When you spot one of Susan Alexandra’s handbags, you just can’t miss it. The designer’s eponymous line is known for its intricate and colorful beadwork, featuring designs of fluffy clouds, vivid fruits, and quirky animal prints. (Her jewelry style is similar, with fruit basket staples recreated in miniature.) Alexandra founded her cult-favorite line from her Chinatown apartment in New York City and to this day, the bustling neighborhood is where she lives and works. “It’s a big slice of New York and still feels very authentic,” she says. Here, Alexandra shares her favorite spots in her beloved neighborhood:
“I’ve been going there for years,” says Alexandra of Kiki’s, an affordable Greek restaurant that’s packed to the gills with downtown cool kids almost every night. “It’s a great place to go with a group, so you can order a little bit of everything.” Don’t miss the grilled fish and saganaki, a fried cheese appetizer topped with honey.
The Original Buddha Bodai Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant
When you’re dining with friends who have dietary restrictions, the Original Buddha Bodai is your spot. With a wholly vegetarian menu that’s also packed with gluten-free options, it’s easy to please even the pickiest of eaters. Alexandra is a fan of the dim sum options and never skips the sticky, sweet sesame balls.
Imagine a classic bagel shop-meets-Instagram-worthy hangout and you’ve got Baz. Founded by Bari Musacchio as an homage to her Italian-Jewish heritage, Baz Bagel has an old-school New York ambiance with just a hint of Palm Beach style. “It’s the kind of place that’s hard to find these days,” Alexandra says.
Clandestino is an upscale version of a dive bar that’s been in the neighborhood for nearly 15 years. “It’s not pretentious, just warm and engaging,” explains Alexandra. There are plenty of beers on tap and a small, well-curated selection of French wines selected by J.P. Bowersock, a food writer and, in Lower East Side fashion, a musician who’s played with the likes of The Strokes and Ryan Adams.
Have “the best night ever” at Cervo’s, a Portuguese-inspired restaurant and bar that feels like you’re in a different country. Alexandra goes for the orange wine and oysters, a perfect pairing for a steamy summer night in New York City.
Kamwo Meridian Herbs
A true Chinatown relic, Kamwo Meridian Herbs is one of the oldest Chinese apothecaries on the East Coast. “They know what they’re doing and it’s such a cool place to see a pharmacist,” says Alexandra. “If you have any ailments, they’ll suggest herbs or give you tinctures.”
American Two Shot
A bastion for downtown indie style, American Two Shot focuses on local and emerging designers — and it wasn’t all that long ago that they took a chance on Alexandra herself. “They were the first store to take a chance on me and I’m so grateful,” she says. “I always discover new things there.”
A hair salon-cum-boutique, Mott NYC is Alexandra’s favorite spot for locally-made gifts, especially candles. The store is loaded with independent and local brands selling jewelry, candles, and other small goods. “Plus, there’s a really cute dog,” Alexandra says with a laugh.
Founded by a former instructor at trendy yoga studio Sky Ting, Merge is an intimate group fitness studio with a focus on mindfulness within its yoga and pilates offerings. Alexandra raves about founder Kajuan Douglas’ classes. “It’s the hardest workout, but so rewarding,” she says of his cardio-inspired vinyasa class.
East River Promenade
Closed for years, the East River Promenade reopened in 2012, giving residents of Chinatown and the Lower East Side more much-needed greenspace. Alexandra uses the park, which offers some of the city’s best views of Brooklyn, to walk her dog, especially during the summer months.
For all of its charms, the Lower East Side and Chinatown have sorely lacked hotels. From the masterminds at the Ace Hotel’s design studio comes Sister City, a less-is-more approach to the modern hotel. Inspired by Japanese bento boxes and Finnish saunas, Sister City is the perfect respite from a long day spent taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of Chinatown.