Harlem’s Backyard Gems

“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.

Blacks began moving into Harlem starting in the early 1900s, part of the Great Migration to the North to escape the Jim Crow South and find a better life.

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.

Front Parlor of the Morris-Jumel Mansion – Photo courtesy of MJM

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.

Sylvan Terrace – Photo courtesy of AmNY

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 ChurchIn 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.

Red Rooster, Harlem – Maynefoto

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.

Follow Cambria Suites #backyardgems on Twitter for more fun weekend getaways in your own backyard!

15 comments on “Harlem’s Backyard Gems

  1. Wonderful post and photos to make it all come to life… It’s my old neighborhood too. I miss a lot of it. The walk sounds like a real treat! Tell us all about it. TY! 🙂

  2. What a great post! I have been to NYC a million times, but never explore Harlem. Guess what’s on my itinerary for my next trip? 🙂

  3. Now, this would’ve been a good trip for my Little Totsy and me 🙂 I wanted so much to visit NY this summer but had to rearrange a bit…Is your specialty travel writing? You’re a wealth of information. I’m even more eager to start traveling again when you send out your posts.

  4. You should definitely come — I can show you around.
    Thanks, Totsy! I’ve only started writing about travel since I started the blog. I’m really enjoying it.
    Talk soon,

  5. Thanks, Elizabeth.
    For a small place – three miles square — Harlem has much variety. Each block is different.
    I’m going to do a tour just of brownstones. I’ll work on that one this weekend or next and tell you all about it.

  6. I wish I could. I’m actually trying to prep myself to go overseas to teach. I do know New York is a place I’d like to visit with my daughter and Harlem, where so much history is, is such a place I’d like to visit.

  7. A friend of my niece went to Korea last year. I haven’t talked to her so I’m not sure how she’s doing. Also, another blogger friend just went to China last August to teach.
    That’s good news! Why are you on the fence? Curious. Gurrrl, I can just imagine! But it’d be fun, so much fun!!!
    About to send you the recipe.
    Hope you get to try it before you leave.

  8. Awwww, I’ll be a blog away still 🙂 Looks like my possibilities are leaning toward Korea or one of the Asian countries. It may be a couple of months or three before I do leave. I’m hoping no more than three, anyway. I’ve deliberated over this for some time and finalized my decision on Sunday, actually. Couldn;t keep sitting on the fence about it, you know.

    Can you imagine what ole Totsy would have to blog about then? I’m a little nervous and excited.

  9. I have my daughter to consider and she’s laid out plans for herself. A young person with a plan is a good thing and I like seeing this determination in her. So, she had been the biggest factor. We’re all settled in with my decision to go now, however.

    Yes, I’ve been wanting to make a move for some time, so …yes, it’s all good like biscuits soppin’ gravy 🙂

  10. Thank you for the recipe. I’ll be forwarding it to my son also. I’ll get to try it several times before leaving, actually.

  11. A woman with a plan. I love it!
    I’m excited for you. My travel buddies and I have been talking about visiting Thailand next year — I’m ready to spend about a month in Asia. I’m ready for now for a big change. I’m thrilled for you. When do you leave?

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