Jazz and Cocktails
OLD: Lenox Lounge
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.
OLD: Patsy’s Pizzeria
2287 First Ave., at 118th St.; 212-534-9783
Long before there were Target and Costco in East Harlem, there was Patsy’s—a reminder of the days when free-flowing fire hydrants were the biggest neighborhood nuisance. Since 1933, Patsy’s has baked thin-crust, coal-oven pies still considered by many to be the city’s best. And at under $15 a pie, they’re indisputably a good deal.
NEW: Bad Horse Pizza
2222 Frederick Douglass Blvd., at 120th St.; 212-749-1258
Bad Horse is poised to be Harlem’s own contestant in the great New York Neapolitan-pizza bake-off. Though the menu remains “in development” until its imminent opening, the owners have been whetting Twitter followers’ appetites with pics of thin-crust, mozzarella-burbling pies.
OLD: Africa Kiné
256 W. 116th St., nr. Frederick Douglass Blvd.; 212-666-9400
African—as opposed to African-American—cuisine used to mean one thing in these parts: Senegalese food, most authentically from West 116th Street’s Little Dakar corridor, where Africa Kiné serves bowlfuls of hearty West African soups and stews. The menu changes daily, though thiebu djeun—Senegal’s fish-rich national dish—is always available.
NEW: Kuti’s Place
355 W. 116th St., nr. Manhattan Ave.; 212-222-1127
West African spice mixes with North African sizzle on Ivorian chef Abdhul Traore’s tightly edited menu of grown-up street-food favorites. Get the shawarma, done up with hearty peas and Arabian spices.
OLD: Gran Piatto d’Oro
1429 Fifth Ave., nr. 117th St.; 212-722-2161
This no-frills spot, like nearby Rao’s, harks back to Harlem’s forgotten Italian past. Unlike Rao’s, however, the unconnected can actually get a seat here. White tablecloths and scarlet curtains maintain an authentically wiseguy vibe, aided by a crowd-friendly, pasta-heavy menu.
NEW: Ristorante Settepani
196 Lenox Ave., nr. 120th St.; 917-492-4806
For most of its first ten years, Settepani was a conventional café, offering basic breakfast and lunch fare. But last spring, owner Leah Abraham rebooted it as a full-scale Southern Italian trattoria. Gone are the simple salads and dolci displays, replaced by a Carrara-marble bar and Sicilian staples like pasta con le sarde.
OLD: Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building
163 W. 125th St., nr. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.
This spring and summer market is a much-needed dose of color in the front plaza of a drab 125th Street tower. Although smallish, the weekly Tuesday and Saturday markets feature mostly pesticide-free produce and hot dishes, organized by East Harlem’s Angela Maull, head of Chenchita’s neighborhood garden.
NEW: Marcus Garvey Park
W. 124th St. bet. Fifth and Madison Aves.; spring through November
Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer opened this newcomer in August. There are golden peaches from West Virginia’s Ashton Farms, corn and onions from Orange County farmer John Madura, and dried fruits and nuts from the Original Delancey Street Peanut Company.
OLD: Amy Ruth’s Homestyle Southern Cuisine
113 W. 116th St., nr. Lenox Ave.; 212-280-8779
Like an Upper West Side diner gone southern, Amy Ruth’s serves classic soul food inspired by the former owner’s grandmother and named after celebs. The Barack Obama is a new favorite: a quarter-chicken barbecued, baked, or fried to crispy perfection.
NEW: Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken
2839–2841 Frederick Douglass Blvd., at 151st St.; 212-281-1800
Charles Gabriel reopened in 2009 after a car crash demolished his first chicken shop three years ago. Skip the menu and go for the all-you-can-eat $10.99 lunch/$13.99 dinner buffet—steaming pans of crisp, moist fried bird, and all the sides imaginable.
OLD: Turning Heads
218 Lenox Ave., nr. 121st St.; 212-828-4600
The modern-spa look of this salon belies its two-decade history of trimming, weaving, and relaxing local curls. Semi-hidden inside a brownstone, Turning Heads lets the harried Harlemite disappear to have her locks rolled or bangs blown.
NEW: B Braxton
1400 Fifth Ave., nr. 116th St.; 212-289-3200
The old-school-barbershop craze hit Harlem with last month’s reopening of B Braxton, a men’s-only snip-and-shave spot with hardwood floors, oversize mirrors, and evening cocktails.