Fig & Olive, Upper Wast Side New York
Neighborhood: Upper East Side
The Upper East Side spans between East 59th and East 96th Streets and from Fifth Avenue-Central Park out to the East River. Like the Upper West Side, this is a predominantly residential neighborhood with a strong Jewish community that comprises about a third of all residents. It is also an incredibly affluent neighborhood, reputed to contain one of the greatest concentrations of millionaires in the world.
But only the shallowest of critics would dismiss the area as devoid of character. The spectacular architecture alone merits a stroll through the neighborhood –particularly among the many old townhouses, museums and diplomatic missions to be found here. At the neighborhood’s western boundary, Central Park is rich with sights and activities, and the area known as ‘Museum Mile’ along Fifth Avenue is host to some of the greatest collections of art and antiquities in the world at such locations as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (82nd Street), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (88th St.), the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (91st St.) and the Jewish Museum (92nd St.). Though not ‘on the mile’, the old master works of the Frick Collection (1 E. 70th St. nr. Fifth Ave.) and the modern American art collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art (945 Madison Ave. at 75th At.), should not be missed, but countless other top-rate cultural institutions can be found throughout the Upper East Side, including the 92nd Street Y (92nd St. and Lexington Ave.) whose ever-changing program of performing arts concerts, lectures and readings are truly impressive. And, when all else fails, one can always simply look to Madison Avenue for some retail therapy at noted fashionista outposts like Barneys (660 Madison Ave. at 61st St.) and Bloomingdales (1000 Third Ave. at 59th St.).
When it comes to dining, as to be expected, the Upper East Side is home to many high-end restaurants that may also leave your wallet high and dry. Excellent French fare abounds on the menus at Café Bouloud (20 E. 76th St. nr. Madison Ave.) and The Carlyle (35 E. 76th St. at Madison Ave.), but few could argue against Daniel (60 E. 65th St. nr. Madison Ave.), the undisputed champion of innovative and creative French cuisine not just in the neighborhood, but arguably the entire city. Other fine highlights include the modern Czech cuisine at Hospoda (321 E. 73rd St. nr. Second Ave.), outstanding Burmese food at outwardly nondescript Café Mingala (1393B Second Ave. nr. 73rd St.) and Mediterranean fare at Fig & Olive (808 Lexington Ave. nr. 62nd St.). We also challenge you to try and wander past the inviting aromas that emanate from the Queens-based Peruvian rotisserie kitchen Pio Pio and keep on going (1746 First Ave. nr. 90th St.). It’s simply not possible, and once you sample their sangria you’ll hang about even longer.
Personally, the first meal I ever enjoyed in the Upper East Side was at JG Melon (1291 Third Ave. at 74th St.). I’ve never tried anything else on the menu other than their burger and cottage fries, but it’s the closest thing I’ve ever found to the burger my grandmother used to make for me when I was a kid. That doesn’t translate into any sort of gourmet experience in what is often an overcrowded, cramped space, but I keep returning nonetheless. Another personal favorite also comes from another Queens transplant in Nick’s Pizza (1814 Second Ave. at 94th St.) who serve up quality Italian pies and pastas. More casual diners would do well to sample no-frills, old school eats from East Side Bagel & Appetizing (1496 First Ave. at 78th St.) and the Lexington Candy Shop luncheonette (1226 Lexington Ave. at 83rd St.).
One popular destination in the neighborhood for both food and drink is Jones Wood Foundry (401E. 76th St. nr. First Ave.). This gastropub successfully satisfies any hankerings for English pub fare like fish and chips or steak and kidney pie served up alongside an extensive drinks list. Upper East Side sports fans flock to East End Bar & Grill (1664 First Ave. nr. 87th St.) while those looking for a more upscale locale and inventive cocktail list would do well to return to three locations adjacent to venues already mentioned above as recommended for fine dining: Bar Pléiades (20 E. 76th St. nr. Madison Ave.), Bemelmans Bar (35 E. 76th St. at Madison Ave.) and Café Carlyle (981 Madison Ave. at 76th St.). At the latter, Woody Allen can still be found each Monday performing clarinet alongside the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band.
Decidedly more casual watering holes to tempt you away from fancy cocktail crowds include the classic dive bar Subway Inn (143 E. 60th St. nr. Lexington Ave.) and American Trash (1471 First Ave. nr. 77th St.). Cheap domestic beers and take-it-or-leave-it service rule the roost here, but for many, that’s just fine and a welcome respite for some of the other ‘more refined’ options available in the neighborhood. Finally, when you need a pick-me-up that booze simply can’t provide, head on over to Dangerfield’s (118 First Ave. at 61st St.). Founded by the late, great Rodney Dangerfield back in 1969, this is the longest running comedy club in the country and open seven nights a week featuring a consistently solid roster of comedians.