BlackBook Exclusive: Globe-Trotting DJ Whitney Fierce’s Hip Guide to NYC’s Lower East Side
Photo by Kenny Rodriguez
What’s in a name? Well, Whitney Fierce is indeed, exactly that – one incomparably fierce presence behind the decks, DJing for the international cognoscenti (Topshop, Vogue, Dior, Mixmag, etc) from New York to Paris to Moscow to Sydney and, well, you name it. She was most recently on tour with New Order. But she has also been known to take on the alternate roles of musician, model, photographer, editor, cultural curator…we could go on. (Did we mention she speaks Swahili?)
Last September, BlackBook enlisted her to show us around her then neighborhood of North Koreatown, Los Angeles. But as peripatetic sorts like her are wont to do, she up and moved to New York’s Lower East Side earlier this year – another place of endless vitality and buzzing creative energy. So we naturally put her to work again.
Photo by Johnny Perez
“I spent many of my formative years in New York City,” she enthuses, “and now I’m back, in what I would call the best sliver of Manhattan: south of Delancey, north of Canal, east of Allen, and west of Essex. I can’t even begin to tell you the joy of living in this neighborhood, aka North Chinatown or NoCheeto. Some real estate agents and maps put me near Two Bridges, but here, it’s really three bridges, being blocks from the Williamsburg crossing.”
“I am a creature of habit,” she continues, “and this creature likes oysters, martinis, good wine, good art and fashion, in black. And while attempting to compile a list of a handful of my favorite places, even in a two block radius, I actually ended up with dozens.”
(Instagram: @DJWhitneyFierce, Twitter: @DJWhitneyFierce, FB Fan Page – where to find shows: Facebook.com/DJWhitneyFierce, Soundcloud: Soundcloud.com/WhitneyFierce)
DJ WHITNEY FIERCE’S LOWER EAST SIDE FAVES
Real talk, this place doesn’t need more publicity, because it’s pretty much impossible to go without a wait as it stands – but it’s truly worth it. Russ & Daughters is a classic and a gem and should never change. Their storefront is up on Houston, but thankfully, their cafe is two blocks from my place. GO GET ALL THE SMOKED FISH AND CAVIAR AND PUT IT ON A BAGEL AND INTO YOUR FACE. When I go here, I try to make it early – because it’s everyone’s favorite – and always add a Super Heebster to any order.
It’s amazing to do your grocery shopping at a historic location; I know this sounds kind of crazy, but it’s weirdly true, there’s some silly sense of historical pride. Essex Market started as pushcart vendors in a dirt lot during the Depression. In 1940 It opened indoors, and eventually grew to 475 stalls across 4 buildings. Now it’s just one building, but it has everything you need; and buying from local vendors is just an amazing feeling. I get to practice my Spanish at the Puerto Rican stall, I have a butcher that expects me, and is ready to hook me up with what’s best that week. They’ve gotten used to me bringing my own bags, and I’m sincerely tempted to start getting my fades done at the barbershop there, where there are “no pictures allowed.”
A place where you can find rotating murals on the Orchard-facing wall, and a bunch of instagram models in front of it (insert side eye emoji), products from over a hundred female-owned companies (insert girl raising hand emoji), and emerging brands from around the world (insert praise hands emoji). The website features what seems like endless labels, the store has a pared down, hand-selected vibe, and it’s amazing. From sunglasses to decor, clothing, jewelry, and everything in between. You can buy one of everything or just one piece and your look will be unique wherever you are.
Owner Nina Allen is a world traveller, and now we get to have what she’s found all over the globe. Her discerning eye makes my life so easy when buying a gift for literally anyone, and it brings me immense pleasure to even step foot in her brick and mortar. To me, Tophat is basically a chic adult’s Toys R Us. From tiny metal insects to candles and fragrances that take you to the far-off places where they were found, Tophat excites me in a way that doesn’t even make sense. I sincerely want EVERYTHING here, metal suitcases to notebooks, textiles, and light fixtures. Just sayin’, don’t miss it.
I have to admit that I was always drawn to the mannequins dressed in all black, classic lines and vintage Chanel quilted bags, like physically, with the gravity of a thousand black holes. When our schedules aligned and I got to drop in for the first time, I was instantly hooked. Incredible designer vintage by everyone: Margiela, Hermes, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, and Commes des Garçons, to Celine and Dior. Basically every designer that’s mattered historically, and so well curated. And it all comes with an authenticity guarantee!
