Of all the successive waves of immigrants and refugees who passed through this densely populated tenement neighborhood from the mid-19th century to the 1920s, the Eastern European Jews left the most lasting impression here.
Drugs and crime ultimately supplanted the Jewish communities, which first popped up between Houston and Canal streets, east of the Bowery, dragging the Lower East Side into the gutter - until recently, that is. The neighborhood has experienced quite a renaissance over the last few years; lots of hip Generation Y-targeted bars, clubs, and boutiques have sprung up, prompting complaints from old-time residents who seem to have preferred the desolation and crime of the old days. Still, the area can be dicey in spots not to mention more than a tad grungy - and should be explored with caution after dark.
There are some remnants of what was once the largest Jewish population in America along Orchard Street, where youll find great bargain hunting in its many old-world fabric and clothing stores still thriving between the club-clothes boutiques and trendy lounges. Theres a good visitor center run by the neighborhood business improvement district, where you can get your bearings and pick up a shopping guide, just around the corner at 261 Broome St. Keep in mind that the old-world shops (and the visitor center) close early on Friday afternoon and all day on Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath). The trendy set can be found mostly along Orchard and Ludlow streets south of Houston and north of Delancey, with more new shops, bars, and restaurants popping up in the blocks to the east every day.
This area is not well served by the subway system (one cause for its years of decline), so your best bet is to take the F train to Second Avenue and walk east on Houston; when you see Katzs Deli, youll know youve arrived.