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September 22, 2015 |  449 Views
Neighborhood Roundup: Harlem
By Evan Kanarakis
Photo: Jin Ramen
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The upper Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem spans from the Hudson River in the west to the East River, and between 155th Street in the north to a staggered border in the south that runs from 110th Street west of Fifth Avenue to 96th Street east of Fifth Avenue. Both historically and culturally, Harlem is one of the most important neighborhoods in the city, especially with respect to the area’s rich African-American heritage. In recent years, the area has undergone rapid renewal and gentrification (both good and bad) and should not be missed on a visit to New York City.

 

Though sometimes characterized as a gritty, urban neighborhood known more for brownstones and busy streets, Harlem also abounds with green space. Noteworthy parks include Morningside (west of Morningside Avenue, between from 110th to 123rd Streets), St. Nicholas (between St. Nicholas Terrace and Saint Nicholas Avenues and 128th to 141st Streets) and, of course, Central Park (south of 110th Street), but Jackie Robinson Park (between Bradhurst and Edgcome Avenues and 145th and 155th Streets) and Marcus Garvey Park (between Mount Morris Park W and Madison Ave and 120th and 124th Streets) are also host to a great many activities that may be of interest to visitors (Marcus Garvey Park was home to ‘Black Woodstock’ in 1969, better known as the Harlem Cultural Festival). Those wishing to experience the culture of Harlem would do well to take in an exhibition at the excellent Studio Museum in Harlem (144 W. 125th St., nr. Lenox Ave.), the Africa Center (located on Museum Mile at Fifth Ave. and E. 110th St), to explore the considerable resources of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (515 Malcolm X Boulevard, nr. W. 135th St.), or enjoy a production at the eminent National Black Theater, now celebrating 47 years since its inception (2031 Fifth Ave., near E. 125th St.).

 

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The dining scene in Harlem is thriving. Whether you’re looking for excellent ramen (Jin Ramen- 3183 Broadway nr. Tiemann Pl.), or simply have a sweet tooth (Make My Cake- two locations, at 121 St. Nicholas Ave., at 116th St. and 2380 Adam C Powell Blvd. at 139th St.), options abound. Coffee lovers can be found getting their fix at Plowshares Coffee Roasters (2730 Broadway nr. W. 105th St.) or Lenox Coffee (60 W. 129th St., nr. Malcolm X Blvd.), but we’re hard pressed to pass on a visit to Patisserie Des Ambassades (2200 Frederick Douglass Blvd., nr. 119th St.). A coffee paired with one of their delicious pain au chocolat pastries makes for a great start to any day. That said, their lunch and dinner menu also yields a few surprises courtesy of the largely African-inspired menu that speaks volumes to the diverse multicultural character of Harlem.

 

But surely one of the most important reasons to head to Harlem is for southern and soul cuisine, and those in the know head to Amy Ruth’s (113 W. 116th St. nr. Lenox Ave.) or Sylvia’s (328 Lenox Ave. nr. 127th St.). Though oft-slammed with tourists –particularly for their famous Sunday Gospel Brunch- Sylvia’s still serve up top-flight barbecue ribs, though we prefer the fried chicken at Amy Ruth’s. If the ribs at Sylvia’s still leave you wanting, go no further than Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (under the Riverside Drive Viaduct, at 700 W. 125th St.) for what is still some of the best barbecue in the city (after your meal, take a one minute stroll to the famous Cotton Club for live music- 656 W. 125th St. nr. Broadway).

 

Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster (310 Lenox Ave. nr. 125th St.) is undoubtedly one of the most popular restaurants to open in Harlem in recent years, and his unique fusion of Southern and Soul cuisine with Scandinavian influences makes for a memorable meal. On a recent visit, the ‘Fried Yardbird’ and ‘Helga’s Meatballs’ were clear winners among our dining party. Underneath Red Rooster, sister venue Ginny’s Supper Club nods to the speakeasies and music scene of Harlem in the 1920’s and offers live music with food and drinks similar to what is served upstairs. For those looking for a change of pace in cuisine (and, during the warmer months, some much-sought after outdoor seating), pop next door to Chez Lucienne (308 Lenox Ave. nr. 125th St.) for moderately priced, competently executed French cuisine.

 

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When the cocktail hour strikes, we like the drinks -and Happy Hour specials- at 67 Orange Street (2082 Frederick Douglass Blvd, nr. 113th St.), or the chilled vibe of Moca Lounge (2210 Eight Ave. at 119th St.). Harlem Public (3612 Broadway at 148th St.) is well worth a visit for their rotating craft beer menu, but for a true ‘locals’ bar, look no further than A Touch of Dee (659 Malcolm X Blvd. at W. 143rd St.), which remains one of our favorite neighborhood and dive bars in the city. Here, the requisite trio of cheap booze, old-school décor and a great juke all get high marks, but this place is all about the person you meet seated next to you (just be respectful, the folks here don’t suffer fools- nor should they).

 

But of course a true experience of Harlem nightlife is nothing without music, and the neighborhood’s celebrated jazz and blues roots are well represented at several venues. For a modern, eclectic mix of entertainment that caters to art and culture in all its forms, check out Shrine (2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. near 134th St.). Open since 1942, Showmans Jazz Club (375 W. 125th St., nr. Morningside Ave.) offers live music Wednesdays-Saturdays with no cover charge, though they don’t accept reservations, so get in early as it’s first come first served. A must-visit is Bill’s Place (148 W. 133rd St. nr. Seventh Ave.). Drawing on the speakeasy tradition from Prohibition, Bill’s Place is essentially the ‘living room’ of a brownstone building. Reservations are required due to the limited space, but here you’re guaranteed all-star entertainment for not much money- it will cost you all of twenty dollars to get in, and while the venue doesn’t serve alcohol, it’s BYOB. Don’t walk here, run.

 

 

Last but not least, the Apollo Theater (253 W. 125th St., nr. Frederick Douglass Blvd.) is perhaps one of the most iconic venues in all of New York City, and the famous sign out front is a true landmark. Some of the most important names in African-American music have performed here over the past century, and the Apollo’s calendar regularly features a diverse catalog of entertainers- though undoubtedly ‘Amateur Night At The Apollo’ is one of the city’s most well-known theatre experiences (just be mindful that here, the raucous crowd can at times put on a more engaging performance than the entertainers onstage).

 

 

 

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Evan Kanarakis is an Australian writer whose fiction and non-fiction work has been published around the world. He is also founder of the skateboard design company Devil Street Decks.

 

Evan Kanarakis

evan kanarakis

 

evan kanarakis

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