“Harlem’s Backyard Gems is my entry into TBEX Blog Carnival Contest sponsored by Choice Hotels International Services Corp.”
When I decided to move to New York in the late 90s, the only place I wanted to live in was Harlem. I imagined myself in a brownstones like the one of a family friend I visited in the 1970s that became symbolic of this historic neighborhood. With sweeping steps that led to beautifully hand-crafted double doors it seemed to welcome everyone in.
But brownstones are just one of many things Harlem is known for. Formerly a Dutch village, Harlem got its name from the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. It was also once the second largest Jewish community in the U.S. and home to a large population of Italians.
Harlem has been the center of black culture since the 1920s when it lent its name to the coming of age of black literature and music in the 1920s and 1930s – the Harlem Renaissance.
This 3- square miles area of Manhattan has three distinct neighborhoods: Central Harlem, West Harlem and East (or Spanish) Harlem, home to one of the largest Latino populations in the city.
After experiencing a decline in the 1970s and 1980s, Harlem is flourishing once again with upscale restaurants and trendy boutiques and stores. Late last year, A Loft Hotel, part of the Starwood chain, opened in Harlem.
All around Harlem, many historic and cultural still stand.
Here’s my itinerary for a kid-free weekend getaway in West and Central Harlem. Bring comfortable shoes as we’ll be doing a lot of walking.
Check into the Sugar Hill Harlem Inn.
12:45 p.m. Meet at the Apollo Theatre for the 1:00 p.m. tour of the historic Apollo Theatre, where the careers of performers like Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder and many others were launched. Aspiring and up and coming performers still flock to the Apollo for Amateur Night.
2:00 – 2:30 p.m. Leave the Apollo, walk to the Theresa Hotel – From1913-1940, a whites-only hotel. A mix of residents and visitors, the Theresa became known as the Waldorf Astoria of Harlem, the place where black entertainers from Mohammed Ali to Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne to Jimi Hendrix stayed. It is also where Fidel Castro and his entourage stayed when he visited New York for the General Assembly in 1960 and where he met Nikita Kruchev. John F. Kennedy campaigned there and Malcolm X held meetings there. The building was converted into office space in 1971.
2:35 – 4:00 p.m. Studio Museum and Bookstore – Romare Bearden, Lois Mailou Jones, Jacob Lawrence and Betye Saar are just a few of the artists whose work hang in the permanent collection of this contemporary art museum that was founded in 1968.
Optional: Stay for Uptown Fridays, the museum’s free after work, end of week gathering.
4:30 – 6:30 p.m. Ristorante Settepani – One of my favorite neighborhood treats, Settepani serves authentic Italian fare.
7:00 – 10:00 p.m. Lenox Lounge – End the evening with jazz at Lenox Lounge, my neighborhood bar. It’s also the venue where John Coltrane, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis performed and where you can still hear jazz every weekend and some week nights. Lenox Lounge has been a Harlem fixture singe the late 1930s. It’s been featured in movies such as Shaft and American Gangster.
Saturday (Times are approximate as we’ll be walking.)
10:00 – 11:00 a.m. Explore Sugar Hill – The northern part of Hamilton Terrace, Sugar Hill was a popular area for wealthy blacks like Dubois, Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall and others, it got its name from the “sweet” life that Harlem promised.
11:00 – 12:00 p.m. Morris-Jumel Mansion Tour – This Palladian style summer home of British Colonel Roger Morris and his wife was built in 1765. In 1776, it served as the war headquarters of General George Washington. In 1976, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip visited.
12:00 – 12:30 p.m. Sylvan Terrace – A cobblestone street, wooden two-story houses facing each other. Built in 1882 on the carriage drive for the Jumel Mansion.
Lunch 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Coral Restaurant – American and Spanish food.
2:00 – 2:30 p.m. Bailey House – The former house of James Bailey of Barnum & Bailey at 10 St. Nicholas Place is now being renovated.
3:00 – 3:30 p.m. Hamilton Grange National Memorial – The former home of Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton Grange is currently closed for renovation. However, you’ll be able to view of the exterior of the building which is maintained by the National Parks Service.
4:00 – 5:00 p.m. Trinity Cemetery and Church of the Intercession: Trinity Cemetery – Opened in 1843, it is the burial place of John J. Audubon, Charles Dickens’ son and Ralph Ellison, among others.
Church of the Intercession – This Gothic style church was part of Trinity parish of lower Manhattan and the third church to bear the same name.
5:30 – 6:30 p.m. Strivers’ Row – Designed for wealthy whites, these townhouses on 138th and 139th Streets between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd and Frederick Douglass Blvd, their name describes the types of people who eventually owned them – “strivers” – people who had arrived. Eubie Blake, W.C. Handy, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and others called Strivers’ Row home.
7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Dinner at Mamajuana Café – A delightful mix of Spanish and Taino food.
10:00 p.m. St. Nick’s Pub – End the day at St. Nick’s Pub, the oldest continuously operating jazz club in Harlem, St. Nick’s Pub is over 50 years old. Serving jazz seven nights a week.
11:00 – 1:00 p.m. Abysinnian Baptist Church – In 1808, a group of Africans and Ethiopians who were unwilling to accept racially segregated seating in church, withdrew their membership from the First Baptist Church in Lower Manhattan and organized themselves into the Abysinnian Baptist Church.
1:30 – 3:30 p.m. Red Rooster – Brunch at Red Rooster. Named for the legendary Harlem speakeasy, Red Rooster is owned by award-winning chef, Marcus Samuelsson.
Checkout and head home.
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