Manhattan Neighborhood Guides


It might surprise some that the world-famous Harlem has gone through numerous incarnations since its inception in 1865. It was originally a Dutch village, named for a city in the Netherlands. Since then, Harlem has been known as a cyclical neighborhood that has experienced economic highs and lows and a wide variety of ethnic changes. 

Once a Jewish enclave, then a magnet for African Americans, today Harlem is a diverse multicultural neighborhood attracting an increasing number of young professionals. In the late 19th century and early 20th, it was a place of great art and culture. In 1889, Oscar Hammerstein established the Harlem Opera House there. In the early 1900s, African American entrepreneur Philip Peyton, Jr, was one of the major influences to turn Harlem into a predominantly black neighborhood. In the 1920s, it was the nexus of the Harlem Renaissance--a blossoming of African American art and culture of all styles: music, art, poetry, and typified by jazz composers such as Duke Ellington, poets like Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, and singers like Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald. 

During the mid-to-latter twentieth century, Harlem experienced an economic bust, in which the neighborhood went downhill. In recent years, however, it has experienced a major revitalization. This dynamic, spirited area, located around the northern side of Manhattan's central park, starting at 96th Street on the Eastside and 110th Street on the west side, maintains much of its liveliness, with gospel brunches and Starbucks sitting side-by-side. 

Harlem landmarks include the legendary Apollo Theater, where Showtime at the Apollo films every Saturday night and legendary African American comedians, like Chris Rock, perform. Hotel Theresa, Langston Hughes House, James Bailey House, Lenox Lounge, La Marqueta, Morningside Park, and St. Martin’s Episcopal Church (the former Trinity Church). Museums in the area that celebrate Harlem’s rich history are the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the aforementioned James Bailey House and Langston Hughes House, as well as El Museo Del Barrio. Harlem’s artistic heritage also continues to be upheld, in the form of a number of annual festivals held there every year. These include Harlem International Film Festival, Harlem Meer Performance Festival, Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, and Harlem Summerstage. 

Harlem is known for being a cultural hub with food options ranging from Soul Food to East African Cuisine to Michelin Star Sushi restaurants. Sylvia’s Soul Food and Marcus Samuelsson’s, Red Rooster where Former President Barrack Obama made a visit back in 2011, are restaurants that have become landmarks in their own right. Other restaurants of note include Bayou, Somali restaurant, Safari, Mountain Bird and Amy Ruth’s. Some popular pubs and bars include Lenox Lounge, Corner Social, Harlem Tavern, Londel’s, Paris Blues and Angel of Harlem.

Harlem contains some magnificent buildings with fine, original architectural features, and remains one area of Manhattan where you can find working fireplaces, original moldings and even a driveway for reasonable prices. It is also home to the world-famous Columbia University, located around 125th Street, which gives the neighborhood a cutting intellectual edge. Further north, from West 154th to West 181st Streets, Washington Heights has many charming streets with beautiful, spacious art deco and Tudor style apartment buildings, available at affordable rents. To the south, the Eastern part of Harlem - often known as Spanish Harlem - traditionally home to a large Italian and Hispanic population, is also undergoing a boom.

There is an excellent subway and bus transportation system, including express services to lower Manhattan. Local train service includes the A, C, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 on the East, the B, and the D. In addition, there is a Metro North Railroad Station at 125th. Bus routes include the M4, as well as the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal for service to the suburbs of New York and New Jersey. 

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