Since this is my first “Own da Hood” post (OdH), allow me to explain to you the purpose of this blog series. Essentially, as I begin to explore more and more of New York City after having lived here for over a decade now, I am going to lay out micro-neighborhood guides to show you how you can spend a morning, afternoon, evening or night within a five block radius in the same neighborhood.
With this being my first post, I thought that I would start with a neighborhood I am so familiar with, that I call it home.
Own da Hood: Central Harlem @ Night
When I first moved to Central Harlem, this neighborhood did not have much going for it in terms of nightlife. The now defunct/closed Nectar was present, but it tended to close at around 10pm. And there was 1 or 2 places on 127th and Lenox (or thereabout), that people frequented, but it really was not a scene to be jealous of at any point in time. However, with the help of the Frederick Douglass Boulevard Alliance and New York State’s Small Business Development Center at Columbia University, this area is sprawling with enough restaurants, bars and venues that you can waste the night away in Central Harlem. Here’s one way to spend a night in CH:
5:15pm – Take a Stroll in Morningside Park (116th St. & Morningside Avenue)
After work, why not take a walk through Morningside Park? When I was first starting undergrad ten years ago, this place was known for the crack deals that went down at 5am in the morning—coincidentally enough, as an undergrad, I may have walked past such a deal on my way back to East Campus dorms once or twice. Fast-forward to today, and what you will see is a park that has truly cleaned up its act—both literally and figuratively. The park is cleaner, the basketball rims are up, and gentrification has young, upwardly mobile white parents walking their kids through the park. “Boy the times have changed!” So when you get off work, and you’re looking for some nice green grass, a duck pond and some truly amazing trees, take a walk through Morningside. On your way from the subway, you can even make a pre-game stop at Orange Peel just an avenue away at 116th Street, where you can grab one of their fresh squeezed juices for your stroll.
6:00pm – Have Dinner at Chocolat (120th St. & Frederick Douglass Blvd.)
This fine establishment was not here when I first arrived in Central Harlem, but since, Chocolat has become one of the premier destinations for dinner in the area. It’s probably more popular among a more subdued crowd than some of the other places, but it’s not for a lack of quality food. The salads are amazing, the salmon burger is really good, and the beef short rib is prepared in a cognac reduction sauce that is to die for! If your fresh squeezed juice has spoiled your appetite, you can’t go wrong with the fried calamari off the appetizer menu.
7:45pm – Grab Dessert at Make My Cake (116th St. & 7th Avenue)
Levain Baker closes at 7pm, but don’t fret, Make My Cake has more options, more value and more creativity on its menu. Go with any of the variations on red velvet cake, and you will be satisfied to the core. And you can’t go wrong with any of their cobblers, which is exactly how one should wash down short ribs from Chocolat, right?
8:15pm – Have a Drink at Harlem Tavern (116th St. & FDB)
If you’re looking for something to drink, Central Harlem has many an option, but the most popular of them all is undoubtedly Harlem Tavern, which now boast the best beer garden in New York City north of 96th Street. Another relatively new entrant to the Central Harlem Scene, Harlem Tavern is always popping during good weather, New York sports games or just about any federal holiday of note. On your typical weekday night, you will find this place filled with young professionals out celebrating the end of yet another workday. As far as the drinks go, they are pretty creative with some of their cocktail selections, and their craft beer options are on point with your expectations of almost any beer garden in New York City.
10:00pm – End the Night at L Lounge (115th Street & FDB)
There are many places you could go for a nightcap in this area—from Cove Lounge and WXYZ Bar, to Moca Lounge and Bier International, but L Lounge is the safest bet for a hassle-free night with good music and a respectable crowd. This place is so new they still have bubble wrap on the cocktail glasses, yet seemingly, they have had little trouble becoming one of the trendier places in the neighborhood. At night, it’s never too crowded, and it surely isn’t the type of place where you will have a problem getting in the door. Just make sure you bring your friends with you. It’s not popular enough to be a pick-up spot, but it makes good for a first date or as a place to catch up and waste the night away with your friends.
Obviously, there are hundreds of ways to spend a night in Central Harlem. For all of you Central Harlem locals, if it were up to you, how would you spend a night there? Let me know…I need to mix up my future plans a little bit!