Harlem, NYC: An Insider's Guide

by  Joseph Hernandez | Oct 31, 2013
Harlem,  NYC
Harlem, NYC / demerzel21/iStock

A short jaunt north of Central Park, Harlem has been ushering forth a new Renaissance over the years. While there are a few sour grapes over the area’s gentrification, it’s nothing new. Harlem has always had cyclical eras of cultural highs and lows. Regardless, Harlem still brims with character: The neighborhood’s new and old guard have found a balance that makes this part of town a definite must-see.

What to Do

Harlem has become a major gathering place for visitors to soak in parts of NYC’s past, present and future. Step into Harlem’s history by visiting the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. A research facility dedicated to the preservation of materials on African-American, African Diaspora, and African experiences. Schomburg houses a 20,000 item-strong collection of paintings, sculptures, paper and textiles by artists like Elizabeth Catlett and Romare Bearden. As part of the New York Public Library system, the Schomburg hosts free programs and exhibitions year-round.

Fast forward to the present and future by stepping into Harlem’s Studio Museum, a center promoting the works of artists of African descent. The Museum has housed exhibits by emerging and established artists alike, and through lectures, public programs and performances, nurtures the next generation of tastemakers. Admission to the space is a $7 suggested donation, but is free on Sundays.

Head west towards the Hudson River and you’ll find Harlem’s Hamilton Heights neighborhood, with its tree-lined streets and stately brownstones. While Hamilton Grange, the National Monument and former home of President Alexander Hamilton - from whom the area takes its name - is under renovation, the surrounding area is full of sights. View New Jersey’s green shores from the Riverbank State Park, which runs the length of the Hudson, with a noticeable lack of tourist hoards, or explore the area’s many landmarks, like the historic Trinity Church Cemetery, or the City College of New York’s buildings.

Where to Eat

Back in 2011, celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson brought his soulful brand of cuisine to 125th Street, almost immediately revitalizing the foodie landscape. While the Red Rooster dishes out plates and tipples like the spicy Yardbird ($27) and the Obamatini - red pepper-infused aquavit, pineapple, lime and bitters ($12) - other Harlem hotspots don’t carry the same price tag.

Harlem mainstay Amy Ruth’s, for instance, slings out the best chicken and waffles this side of the Mason-Dixon line. Open 24 hours and BYOB, it’s the eatery to hit up when you want Southern-style chicken paired with waffles and hot sauce-soaked maple syrup ($12 - $15). Head east a bit and you will find Hot Bread Kitchen, which supplies some of New York City’s top kitchens with bakery goods. You won’t find shiny toques here, though. Hot Bread Kitchen is a non-profit bakery and organization that trains immigrant and low-income women and men in its business incubator, while also selling local, organic baked goods inspired by the home countries of the bakers themselves.

Where to Stay

Right now your only option for Harlem hotel accommodation is the Aloft Harlem, which is just a short stroll from the legendary Apollo Theater – midweek November rates start at $239. A new Cambria Suites is currently in development at the nearby old Victoria Theater, which will bring some much-needed additional hotel rooms to the neighborhood.

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