By Magdalene Perez
Special to amNewYork
Quiz many Manhattanites on the location of Two Bridges, and most couldn't point out the tiny Lower East Side neighborhood on a map.
That is just the type of under-the-radar character that defines this largely ungentrified neighborhood, sandwiched, for the most part, between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.
Situated along the East River, Two Bridges has acted as a gateway for waves of immigrant communities. It was just blocks from here that Irish, Jewish and Italian gangs battled to the death at the notorious Five Points in the mid-19th century. Later, in the early 20th century, four-time New York State Gov. Alfred E. Smith rose to prominence from the tenement slums of Orchard Street. And more recently, after black and Hispanic families came and went, its become a solidly Chinese-American community.Current residents love Two Bridges for its cheaper housing, access to myriad Chinese restaurants, good transportation on the F and 6 lines, and short walking distance to great shops and nightlife in the Lower East Side, South Street Seaport and Chinatown. With the housing boom came a few condos and talk of transforming the East River waterfront, but for the most part much of the hood is still dominated by low-and-middle income housing and affordable, older co-ops.
Residents who adopt the neighborhood as their own, including Guns N' Roses guitarist Richard Fortus, appreciate it for its gritty, hidden character.
Two Bridges is bounded by the East River to the south, East Broadway to the north, Montgomery Street to the east and the Brooklyn Bridge to the west.
Did You Know?
In 1933 Knickerbocker Village on Monroe Street became the first apartment development in New York City to receive federal funding.
The One Thing You Must Do
Explore the eclectic shops on East Broadway. You will find an assortment of wares that ranges from edible (hand-pulled noodles, candy stores selling pineapple chips) to home decor (lighting and chandeliers). And whether its jewelry or specialty chopsticks, you’re sure to find a great price.
Much of the restaurant selection in Two Bridges reflects its strong Chinese-American presence. You will find plenty of dumplings, glazed duck and freshly made noodle soups in hole-in-the-wall storefronts. Also on the menu: solid fusion, American standbys, and a greater variety of cuisines in nearby South Street Seaport.
Dim Sum Go Go
The French-American and Hong Kong proprietors of this new wave dim sum house serve 24 kinds of dumplings and other Chinese classics with a twist: hamburgers in steamed buns ($13) and black mushroom consommÃ© ($6). A 10-piece dim sum platter, at $12, isn’t as cheap as nearby dim sum palaces, but tasty nonetheless.
5 East Broadway
Stop by this friendly diner for an unpretentious breakfast or lunch. Pancakes, at $4.50, are a house favorite.
22 Chatham Square (Near East Broadway)
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
The creamy, almost chewy treats at the Ice Cream Factory are a must no matter how hot or cold it is outside. The homemade flavors include ginger, lychee, almond cookie, peanut butter and jelly and more.
65 Bayard St. (b/w Elizabeth & Mott)
Just like any part of Chinatown, Two Bridges is bursting with low-cost wares. Jewelry, clothing, CDs, toys, books, you name it. Check out the 25 Cents Store on Elizabeth Street for wacky finds, or head above the Manhattan Bridge for designer boutiques.
Modern Living Supplies
A Williamsburg transplant, this furniture boutique has the mid-century modern wares to outfit any retro sleek apartment. The vintage selection includes names such as Eames, LeCorbusier, and Aalto.
20 Rutgers St.
Project No. 8
A tightly curated selection of designer clothing and accessories brings a bit of SoHo (and its hefty prices) to the nabe. Kostas Murkudis cashmere knit ties go for $123 each, a Martin Margiela gold belt, $215.
138 Division St.
Bangkok Center Grocery
Pop into this hidden shop just north of Two Bridges to find all you will ever need to whip up Thai food like a pro at home. Here is one of the few places to find kaffir lime leaves ($3 a pack), palm sugar, tamarind candies, lemongrass, Thai basil, and even cooking utensils (been searching for that sticky rice bamboo steamer?), all sold by a friendly and helpful staff.
104 Mosco St. (b/w Mott & Mulberry streets)
Nearby Chinatown haunts near Mulberry and Mott are the best place to go looking for late-night kicks. Santos Party House on Lafayette Street provides beats for the Hip Hop and House music set, and there is no shortage of karaoke machines in the hood for those who love to sing.
Sexy lighting and a Victorian interior set the mood in this opium-den-styled cocktail lounge. The creative liquor menu includes a truffle-infused sidecar, Mexican pulque (agave extract) and house absinthe. To find the hidden bar, look for the red awning marked "Gold Flower Restaurant."
9 Doyers St. (b/w Bowery & Pell)
A mostly Asian-American crowd hangs at this two-level lounge for its great happy hour specials (well drinks, $4 to $7, beer buy-one-get-one-free) and free karaoke. Once you’ve satiated your hunger for the extensive catalog of English and Asian pop songs, whet your appetite as well with food that skips from chicken wings to spicy New Orleans mussels.
