In the past twelve months alone, Harlem has absorbed huge supermarkets, name-brand pharmacies, and suburban-style chain stores. But even at the heart of the action, local ﬂavor remains ﬁrmly entrenched.
(1.) M&G Diner
383 W. 125th St., at Morningside Ave.; 212-864-7326
The freshest dishes at this 24-hour mom-and-pop soul kitchen are breakfast staples like salmon croquettes with grits, served from midnight till 1 P.M., though loyal regulars swear by the smothered pork chops and fried chicken.
(2.) Showman’s Cafe
375 W. 125th St., nr. Morningside Ave.; 212-864-8941
A topﬂight music bar since 1942—it’s moved three times—graced with beautiful wood and marble décor. Music runs to the mainstream side of blues-inflected jazz, and drink prices rise exponentially once the band starts at 8:30 P.M.
(3.) Gemini II
353 W. 125th St., at St. Nicholas Ave.; 212-866-7980
If you appreciate scientifically measured and calibrated support garments, stop here (satin pajamas $20, fishnets $5).
280 St. Nicholas Ave., at 125th St. 212-961-0565
A loud, happy, old-school neighborhood bar that’s famously hung on next to the southwest A-train exit for almost sixteen years, with a great jukebox running from jazz to hip-hop.
(5.) Professional African Hair Braiding Center 315 W. 125th St., nr. St. Nicholas Ave.; 212-280-7521
The busiest braiding parlor on 125th Street. For $10 per woven plait (synthetic hair included), get a magnificent Goddess Braid spiral that lasts a month. Cornrows $50 and up; cash only.
136 W. 125th St., nr. Eighth Ave. 212-665-2320; and 250 W. 125th St., nr. Lenox Ave.; 212-665-1400
Brand-name hip-hop clothing at discount prices.
(7.) Manna’s Soul Food & Salad Bar 2331 Eighth Ave., at 125th St. 212-749-9084
It ain’t pretty, but the hot food is surprisingly fresh and tasty—and where else can you get “tax-free” chitterlings?
(8.) Hue-Man Bookstore and Cafe 2319 Eighth Ave., nr. 124th St. 212-665-7400
The biggest selection of black children’s books in the city, plus everything from black vampire novels to Jim Crow memoirs. Barely a night goes by without a reading or a special event of some kind.
(9.) The Record Shack
274 W. 125th St., nr. Eighth Ave. 212-866-1600
A key player in the birth of hip-hop, thanks to its influential vinyl stock—but these days, it specializes in CDs and mobile M.C. gear. Look out for the free promo goodies with purchase.
(10.) The Apollo Theater
253 W. 125th St., nr. Eighth Ave. 212-531-5300
Now a kind of black entertainment museum, mainly hosting legends like B. B. King and the Ohio Players. Amateur Night is still rolling: Arrive early on the monthly audition day with 90 seconds of tight material to be one of 300 contenders.
(11.) Earthly Juices
2086 Seventh Ave., at 125th St. 212-678-9881
A new juice bar specializing in the Jamaican version of Spirulina, sea moss—seaweed mixed with herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
(12.) Studio Museum
144 W. 125th St., nr. Seventh Ave. 212-864-4500
Chief curator Thelma Golden has introduced a dynamic, Pan-African approach to multimedia installations. Hit the store for “Black Is Beautiful” pencils and B-ball dunking satyr T-shirts. Now showing: Meschac Gaba’s “hair” sculptures.
125 W. 125th St., nr. Seventh Ave. 212-665-8300
Head to the second-floor kids’ department, where you’ll find one of the area’s few resources for maternitywear in a tiny corner.
328 Lenox Ave., nr. 126th St. 212-996-0660
Top tourist destination doesn’t showcase Harlem cuisine: On a bad day you’ll encounter soggy fried chicken and oversalted greens.
