Come the new year, Upper East Siders are due for a more-convenient and less-crowded subway when the long-promised Second Avenue line commences service.
Other New Yorkers might wonder, however, what’s in the $4.5 billion project for them? One answer is the chance to play tourist in their own city. The new Second Avenue subway will open up a once distant and relatively unvisited section of New York, the “Far Upper East Side.”
Among the attractions are a string of waterfront parks, several historic buildings, numerous cultural offerings and a raft of restaurants.
In a city perpetually short on open space, access to more is always welcome. Some of these parks could even become true destinations. With views of the East River, Roosevelt Island, Astoria and the Triborough and Hell Gate bridges, they deserve to be.
Best known is Carl Schurz Park, a 15-acre gem stretching from 84th to 90th streets on East End Avenue, overlooking the confluence of the East and Harlem rivers with views of the aforementioned bridges. Nine canons were placed at this strategic spot during the Revolutionary War to ward off the British. History continues today, with the park serving as the setting for the mayor’s official home, Gracie Mansion. A statue of Peter Pan provides whimsy for kids.
North of 90th Street is Asphalt Green, a nonprofit recreation center in a city park. The futuristic-looking building in the shape of a parabola once produced blacktop for city streets.
John Finley Walk runs from 90th Street through Carl Schurz Park south to 81st Street where it joins the East River Esplanade, which runs between the FDR Drive and the East River and links up to John Jay Park at 78th Street. Not fully completed, the esplanade will run from 63rd to 125th streets, offering a chance to stroll, run and bike along the river.
The Far Upper East Side is not as rich in historic sites and great architecture as other Manhattan neighborhoods. It was largely tenements and industry, which have been giving way to newer residential digs. Still it’s worth noting that among the vanished were two of the city’s top beer makers on Second Avenue stretching north from 90th Street: The Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company and the Hell Gate Brewery. The name of the first lingers on the site as the Ruppert Towers.
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For an abrupt transition from breweries to the blessed, there’s the Church of the Holy Trinity on 88th Street, between First and Second avenues. The church is impressive inside and out. Set in a garden, the churchincludes a 150-foot tower in the French Renaissance style, considered one of the best bell towers in New York.
When built in 1912, the six-story, windows-filledCherokee apartmentsbetween East 77th and 78th streets on Cherokee Place was considered model housing for the poor, particularly tuberculosis patients. The complex contains courtyards and ornate iron-railed balconies helping it stand out today as a light and air-filled co-op.
The 24 Queen Anne style townhouses that make up theHenderson Place Historic Districtwould be architectural gems in any part of the city. Begun in 1881 as housing for people of modest means, they now rent and sell for ceiling-busting prices, even though its district name puzzles most New Yorkers. It’s between 86th and 87th streets off East End Avenue.
ElBarrio’sArtspace PS109is both a housingcomplex and a cultural center carved from an 1898 five-story school building on 99th Street off Second Avenue. It contains 89 units of affordable live/work housing for artists and their families and 10,000 square feet forartsorganizations. The Shakespeare Forum, a nonprofit that promotes the Bard’s work and the theater in general is also located there.
After the jaunt, save some time for food and drink since the neighborhood is home to noted dining destinations. InZagat's"The New Upper East Side: 11 Hot Spots to Visit," five are along or east of Second Avenue.
Clustered on two blocks at Second Avenue in the lower 80s areThe Gilroy, which Zagat calls a “sexy cocktail bar” specializing in Negronis, a concoction of gin, vermouth rosso, Campari, garnished with orange peel;Meijin Ramen, whose specialty comes in varieties including Spicy Chili that you’ll never confuse for the college dorm staple; andThe Penrose, described by Zagat as a “hipster-chic gastropub” known for craft cocktails and weekend brunch.
East of Second Avenue on 78th Street isXi'an Famous Foods, which offers bargain-priced noodles, soups and distinctly Asian burgers.Seamstressis a sprawling, stylish cocktail bar with a longer menu geared to seasonal foods, such as charred butternut squash risotto. It’s on 75th Street east of Second Avenue.