The new Essex Market
Even though Essex Market itself has existed since 1888, it only recently moved into a brand-new building. Once I heard about it, I wanted to go because there is (almost) nothing as great as a hodgepodge of different foods. As I have most time during vacation, on one day, almost two weeks ago, I took the M15 bus south, got off at Allen Street/East Houston Street, walked for about ten minutes and then explored the market. Essex Market is on the East Side in Bowery, a quarter that is being more and more gentrified. New museums have opened there (like the New Museum or the International Center of Photography Museum). Next to shabby smaller buildings and opposite of the old Essex Market building shines a new building, bright with plenty of glass, attached to a modern high-rise.
Essex Market – or The Market Line – consists of two floors, well two and a half really. On the ground floor and in the basement there are about 40 stalls selling fresh and prepared foods. There are tables and chairs on the upper level to enjoy a meal with a view of the market hustle. Next to everyday groceries you can also find specialties like cheeses, meats, fish or pastries. There are also two bars on the lower level. I first walked around and took everything in. I wanted to have a late lunch and there were just so many cuisines to choose from.
My lunch choice in Essex Market
After a while I opted for Schaller & Weber – they are the last German butcher on the Upper East Side, in a part that used to be called Germantown. While I had known their shop up there (they have everything my German heart desires, e.g. smoked pork chops, proper frankfurters, red cabbage, liverwurst, teawurst …), I also thought their new stall looked promising. They sell a few of their meats and sausages on the one side while the other side looks like a diner counter.
I ordered a mulled wine and a Saigon Special hotdog. The days before, i.e. at Christmas, we had so many traditional German dishes that I wanted to eat something slightly different. And what can I say? That hotdog was delicious!!! Really, with three exclamation marks. It was slightly spicy and extremely yummy. The mulled wine was also tasty by the way.
After buying a teawurst for home, I walked around a little more. I settled for a coffee and chocolate bun from a bakery for dessert. While I had those, I sat on the upper level, watched and took in the atmosphere. It was busy, but not too full on that weekday afternoon. The whole market being new is clean, exciting, there are new things to discover. Some stalls are still empty, but about to be opened.
Is Essex Market an alternative to Chelsea Market?
Chelsea Market is a big tourist attraction on the West Side. It is right next to the High Line, another sight, and always worth a stop when you take a walk on the High Line from the Meatpacking District to Hell’s Kitchen. I sometimes go to Chelsea Market because I can find good and different foods there – just like in Essex Market. My main issue with Chelsea Market is that is always crowded. It has become such a popular spot that you can hardly move and you have to wait in line almost everywhere (and don’t let me even start about the bathroom line …). What I also rather detest is that more and more non-food stores seem to move into Chelsea Market. The last time I went there, there was a big clothing chain there, a clothes sample sale, and several other similar shops.
Essex Market, on the other hand, also offers all those foods, but is much emptier. I could walk without being hindered or being in someone else’s way. There weren’t any lines anywhere, which greatly improves my consumer experience. I mean I could sit down on a chair and enjoy my dessert. Amazing. The downside is that Essex Market is not right next to other tourist attractions. I assume it will take a while before tourists visit Bowery more. It is not far from Chinatown though and when you are already there, it is only a short walk to the market. The area is in general interesting because old and new buildings clash.
When we compare the foods, they are similar. Even in price. While Chelsea Market has more Spanish and Eastern Asian specialties, Essex Market might lean more towards Eastern European and Latin American foods for now. I quite enjoy when I at least don’t have to line up for a $4 coffee.
Overall, Essex Market is my winner. I prioritize personal space and waiting time over convenient location. Yes, Chelsea Market and the adjacent High Line are beautiful and fun, but not when you can’t hear your own thoughts anymore. Instead I enjoy much more exploring the not so popular parts of Manhattan because they are the ones where you see everyday New York and not the polished tourist city.