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Museum Spotlight: The Lower East Side Tenement Museum

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There is always somewhere or something new to discover in New York City. In this museum spotlight we picked one of our favorites The Tenement Museum on Manhattan's Lower East Side as the starting point. After learning more about the 'hood, be inspired to explore nearby restaurants and cultural sites.

The Tenement Museum

Your visit to The Tenement Museum begins before you've even stepped through its doors. If you take a look around you will notice that 97 Orchard Street resembles many of the other tenement buildings still left in the neighborhood. As a living fragment of history, the museum is like a time capsule.

When it was originally purchased in 1988 by the founders of the museum, Ruth Abram and Anita Jacobson, it had been shuttered for over 50 years. It took time, but they have successfully restored six apartments representing a variety of different occupants from Irish immigrants in 1869 to a German/Jewish family in 1878. They estimate that "7,000 people lived in 97 Orchard Street between 1863 and 1935."

Through intense archival research, the Museum and 97 Orchard Street allow visitors the opportunity to step back in time. You must take a tour in order to visit the Museum and they offer a variety of different subjects and at different times. The "Getting By" tour for example, brings you through three different apartments and is an hour long. Learn more about the German-Jewish and Italian-Catholic families that lived in the building from the time of the Panic of 1873 to the Great Depression. You definitely want to leave yourself enough time to check out the museum store. It is easily one of the most comprehensive collections of New York-themed books and gifts. Additionally, the Museum hosts free talks with important historians and writers during the evenings. There are 6 offered in November ranging from an in-depth look at the life of Henry James to a discussion about women's rights from 1960 to the present with Times columnist Gail Collins.

How To Get There
The tours begin and end at the Museum Shop at 108 Orchard Street. Located one street East of the intersection between Delancey and Allen Streets, the shop is two storefronts from Delancey on the West side of the street. The museum has extensive directions for visiting via car or public transportation.

The Neighborhood
Only a few blocks from the museum are some of the city's most iconic eats. Work up an appetite for a post-Museum pastrami sandwich from Katz's Deli or grab a bagel with lox from Russ & Daughters before your morning tour. Take a leisurely two block walk to the Essex Street Market and browse the aisles of fresh produce, artisanal cheese and chocolate. To satisfy your sweet tooth visit IL Laboratorio del Gelato, a former tenament neighborhood that has expanded to a larger space near Katz's. You might get lucky and find that they're serving seasonal flavors like "fig, fresh brown turkey" or "apple calvados."

Take your gelato and sit in the shady Seward Park or eat and walk to the Museum at Eldrige Street, which takes about ten minutes. The Synagogue, which was built in 1887, offers tours and exhibits celebrating Jewish history and the building's beautiful architecture.