The New New Harlem
A fresh slate of restaurants, markets, shops, and bars!
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 cityÕs 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 mechanicÕs shop, the Hudson River Cafe was one of HarlemÕs 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 SamuelssonÕs Red Rooster is quite possibly HarlemÕs 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 PlattÕs review here.
OLD: Lee LeeÕs Baked Goods 283 W. 118th St., nr. Frederick Douglass Blvd.; 917-493-6633 Hidden behind a well-worn red-and-white-striped awning, Lee LeeÕs is Harlem at its understated best. The bakeryÕs two-week closure last summer sent fans and local bloggers into a tweeting frenzy. ItÕs now operating at full heat, with owner Alvin Lee SmallsÕs 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 HarlemÕs 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 Cafˇ 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 ŅGrass Roots,Ó 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.
OLD: Vault 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 GreeneÕs ŅglocalÓ eye: from Euro labels like Rick Owens and Ann Demeulemeester to made-in-Harlem finds like soaps from Nordea.
OLD: PatsyÕs Pizzeria 2287 First Ave., at 118th St.; 212-534-9783 Long before there were Target and Costco in East Harlem, there was PatsyÕs—a reminder of the days when free-flowing fire hydrants were the biggest neighborhood nuisance. Since 1933, PatsyÕs has baked thin-crust, coal-oven pies still considered by many to be the cityÕs best. And at under $15 a pie, theyÕre indisputably a good deal.
NEW: Bad Horse Pizza 2222 Frederick Douglass Blvd., at 120th St.; 212-749-1258 Bad Horse is poised to be HarlemÕs own contestant in the great New York Neapolitan-pizza bake-off. Though the menu remains Ņin developmentÓ until its imminent opening, the owners have been whetting Twitter followersÕ appetites with pics of thin-crust, mozzarella-burbling pies.
OLD: Africa Kinˇ 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 StreetÕs Little Dakar corridor, where Africa Kinˇ serves bowlfuls of hearty West African soups and stews. The menu changes daily, though thiebu djeun—SenegalÕs fish-rich national dish—is always available.
NEW: KutiÕs Place 355 W. 116th St., nr. Manhattan Ave.; 212-222-1127 West African spice mixes with North African sizzle on Ivorian chef Abdhul TraoreÕs tightly edited menu of grown-up street-food favorites. Get the shawarma, done up with hearty peas and Arabian spices.
OLD: Gran Piatto dÕOro 1429 Fifth Ave., nr. 117th St.; 212-722-2161 This no-frills spot, like nearby RaoÕs, harks back to HarlemÕs forgotten Italian past. Unlike RaoÕs, 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 cafˇ, 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 HarlemÕs Angela Maull, head of ChenchitaÕs 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 VirginiaÕs 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 RuthÕs Homestyle Southern Cuisine 113 W. 116th St., nr. Lenox Ave.; 212-280-8779 Like an Upper West Side diner gone southern, Amy RuthÕs serves classic soul food inspired by the former ownerÕs grandmother and named after celebs. The Barack Obama is a new favorite: a quarter-chicken barbecued, baked, or fried to crispy perfection.
NEW: CharlesÕ 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 monthÕs reopening of B Braxton, a menÕs-only snip-and-shave spot with hardwood floors, oversize mirrors, and evening cocktails.