The Black New Yorker’s Guide to Harlem.

 

The Black New Yorker’s Guide.

Our friends over at Le Paris Noir, the incredible black-owned grassroots organization that does walking tours of Black Paris, recently visited New York City and asked for advice on where to go when visiting Harlem. Below is our response—our personal list of 20 experiences everyone who comes to Harlem should do.

Harlem is the world’s most famous black neighborhood. From James Baldwin and Malcolm X to Zora Neale Hurston and Madame C.J. Walker, no other neighborhood in America has a richer history of nurturing African American artists, activists, and radical freedom fighters.

Unlike other New York City spaces like Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx (all of which have their own beautiful histories) Harlem is especially unique given that it is located within the confines of the city’s most famous (and expensive) borough: Manhattan.  Like many cities across the country, the future of black Harlem has been jeopardized over the course of the past decade by relentless gentrification and corporate rezoning.

Nonetheless, in the eyes of most local residents, Harlem is still an unapologetically black neighborhood. Here are black-affirming experiences every resident or visitor to Harlem should do at least one.

 

1) Sit on the porch of The Langston Hughes House

Located on East 127th Street between 5th and Lenox, the former Brownstone of poet Langston is now open to the public through the I, Too, Collective. Snap a selfie on the steps of the same building where Langston wrote his masterpieces and captured the pulse of an entire generation of radical black New Yorkers. 

 

 

 

Address: 20 E 127th St, New York, NY 10035

2) Eat “Doro Wat” and “Tips Wat” at Awash Ethiopian

 

Delight your tastebuds with the savory, spicy flavors of authentic Ethiopian cuisine at Harlem’s famed Awash Restaurant. Don’t be fooled by its homie, simplistic decor: This place is hands down the best Ethiopian restaurant in Manhattan. Black owned and culturally significant, Awash is located steps away from St. John Cathedral of the Divine—the site of James Baldwin’s funeral. Critics choice: order the Tips Wat and Special Tips with injera, cabbage, and some good ol’ Honey Wine. 

Address: 947 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025

3) Walk down 125th Street and experience the hundreds of black outdoor vendors

The single most quintessential experience every Harlem resident must partake in, is patronizing the vendors of 125th street. From “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” tshirts to “Black Lives Matter” buttons to exotic soaps to $1 Ray Charles CDs—there is nothing more iconic than 125th street’s outdoor vendor culture. Recommendation: Take the 2 train to 125th and Lenox and walk west all the way over to St. Nicholas Avenue. 

4) Drink the best tea and juice you’ve ever tasted at Harlem’s Serengeti Tea and Spices

Black owned-Serengeti Tea is home to some of the most flavorful teas you’ll ever drink. The most delicious item on the menu is the gold-infused ginger and tumeric tea. You CANNOT leave without ordering a glass (which can be served as an ice-tea or hot-tea). Your tongue will thank you, again and again.

 

Address: 2292 Frederick Douglass Blvd, New York, NY 10027
A train to 125th Street.

5) Do Sunday Brunch at Angel of Harlem

 

Angel of Harlem is like something out of a scene of Issa Rae’s Insecure. Trendy, hella-black, and always crowded on Sunday—the food is just ok but the atmosphere is unquestionably lit. The music is loud, the people are beautiful, and the melanation is on fleek. 

Angel of Harlem
2272 Frederick Douglass Blvd.
212-316-0450
Angelofharlemnyc.com

Address: 2292 Frederick Douglass Blvd, New York, NY 10027
A train to 125th Street.

6) Experience a sensory overload of Jerk Chicken and Candied Yams at Sister’s Caribbean Cuisine

 

It’s hard to decide exactly who wins the title of “best” soul food restaurant in Harlem, since there are so many. But here is what we know for sure, there are three items on Sister’s Cuisine menu that are unquestionably the BEST in all of the Harlem: the jerk chicken (you wont find a more flavorful recipe in all of the city); collard greens and candied yams (GUARANTEED to be the best you’ve ever tasted, literally the equivalent of candy). Black owned and located right across the street from the famed Marcus Garvey Park, Sister’s Cuisine is a must-do.

Address: 47 E 124th St, New York, NY 10035
5 train to 125th Street.

7) Experience Sunday service at First Corinthian Baptist Church

Located on the corner of 116th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd in a massive auditorium theatre, First Corinthian Baptist Church is the largest church in central Harlem (with over 4,000 members of the congregation). FCBC is well known for its social justice oriented ministry and its rebuke of the politics of black respectability. You will not find people dressed in suits and bonnets here: most of the congregation (including the ministry leaders) come to service dressed in sneakers and jeans.  Its leader, Reverend Michael Walrond is a staple within the community, and his wife, executive pastor Lakeesha Walrond is well known for her womanist, LGBT-affirming sermons. For its exemplary manifestation of the best of the black liberation theology tradition, First Corinthian Baptist Church is a great place for anyone wanting to experience progressive ministry. The 11:30 AM service is the most popular.

