Jazz and Cocktails
288 Lenox Ave., nr. 125th St.; 212-427-0253
Billie Holiday and Miles Davis may be long gone, but the jam sessions still stretch until dawn at this 71-year-old Art Deco legend. Cover charges, sometimes up to $35, can be steep. But there are tasty crab cakes and baby-back ribs, strong cocktails, prominent jazz acts on most nights, and a Sunday open mike to hear the next wave of ladies singing the blues.
NEW: 67 Orange Street
2082 Frederick Douglass Blvd., at 113th St.; 212-662-2030
Owner-mixologist Karl Franz William has thoroughly embraced many of the city’s au courant drinking trends: from $13 cocktails with muddled cilantro and edible wild hibiscus to barmen wearing plaid and suspenders. Even its historic inspiration is downtown in spirit, looking not to Jazz Era Harlem for design cues but to the roguish, multiracial, mid-nineteenth-century Five Points district.
OLD: Hudson River Cafe
697 W. 133rd St., at Twelfth Ave.; 212-491-1111
Housed in a onetime mechanic’s shop, the Hudson River Cafe was one of Harlem’s first mega-eateries, with a something-for-everyone menu heavy on comfort classics like blackened salmon and roasted half-chicken and mash. In warm weather, a pair of outdoor patios are as close to dining on top of the Hudson as you can get.
NEW: Red Rooster Harlem
310 Lenox Ave., nr. 125th St.; 212-792-9001
Top Chef Masters winner Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster is quite possibly Harlem’s most anticipated arrival since a former president set up shop on 125th Street more than a decade ago. The ambitious space includes a constantly packed copper-top bar, cozy booths upstairs, and a soon-to-debut after-hours basement lounge. As for the food, see Adam Platt’s review here.
Place to Stay
OLD: Harlem YMCA
180 W. 135th St., nr. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.; 212-912-2100
Not quite a hotel but better equipped than a hostel, the redbrick behemoth offers 235 rooms, some private, others bunked, from just $70 a night. The Wi-Fi can be spotty and the bathrooms are shared, but the rate includes access to a full-size gym and heated pool.
NEW: Aloft Harlem
2296 Frederic Douglass Blvd., nr. 124th St.; 212-749-4000
The just-opened 124-room Aloft is the first hotel to arrive in Harlem in almost 45 years. The first local outpost of Starwood’s new “affordable” boutique brand, it has David Rockwell interiors, business-class amenities—flat-screen TVs, spacious desks, Bliss bath products—and an aspiring nightlife destination called the WXYZ Bar. All for what you might call uptown prices: Rooms start at $149 a night.
OLD: Lee Lee’s Baked Goods
283 W. 118th St., nr. Frederick Douglass Blvd.; 917-493-6633
Hidden behind a well-worn red-and-white-striped awning, Lee Lee’s is Harlem at its understated best. The bakery’s two-week closure last summer sent fans and local bloggers into a tweeting frenzy. It’s now operating at full heat, with owner Alvin Lee Smalls’s apricot rugalach and pecan-studded cinnamon Danish dooming diets across upper Manhattan.
NEW: Levain Bakery
2167 Frederick Douglass Blvd., nr. 117th St.; 646-455-0952
Any doubts that the burgeoning condo-canyon that is Frederick Douglass Boulevard has gone fully bourgeois vanished with the opening of Levain last month. The new outpost of the Oprah-approved mini-chain is famed for its jumbo cookies, an edible symphony of walnuts, butter, and semisweet chocolate.
OLD: The Studio Museum in Harlem
144 W. 125th St., nr. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.; 212-864-4500
Under chief curator Thelma Golden, the Studio Museum remains Harlem’s unrivaled—at least for now—art space. The artist-in-residence program continues to nurture ascendant African-American and Latino talent, while the new Atrium Café joins in the museum-as-culinary-destination trend. Visit Sundays, when vendors hum along 125th Street and museum admission is free, thanks to a grant from Target.
NEW: Museum for African Art
1280 Fifth Ave., at 110th St.; 718-784-7700
The 26-year-old museum will finally find a permanent home this fall, in a new Robert A.M. Stern–designed luxury residential tower on Fifth Avenue. The 75,000-square-foot space debuts with a trio of exhibits including “Grass Roots,” which compares coiled baskets made in Africa and the American South. Until then, the museum is operating in a temporary space in Long Island City.
2498 Frederick Douglass Blvd., nr. 134th St.; 212-281-1723
In the Harlem-business life cycle, the four-year-old sneaker shop is more teenager than senior citizen, but Vault is a survivor in its own right, having sold pricey sneakers through a recession. The sneakerheads treat footwear the way certain diamond-district merchants do jewels, shelving standout pairs—from classic Nikes and Claes to Pro-Keds and Supras—literally behind vault doors.
NEW: Swing: A Concept Shop
1960 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., at 118th St.; 212-222-5802
Before opening Swing in spring 2009, New York native Helena Greene earned her fashion-industry street cred working for the likes of Prada and Bergdorf Goodman. Her shop stocks both clothing and home accessories while showcasing Greene’s “glocal” eye: from Euro labels like Rick Owens and Ann Demeulemeester to made-in-Harlem finds like soaps from Nordea.