rising prices of apartments in the Lower East Side and apartments in the West Village.
But hear this: if you seek an apartment in Alphabet City that is far away from the bustle of intense 24-hour commerce, you search in vain, my friend. Restaurants, clubs, retail outlets and all-night diners can all be found along a ten-block stretch, many of them only a few years old. As a lot of these hot spots are just now being discovered, the area around here has an active nightlife, and is especially busy on summer and weekend nights.
An area that has also gone through a significant metamorphosis is Tompkins Square Park. Up until the late '80s the small park was a de facto shelter for the homeless, drug dealers and users, and various squatters. An aggressive police campaign has reclaimed the park for use by local residents, and reminders of that past are virtually nonexistent.
Those looking to find bargain-priced apartments ong the Lower East Side should be advised that this neighborhood is no longer a well-kept secret, and that prices will only go up from here The sooner you start looking for an apartment here, the better off you'll be!