Urban Explorer: Oh You Fancy, Huh? Upper East Side Revisited

The Urban Explorer Takes on the Notoriously Posh Part of New York City


Malaya Saldana/The Observer
Just north of FCLC, on the other side of Central Park, there lies another land: The Upper East Side (UES).

According to pop-cultural generalizations, the UES has always been the material world of Gossip Girl and spoiled mouths holding silver spoons. However, a smartly-dressed Upper East Side native dispelled this misconception for me after a conversation that began with him asking for the time. The man was smoking a cigarette and wearing a corduroy sports coat and tortoise-shell Ray-Bans. He squinted and confidently proclaimed, “It’s definitely changed. Tribeca has become the new haven for the wealthy. [On the UES] it’s still wealthy, but it’s more of an old money thing—it’s not fashionable, per se. I mean it is fashionable,” he said pointing to the Intermix across the street.” He went on to say that while he would like to move down to SoHo, his inherited apartment somewhere near 72nd street and Lexington Avenue is more affordable. “But lots of the young-folk find it a little too ‘straight-edge,’ I guess,” he said. He underestimated this urban explorer’s ability to turn the bland, broad, straight road into a windy path of intrigue (even if that road is Madison or Fifth avenue).

While not as boisterous as other city haunts, I found the UES’s calm and elegance interesting. Stretching from Central Park to the East River, and bounded by 59th and 96th Streets, the UES is populated by manicured brownstones with well trimmed windows and designer boutiques neatly arranged like pastel-colored French pastries—it harkens back to a time when Audrey Hepburn ate breakfast at Tiffany’s and became an icon for elegance.

The UES is unique. It’s a place to experience calm in the city that never sleeps (a haven from roads where most taxi drivers seem more fluent in profanity than brake usage) and respect to cultural tradition in a constantly changing city. Better yet, according to New York Magazine, it’s where “Sunday mornings don’t have the hung-over feeling of downtown. People are actually happy to be alive.”


Your Urban Explorer

Two Little Red Hens
1652 Second Ave

We all know about Magnolia and Crumbs, but if you want to add a little variety to your cupcake routine try Two Little Red Hens. Its selection of to-die-for cupcakes and pastries is rare, not to mention their friendly service. Their red-velvet and their Brooklyn Blackout cupcakes are euphoric. This is a good pre-workout place. After two cupcakes, I had a convincing 400-calorie excuse to hit the gym.

Culture for the Creative
Society for Illustrators
128 East 63rd Street

With inviting bright red doors, this place is an intriguing find for artists of any level. Walking into the Society of Illustrators from 6:30-9:30 on a Tuesday or Thursday evening, you’ll catch the smooth jazz of Gershwin creeping down the steps of this historic UES establishment. Above the small museum, there is a room where models pose for artists. The Society provides food, beverages and live music. It’s an amazing steal at $7 for students and $15 for others. Make sure to B.Y.O.S. (Bring Your Own Supplies).

Asia Society
725 Park Ave.

Founded by the Rockefellers, this museum allows visitors to focus on specific convergences of visual arts, architecture, history and film. The exhibits are always a starting point for intelligent, and sometimes excited, conversations. The museum is currently featuring an exhibition entitled “A Prince’s Manuscript Unbound: Muhammad Juki’s ‘Shahnamah.” This manuscript features illustrations and text from an epic poem that is thousands of years old.

A Healthy Outlook
The Candle Café
1307 Third Ave.

A close friend and UES local recommended this spot to me, and I thank her because now I don’t want to eat at any vegan restaurants besides this one. I wondered how creative one could get with such limited ingredients (no meat or meat by-products), but this café proved that you can get much more than a merely decent vegan dinner. My meal rivaled the best SoHo dinners, an amazing starter of seitan skewers with chimichurri sauce so rich with flavor that I basically inhaled it. This was followed by a ginger miso stir-fry, which was a little too salty but very satisfying. Your foodie friend will appreciate the food, and so will your protesting, pro-PETA roommate.

In the mood for Madoff?
23 E. 74th St.


Made massive amounts of cash on a recent Ponzi scheme? Time to blow it at this posh UES restaurant. This intimate space serves up Italian fare to silver-spoon-mouthed patrons who carry gold-tipped canes and still wear handkerchiefs. Entrees hover around $40, so I just basked in the archetypal UES aura, ordered a glass of water and split an appetizer and dessert with a friend, all while avoiding some judgmental glances.

A Casual Lunch:
Cascabel Taqueria
1542 Second Ave.

This eatery located near 80th Street serves up some mean pork-belly and inventive (read, not traditional or authentic) ceviche and pollo chipotle. Like many other UES eateries, it is populated by tourists, but the food is good, whether I’d like to admit it or not.