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Harlem Better Than Ever
Forget everything you think you know about this iconic New York neighborhood. Its many surprises – from Marcus Samuelson’s latest restaurant to a hidden spot with the best jazz in the city – are better enjoyed with an open mind.
“Hello, Mrs. Lowe.”
“You’re a grown man. Good to see you!”
“Sweetie, did you get a prescription for Mrs. Rose?”
A veteran of the Vietnam War, “King” Arthur has spent decades at the helm of Mishkin’s Drug Store, located on the corner of Amsterdam and 145th street since 1890. And in a city overrun by huge pharmacy chains, the mosaic floor and wooden shelves – not to mention the presence of a pharmacist as good humored as King Arthur – offer a reminder of the differences between a generic U.S. suburb and a neighborhood like Harlem.
And while a visit to New York’s hottest new restaurant is enough to merit a trip on the A-train to Harlem (as immortalized in the jazz standard made famous by Duke Ellington), the experience makes a lot more sense when you have the chance to discover one of the city’s most spectacular, historic and vibrant neighborhoods at your own pace. We’re not talking about the Harlem that lives on purely in nostalgia – a photo of Ella Fitzgerald hanging in a brand-new » restaurant or a mediocre bar featuring the most predictable jazz – but a neighborhood where longtime residents and newcomers alike greet each other in the park, at church, at the 67 Orange Street bar or at Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater, still held every Wednesday.
The Abyssinian Baptist Church, one of Harlem’s most iconic houses of worship.
Few experiences in Manhattan can compare to a Sunday morning in Harlem. The light, the calm and the silence are only interrupted by the songs of the faithful that spill out through the windows of the neighborhood’s 350 churches.
In the fourth row of the Catholic church of St. Charles Borromeo, a little girl plays with an African-American Barbie. The congregation lines up to receive communion. They leave offerings in the collection baskets that are passed around. And the woman in the far back row sounds just as good as the gospel choir up front. On Convent Avenue, another church – this one Baptist – features not one but two gospel choirs, which keep you riveted to your pew until the end of the service. »
The timeless tradition of Sunday morning finery.
Then comes Sunday lunch, an opportunity to show off the latest model of sunglasses or sneakers while enjoying a foamy cappuccino and perfect omelet some place like Il Café Latte, where the walls always sport quality local art. Or follow the lead of the older residents, who leave church in their elegant hats and impeccably tailored purple and cobalt suits to dine at eateries like Sylvia’s and Amy Ruth’s, which serve classic Southern dishes like fried fish, fried chicken and waffles any way you like them – soul food for those who have already pledged their souls to the Lord.
A monument honoring pastor and politician Adam Clayton Powell.
Or you can experience the best of both worlds at the new restaurant from Marcus Samuelson, Red Rooster (named in honor of an old-time speakeasy). In addition to the Swedish specialties that made the chef’s name at Aquavit, Samuelson’s new eatery serves its own interpretations of Southern fare, including cornbread with honey butter and tomato marmalade, poached eggs with shrimp and red grits, and “Mac & Greens” with cheddar, gouda and Comté cheese.
On the Hudson
Hats and impeccable attire are de rigueur for the women of Harlem attending church on Sunday.
Heading west on 138th Street, towards the Hudson River, you’ll come across the area that best represents modern Harlem. Pass under the bridge and continue south to spots like Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, the legendary restaurant that began life as a roadside» stand, and Hudson River Café, with an endless parade of classic Southern food. You’ll also find restaurants like Covo, a cross between an old-world trattoria and a lounge that serves impeccable cocktails and gourmet Italian fare like artichoke pizza with mozzarella and tomato or black linguini with crab and tomato sauce.
Classic neighborhood façades on 117th Street; Exploring Harlem on foot is a great way to learn about the neighborhood’s history and tradition.
Take a stroll through Riverbank State Park, built along the river with a view of the George Washington Bridge on one side and Midtown Manhattan on the other. Get a taste of life in the neighborhood at Morningside Park (designed by landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who also collaborated on Central Park and Prospect Park) or the rocky outcropping of St. Nicholas Park, designed in the early 20th century by Samuel Parsons Jr., who also left his mark on Central Park. »
Sylvia’s specializes in classic Southern cuisine.
Music, Music and More Music
The children and young people of Harlem fill the neighborhood streets with lively spirit.
