The neighborhood includes two parallel and different commercial hearts.
For many, the words “Upper East Side” evoke New York City’s old-money world, the so-called Silk Stocking District with its luxury doorman buildings, handsome rowhouses, and boutiques and galleries along Madison Avenue. While that image of the neighborhood is based in fact — the Upper East Side is home to some of New York’s most affluent ZIP codes — it is only one aspect of the area. Alongside enclaves like Carnegie Hill and Sutton Place, the eastern and northern parts of the Upper East Side also attract recent graduates and young families. Yorkville, along the river, has buildings in a wider array of prices, and Second and Third avenues are more budget-friendly alternatives to Madison. The cultural highlights of Museum Mile as well as Central Park, running along the neighborhood’s western edge, bring visitors from all over the city, and the world, to this part of Manhattan.
The initial impetus for the development of the Upper East Side was the opening of Central Park in 1858, followed soon after, in the 1860s and 1870s, by the extension of streetcar lines northward. For much of the 19th century, the open railroad tracks along Park Avenue created a clear division, with the area between Park Avenue and the park being the “right” side, and a favorite neighborhood of Gilded Age millionaires. After the tracks were moved underground and Park Avenue opened, that social boundary largely disappeared — a pattern that would be repeated in the 1950s, when the Third Avenue El was demolished. For residents interested in art, few neighborhoods in the world can compete with the Upper East Side. Its Museum Mile (Fifth Avenue along the park) is home to the Met, the Frick Collection, and the Guggenheim, along with a number of smaller institutions.
Given the affluence of the Upper East Side, it is perhaps not surprising that the area includes restaurants that are regularly included among New York’s very best (Daniel, Café Boulud) and stores that are destinations in themselves (Barneys, Bloomingdale’s). The neighborhood includes two parallel and different commercial hearts. Madison Avenue is the place to shop for fine watches; jewelry; and men’s and women’s fashions from French, Italian, and American designers and brands. More affordable Second and Third avenues are where you’ll find businesses providing the necessities of daily life, from wine stores to pharmacies. While the Yorkville section has some white-tablecloth options, it caters to a broad array of diners. You’ll also find casual pizzerias and diners along with restaurants serving various international cuisines, including some German ones that date back to the days when the area was a German-American enclave.