308 Lenox Ave., nr. 125th St. 212-426-7400
Tin-roofed oasis with a cozy bar and a picture-window view of the bright, hectic boulevard below attracts Cajun and Creole aficionados and a smart after-work crowd.
(16.) Lenox Lounge
288 Lenox Ave., nr. 125th St. 212-427-0253
Restored Art Deco lounge is home to name-brand jazz and downtown prices. Also hosts a popular, more laid-back (and intentionally unadvertised) underground disco on Tuesdays.
(17.) Men’s Walker
58 W. 125th St., nr. Lenox Ave. 212-666-2621
Where Harlem’s players, ballers, and shot-callers purchase classy hats and authentic gator shoes ($380–$875 a pair).
(18.) Ron Mishon Creative Fashion One,
58 W. 125th St., nr. Lenox Ave.; 212-410-5073
It’s not exactly a Hong Kong tailor shop, but it’s close. Specializing in leather and fur, with one-week turnaround on everything from Apollo stage outfits to weddingwear.
(19.) President Clinton’s Office
55 W. 125th St., nr. Lenox Ave.
Local legend has it that as soon as Clinton acquired his fourteenth-floor office space, the Secret Service closed down a notorious neighboring crack house, immediately boosting real-estate values. Before his heart surgery, Clinton could be seen on the premises about twice a month.
(20.) Watkins Health Food/Uptown Juice Bar, Deli and Bakery
54 W. 125th St., nr. Lenox Ave. 212-831-2955 and 212-987-2660
Rescuing locals from the ravages of delicious fried foods, these tiny yellow-and-green storefronts offer sugar-free snacks and flaxseed-oil-spiked carrot juice.
(21.) Wimp’s Southern Style Bakery, Sky Café and Martini Bar
29 W. 125th St., nr. Fifth Ave. 212-410-2296 and 212-410-2243 (Sky Café) Home of moist, flavorful, homemade sweet-potato cheesecake, rum cake, and fruit cobblers. Upstairs, the new Sky Café and Martini Bar is an after-work singles scene waiting to happen.
(22.) African Paradise
27 W. 125th St., nr. Lenox Ave. 212-410-5294
West African import shop stocks the herbs and tools of ancestral spirit worship—from potash and iyerosun chalk to split palm nuts for divination. Make your own moisturizer with raw shea butter at $10 a pound.
(23.) Mo-Bay Uptown
17 W. 125th St., nr. Fifth Ave. 212-828-3400
Bring a date to this dark, red-and-gold dining lounge for beautifully presented yet reasonably priced smoked ribs, stewed fish, jerk chicken, or curried goat.
(24.) The Brownstone
2032 Fifth Ave., nr. 125th St. 212-996-7980
A café and boutique showcasing more than 40 independent clothing designers. Shop for hand-blocked hats, silk-brocade dress jackets, exquisite hand-tooled jewelry, and beauty products.
(25.) Nubian Heritage/ Madawa/Nicholas
2037-2033 Fifth Ave., at 125th St. 212-427-8999 and 212-427-8666
When the bazaar of street vendors was shunted off MLK to 116th Street, an ever-evolving supply of Afrocentric knicknacks, housewares, clothing, books, and spiritual items moved into cute boutiques like these.
(26.) National Black Theatre
2031 Fifth Ave. at 125th St. 212-722-3800
Founded in 1968, it envisioned a new, improved Harlem long before it was “safe.” Now a training ground for black thespians, and a favorite party space for local promoters and radio personalities.
(27.) Kerriann's Nice & Spicy Restaurant
62 E. 125th St., nr. Madison Ave. 212-828 3862
Great, authentic West Indian take-out: Try the goat’s head soup. For sit-down curries or rotis with cold Red Stripe, go around Madison to One Love Restaurant.
(28.) Marriott Courtyard Hotel
1800 Park Ave., at E. 124th St.
Designed by hip Mexican architect Enrique Norten, the first major new Harlem hotel in decades is slated to open later this year, and will hover conveniently over the Metro-North train station.