Most of the folding chairs that fill Marjorie Eliot’s apartment are occupied. The piano, » the bass and the music stands are all in place. At 4:00 p.m. on the dot, our hostess appears, wearing modest heels, a delicate blouse and her hair up. Every Sunday, Marjorie’s place – its walls illuminated by turquoise spotlights and decorated with an autographed poster of Billie Holliday, photos of grandchildren and a vase with yellow daisies – opens to the public for a private jazz recital, free of charge.
The apartment of this pianistwriteractress is located in a building that was once home to singers Paul Robeson and Lena Horne, saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and drug kingpin Frank Lucas, among other Harlem icons. Nowadays, during intermission, when Marjorie serves fruit juice to her guests, you’ll find yourself among a mix of friends, fans, knowledgeable tourists and neighbors from the building. The latter are young artists, designers, architects and musicians who have decided to make their home in Harlem for all the right reasons.
The iconic Apollo Theater.
The American Legion Post 398 is supposedly a private club, but anybody who leaves their name at the door can enter. And anyone who loves jazz should. Another institution where you can still find excellent jazz and blues performances is St. Nick’s Jazz Pub, one of longest-running clubs in Harlem. And, although its detractors complain that it’s too touristy, you can’t deny the art deco charms of the Lenox Lounge and its “Zebra Room” or the talent of those who join in the Sunday-night jam sessions. There’s also the Apollo Theater for scheduled shows or Amateur Nights (which introduced audiences to Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix), where there is also a new café.
If you’re looking for something different, pay a visit to 67 Orange Street, inspired by Almack’s Dance Hall, one of the first bars operated by African Americans in the 19th century. The music is good, but the cocktails – courtesy of mixologist Karl Franz William – are spectacular. Try a classic Mint Julep or the Harlem Truffle, made with chocolate vodka and fresh raspberries.
And that’s Harlem. In one of the sermons I heard, the minister reminded his congregation that, even on the worst day of their lives, there’s someone who would gladly trade places with them. And on that Sunday, I would have been hard-pressed to find anyone I would have rather been. in
The people you encounter on the streets of Harlem reflect the neighborhood’s appealing and eclectic character.
Daily flights to New York from Lima, Guayaquil and Santiago.
Where to Stay
$$$ Villa 121: High ceilings, fine moldings, wood paneling, velvet sofas and beveled mirrors in this 1887 home, converted into a B&B.www.villa121.com
$$$ Sugar Hill: Another example of a new wave of local Bed & Breakfasts. The passion for Harlem and its aesthetic is reflected in the dinnerware, the mosaics, the marble table and the brass beds.www.sugarhillharleminn.com
$$$ Aloft Harlem: This hotel belongs to the Starwood chain’s line of boutique and design hotels. Your comfort is guaranteed.www.starwoodhotels.com
Where to eat
Il Caffe Latte189 Malcolm X Boulevard www.ilcaffelatte.com
Red Rooster Harlem310 Malcolm X Boulevard Tel. 1-212-792-9001 redroosterharlem.com
Hudson River Cafe697 West 133rd Street Tel. 1-212-491-9111 www.hudsonrivercafe.com
Covo, Trattoria e Pizzeria701 W 135th Street Tel. 1-212-234 9573 www.covony.com
Sylvia’s328 Lenox Avenue Tel. 1-212-996-0660 www.sylviassoulfood.com
Amy Ruth’s113 W 116th Street Tel. 1-212-280-8779 www.amyruthsharlem.com
Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken2841 Frederick Douglass Boulevard Tel. 1-212-926-4313 67 Orange Street 2082 8th Avenue Tel. 1-212-662-2030 www.67orangestreet.com
Parlor Entertainment555 Edgecombe Avenue, Studio 3F Tel. 1-212-781-6595 St. Nick´s Jazz Pub 773 Street Nicholas Avenue stnicksjazzpub.net
Lenox Lounge288 Malcolm X Boulevard Tel. 1-212-427-0253 www.lenoxlounge.com
What to do
Studio Museum44 West 125th Street Tel. 1-212-864-4500 www.studiomuseum.org
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem104 E. 126th Street, Suite 2D Tel. 1-212-348-8300 www.jazzmuseuminharlem.org
Apollo Theater53 West 125th Street Tel. 1-212-531-5305 www.apollotheater.org
$$$ Moderately Priced
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