32 Mulberry St.
Take a seat at the bar and you will feel like an instant regular at this recently opened watering hole. The bartenders offer friendly service in a laid-back atmosphere, with a resident DJ on Friday nights.
79 Baxter St.
As one of New York’s oldest neighborhoods, Two Bridges is ripe with history. This is a fun place to take a walking tour and imagine you’ve slipped back in time to the 19th century, when Irish and Italian slums dominated the neighborhood, Chinatown had real opium dens, and seafarers crowded the docks.
The Sea and Land Church
Visit this Georgian-Gothic congregation and you can say you’ve seen the second-oldest church in New York City. Built from 1817 to 1819, the Dutch Reformed Church served the seamen in the community until it disbanded in 1864. Now the First Chinese Presbyterian Church, its building and pipe organ are both historic landmarks.
61 Henry St.
First Cemetery of Congregation Shearith Israel
This graveyard is what remains from the earliest days of the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. This is actually the congregation’s second cemetery. The first, started by Portuguese and Spanish immigrants in 1654, no longer exists. Here the graveyard was in use from 1682 to 1828.
55 St. James Place.
Alfred E. Smith House
Aside from its wooden door, this red brick apartment house doesn’t appear much different than any of the Lower East Side’s other tenement buildings. Yet it was here that four-time New York governor Al Smith lived from 1907 to 1923. The first Roman Catholic and Irish-American to run for president, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1924 on a platform denouncing lynching and racial violence.
25 Oliver St.
Two Bridges offers a diverse housing stock that runs the gamut of Manhattan apartments. For those seeking to buy, there are many older co-ops, often with concierge service, elevators, access to parks, and if you’re lucky, an amazing view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
A studio can go from $350,000 to $450,000, a one bedroom for about $550,000 and a two bedroom for $650,000 to $700,000. But the search may take time — these buildings typically have slow turnover as people keep it in the family, Phyllis Elliott, a senior associate broker for The Corcoran Group, said.
There are fewer new condo developments than the exploding luxury market in the East Village and Lower East Side, but some new condominiums, with price tags up to $1.6 million, have cropped up. Another option is loft spaces converted from older commercial buildings.
“All of this was very commercial years ago — the bakeries, the restaurants,” Elliott said. “That’s not the case any more. Now you see more and more residents moving in.”
For renters there are co-op buildings, condos, and tenement walk-ups. An East Broadway one bedroom can fetch between $1,650 and $2,200.
$899,000 for a two bedroom, one bathroom in a 24-hour concierge co-op, 1,050 square feet. (Park Row at Pearl Street)
$555,000 for a one-bedroom post-war condo with balcony in an elevator building. (Division Street at Ludlow)
$885,000 for a three-bedroom, 1.5 bathroom apartment in 1,250 square-foot co-op. (East Broadway near Clinton)
$3,799 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom loft apartment with a private backyard, 1,200 square feet. (Oliver Street at Bowery)
$3.000 for a three-bedroom in a fifth floor walk up with eat-in kitchen, 1,000 square feet. (East Broadway at Market Street)
$1,750 for a one-bedroom in a renovated walk-up one block from F train (Orchard Street at Canal)
Phyllis Elliott, The Corcoran Group Brooklyn Heights office
Q & A
Kenny Ruan, 22, has lived his whole life in Two Bridges.
How has the neighborhood changed over the years?
It’s definitely more diverse. Back then it was only Chinese people. Now there are white people, different Asians, all kinds of people. It’s changed over the last ten years or less.
How do you feel about gentrification?
It’s definitely a bad thing because everything’s going up. An apartment used to be $600, now it’s like $2,000 for the same place.
What attracts people to the neighborhood?
The seaport is right there, Chinatown’s right there, the restaurants. Plus there’s a skatepark under the Manhattan Bridge that they just built.
What might deter someone from moving here?
The mess. It’s dirty — there’s garbage everywhere. There’s not so much crime going around anymore, but there’s still some crime. People get robbed. I’ve seen it and experienced it myself.
Where do people like to hang out?
I like Everest diner, and 69 [a 24-hour restaurant on Bayard Street]. And there’s Wo Hop — it’s a Chinese restaurant [on Mott Street].
Where do you think this neighborhood is headed in a few years?
I think it’s definitely going to be a lot more diverse. I wouldn’t be surprised if a white person or a black person moved into my building.
Over the years, many Manhattan communities have reconnected to the waterfront. The Financial District has Battery Park; the West Village, Hudson River piers. Now Two Bridges is getting its turn, with a state-of-the-art proposal for a new East River esplanade to stretch two miles from the Battery Maritime Building to East River Park. With the city Economic Development Corporation backing the plan and a request for contractors already out, the work is set to go.
Victor J. Papa, president and director of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, said residents are eagerly anticipating the development.
“The promenade between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge was never dealt with in terms of community needs,” Papa said. “Now we are hopeful that it finally will be.”