One of the most innovative places in the hood. As for the restaurant, I don’t know where else you’re going to find za’atar, tacos, almond romesco, and furikake on the same menu, but you don’t have to find another place, because DIMES! Like they have a wheatgrass margarita, must I say more? And just in case you don’t feel like a sit down meal, there’s the market across the street where you can basically pick up anything you’d need to make a tasty plate at home, or grab some Dimes brand salt scrub. OPTIONS!
This is actually kind of crazy for me to say – I’m from LA, enjoying Mexican food in NYC is pretty much against everything I believe in, but here we are. I love Barrio Chino, and I’m not afraid to admit it. One of my favorite things in the world is chilaquiles, and I am beyond lucky to live a block away from the best chilaquiles in the city. Hangover cure complete: chilaquiles with skirt steak and a michelada. HOLY HAPPINESS. Also if you start with a michelada or a sangria, chances are you might end up having another drink – and if I were you, I’d suggest one of their incredible mezcals.
This is the go-to, home turf, happy place in the neighborhood. Just in case everything I’ve just described didn’t make it clear that I live in the most amazing spot that there is. Fat Radish is the jammiest jam, if I do say so myself. My favorite dinner is oysters, martinis, a local lettuce, and an entree to split, and Fat Radish is the best place to do that. I love sitting at the bar, ordering a dirty martini – light on the vermouth, very – and a dozen oysters to start. I don’t know who chooses the oysters at this place, but they are a damn genius.
We’re taking a quick break from food and booze for art! Also it’s basically next door to Scarr’s (see below), so you can find me here regularly for both pizza and art reasons. Orchard, my street, is liiiined with galleries and I love a lot of them. There’s always incredible work to check out in every direction. Vacation is a new addition to our gallery row and I’m so excited about what they’re doing, a cross between a gallery and an art fair. It’s been called a timeshare, and I couldn’t be more pleased. A dozen art dealers from around the world are sharing the year month by month, and that means all sorts of views and taste in the days to come. Word on the street is these girls offer after hours art advising, and they might even make you a killer martini while doing it.
I’m gonna let you in on a little secret, I don’t love movies. I didn’t grow up watching them, and I’m trying to get into them now so I can hang tough with my film friends. Thankfully, Metrograph is here to solve all of my problems. Well, a lot of them. There’s a restaurant and multiple bars within this movie theater. This is how I can enjoy film; oh, and apparently there are good movies out there. The food is far beyond what you could expect from any theater, and the cocktails ::chef finger kiss::. Oh, and if we want to talk about movie snacks, definitely try the sea salt caramel and chocolate dipped popcorn, house made!
Dumplings. A very important food group. These are the best dumplings in the city as far as I’m concerned. This little spot used to be on East Broadway, now has moved down to Bowery, south of Canal. It’s bigger and more populated. Main thing you need to know going in, is that there are two options (there are more, but you don’t need to worry about them): steamed or fried dumplings. That’s what you’re getting, and you should get 8 of each and smother them in their house hot sauce. Know that I have 40 dumplings in my freezer and a pint of the sauce in my fridge at this very moment.
The pencil store! I’ve spent my adult years chasing the dragon that was the joy of book fairs and pencil sales in elementary school, and this spot brings all of the erasable writing utensil happiness right back. While the art of handwritten anything is being lost, CW is holding it down. They’ve got every kind of pencil you’ve ever wanted, but then also erasers of every sort, notebooks for miles, sharpeners (and books on how to sharpen pencils), cases, and every accessory you can think of.
Okay, so New York is known for pizza, right? If you want the best slice in my neighborhood, and with the most solid ambiance in pretty much any slice joint, you HAVE to go to Scarr’s. The slice is crispy, it’s cheesy, the sauce is perfect, I don’t even know where the pepperoni comes from, but hot damn. The classic built-in booths in back do everything for me, the wood paneling, the late ’70s / early ’80s decor is on point and the bar has exactly what you want with a pizza: beers, and good ones, and the wine offerings are whaaat, incredible.
Okay, so next door to Tophat is what I would argue is one of the best wine bars in the country. Their selection is off the wall, but also written on the wall. Tons of natural wine (my fave) and orange options (other fave). You can tell the bartender your weirdest wine desires and they’ll make your dreams come true. The decor is dark and warm and if you wander towards the back, you’ll find rooms that you’d never expect. Also, I don’t want to say it’s definitely happening, but it looks like they’re working on a backyard. Oh, and don’t forget the food, their nibbles are SO GOOD, I’m a sucker for foie gras and tartare, and happy hour is everything you’ve ever wanted, with a selection of dollar oysters and $15 carafes of delicious wine.