“Thinking back to boyhood days, I remember the bright sun on Harlem streets, the easy rhythms of black and brown bodies, the sounds of children streaming in and out of red brick tenements,” said writer and Harlem native Walter Dean Myers. This is usually what one pictures when thinking about Harlem, but the neighborhood has been through a long series of transformations since its beginning as a Dutch colony, through the Harlem Renaissance to today’s gentrification movements. So hop on the A train – or on our guided bus tours, and follow us on the road to Harlem.
Harlem has always been a lively place for artists. During the Harlem Renaissance period at the beginning of the 20th century, writers, musicians, poets, and artists spread their creativity and expressed their ideas of justice and equality throughout the community; today, many artists are still established in Harlem. Without gospel and jazz music, Harlem would not be the cultural and artistic hub that it is today. Many churches offer gospel services on Sunday and Wednesday mornings, and the best way to experience Harlem in the heart of its artistic heritage would be on a Harlem Gospel Tour. The Golden Jazz Age of Harlem might have prospered at the beginning of the 19th century, but the whole neighborhood still vibrates at the sound of music thanks to the many dynamic local Jazz clubs. The Dempsey Theater offers gospel shows and plays on a regular basis as well. Art galleries and studios can also be found all around the neighborhood to remind visitors of the cultural vitality spread throughout Harlem. Don’t miss the Studio Museum of Harlem, where local, national, and international artists of African descent are proudly showcased. By celebrating the neighborhood’s ethnic roots, Harlem has built a very strong and widely recognized identity. La Maison d’Art is another Harlem gem worth checking out. This house has been converted into an artistic and eclectic space that regularly offers intimate concerts.
CULTURE & HISTORY HUBS
(Photo by Harlem Spirituals)
There are ample amount of historical landmarks in Harlem. The Morris Jumel Mansion, Manhattan’s oldest house home to George Washington during the revolutionary war, now offers activities and events year-round from concerts and exhibits to workshops, festivals and more for adults and kids. The Hamilton Grange is the house of Alexander Hamilton, originally built as his country home. Nestled down the hill of St. Nicholas Park, this house looks seemingly out-dated, as it is surrounded by modern-designed buildings today. Although The U.S. Ivy League universities are certainly impressive, the City College of New York campus has nothing to envy them for, since its beautiful neo-gothic architecture is both matchless and iconic. It is also the oldest of the City University’s twenty-three institutions. The historic district of Sugar Hill was once one of the wealthiest enclaves of Manhattan. It is still a prosperous and beautiful neighborhood to explore, and its neo-Renaissance houses are its most valuable treasures. For a green escape, stop at Marcus Garvey Park (initially Mount Morris Park) where you can spot the Mount Morris Fire Watchtower, the last of a series of watchtowers erected in the 19th century in New York City to help watch for fires. The park is also known for hosting the renowned Charlie Parker Jazz Festival every summer. Lastly, as part of the NY Public Library, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a leading institution for African American studies worldwide. It offers exhibitions year round and is one of the most influential institutions in this field.
(Photo by Kate Glicksberg/ NYC & Company)
Make your way to Harlem for some of the most authentic Soul Food-dining experiences in New York City. Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant is an icon in NYC. Even celebrities such as Quincy Jones, Diana Ross, Muhammad Ali and politicians Bill Clinton, Robert F. Kennedy, and President Barack Obama enjoy it here. Red Rooster, run by chef Marcus Samuelsson, offers trendy Global Soul Food that has been very popular among Newyorkers since its opening in 2010. To listen to live Jazz, head downstairs to the Ginny’s Supper Club at night. At Shrine Bar and Restaurant you can enjoy multimedia arts, shows, and concerts. If you want to make a pause, stop by The Corner Social, a favorite local joint where Harlemites love to hang out. However, Harlem has much more than just soul food. You will find a plethora of dining options off of Malcolm Boulevard such as Sexy Taco/ Dirty Cash for Mexican, Scottocasa Pizzeria for Italian, Cheri for French or BLVD Bistro for classic southern eats. Compare Harlem Shake with the Shake Shack (then you can shake off the calories at a jazz club) or please your taste buds with the best sushi in Harlem at Sushi Inoue. Try African food with an Asian and American twist at The Cecil, or share a few Caribbean-inspired seafood platters at LoLo’s Seafood Shack on the beachy back patio. For an extensive Harlem food experience, consider an Uptown and Harlem Food Walking Tour.
NIGHTLIFE & ENTERTAINMENT
(Photo by Harlem Spirituals)
Ever since the Harlem Renaissance, this neighborhood has had extensive nightlife options, now available to suit any crowd. If you’re looking for live music and a fun, unpretentious atmosphere, You’ll enjoy Shrine, Mobay’s, Silvana, The Red Rooster, Paris Blues, Harlem Tavern and Harlem Nights. Sexy speakeasy? 67 Orange is your place. For a fun fiesta dance your way to Milk Lounge. Following the trend of beer gardens opening all around NYC, Harlem now has its own Beer Garden, Bier International, offering domestic and international beers in a great, hang-out environment. Although this may act as an example of the “new Harlem,” we surely will never lose sight of “the old.” Harlem is home to some of the most renowned Jazz clubs, including Lenox Lounge, Bill’s Place, The Cotton Club, and many more. Bar hop with us on the Soul Food and Jazz tour and let the freshly made cornbread and fading trumpets stimulate all of your senses during a night out in Harlem. On 125th Street the world famous Apollo Theater offers “Amateur Night” every Wednesday from the spring to the fall, where you can enjoy the new voices of incredibly talented artists. The theater also offers all kinds of concerts and events year round.
A lot of little boutiques with a strong identity have opened in the last few years in Harlem. Typical of the “Little Senegal” neighborhood of Harlem, BeBenoir is a charming small clothing boutique focused on African-based products and the communal economy. SoHarlem Creative Outlet is a place-based social enterprise created by women who work with underemployed artisans to offer one-of-a-kind products and services, such as jewelry crafted from recyclables, marbled tables, handmade soaps, elegant scarves and more. Check out Harlem Haberdashery to see where all the local athletes and rappers get their fresh looks or explore the community-forward clothing store, Harlem Underground. Lastly, find Serengeti Tea & Spices, the specialty African tea shop offering rare African teas, moringa, rooibos and signature blends among coffee and cocoa, plus raw honey, teaware, and salts.
If you are interested in finding more to do in New York City, search through our complete range of tours, attractions and activities. We can also tailor-make programs specifically to match your desires and budgets. Harlem Spirituals is the ideal one-stop-shop to simplify your planning! Find more information on www.harlemspirituals.com.
More suggestions about places to see and visit in Harlem? Please share your ideas with us in the comment section below!