Address: 1912 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, New York, NY 10026
2 train to 116th Street.

8) Attend Amateur Night at the World Famous Apollo

No visit to Harlem could ever be complete without stopping by the  Apollo Theater. Black owned from its inception, the institution’s history is so iconic, its difficult to summarize its influence in the history of black entertainment. From Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin to Patti Labelle and Lauryn Hill, legends are made on the apollo stage. Every Wednesday night the theatre continues a nearly 100 year old tradition: “amateur night.” Its become a bit touristy in recent years, but its still a must-do. Do it for the culture. 

 

A train to 125th Street.

9) Touch the feet of the Harriet Tubman Memorial

 

The Harriet Tubman Memorial, also known as Swing Low, is located in the middle of Harlem and honors the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Do you really need for us to spell out why you must experience this when you’re in town?

 

122nd Street at St. Nicholas Avenue and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

A train to 125th Street.

10) Buy the best organic incense on planet earth at African Paradise 

 

African Paradise has the best incense ever created. No seriously. Their mango-butter incense is like something out of this world. This black-owned business is a Harlem must-do. ASK FOR THE MANGO BUTTER INCENSE AND YOU WILL BE IN A STATE OF JOY. 

 

11) Visit the Frederick Douglass Monument

Legendary monument of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglas located on 110th Street near 5th avenue.

C train to 110th Street.

12) Dine-in (or atleast have a drink) at Red Rooster

Ok, lets keep it a-hundid (100): Red Rooster is quickly becoming co-opted by gentrifying forces. Nonetheless, its cultural significance is important: how many posh, black-owned gourmet restaurants have you ever been to before? Assuming that your answer is “none,”—it’s worth experiencing at least once. Red Rooster is basically a place you go if you want to go on a fancy date.

Chances are, you wont be dining on a 30,000 meal here at Red Rooster like former President Barack Obama did recently, but ay, you can atleast go buy a drink. Ethiopian born Marcus Samuelson’s is the prince of Harlem, and his dishes are made for royalty. 

13) Witness the breathtaking views of the quad of Columbia University

Even though Columbia University’s presence in Harlem is unquestionably linked to soaring gentrification, the university also has a long and rich history of cultivating the minds of some of the black freedom tradition’s most famous talents: Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lauryn Hill were all students at Columbia and leading black scholars such as the late Manning Marable (author of the prize winning biography of Malcolm X); Farrah Griffith, Frederick Harris, Steven Gregory, and Elizabeth Alexander are all faculty members.  The campus (specifically its Ivy-laced quad) is one of the most beautiful locations in all of New York City. Best time to experience it is in the hour just before sunlight, as the moonlight illuminates the exterior of the university’s famed Butler Library.

1 train to 110th Street/Morningside Heights

14) Pay honor to Malcolm X at the site where he was assassinated.

The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center is a memorial to Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz located at 3940 Broadway and West 165th Street, in the same building of the former Audobon Ballroom—where Malcolm was killed in 1965. No one can visit Harlem without bearing witness to this important venue.

15) Visit the Studio Museum in Harlem

The Studio Museum in Harlem, the nexus for artists of African descent nationally and internationally is an iconic space. It goes without saying, no visit to Harlem is right without stopping by.

 

16) Eat Fresh Seafood Late Night at Lighthouse Seafood Restaurant

The black-owned Lighthouse Seafood venue is a local favorite for late night dishes. Young owner Michael Clopton is a beloved member of Harlem’s community and the food is always super fresh. 

17) Buy scented oils, soap, and fresh shea butter on 125th Street.

 

18) Visit James Baldwin Place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West 128th Street by Fifth Avenue was named James Baldwin Place in 2014. 128th street is the site of the elementary school where Baldwin attended as a teenager.

19) Go to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture 

Founded in 1925 as the Negro Literature, History and Prints Division of the 135th Street Branch Library by Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of the leading cultural institutions in the world devoted to the preservation of materials focused on African-American, African Diaspora, and African experiences. Recognized for its prominence in digital humanities, scholarly research, and vast collection spanning over 10 million items, the Schomburg Center won the National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2015. Today, the Schomburg serves as a space that encourages lifelong education and exploration with diverse programs that illuminate the richness of black history and culture, and in 2017 it was named a National Historic Landmark.

Address: 515 Malcolm X Blvd, New York, NY 10037

20) Support Harlem by keeping it a predominately black neighborhood, preserving its traditions, honoring its leaders, and loving its people. Harlem is not a museum. It is a real place with real people. When you are walking the streets, remember that this is sacred grounds. Act accordingly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Frank Leon Roberts is a longtime Harlem resident and black abolitionist organizer. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Lives Matter Syllabus (University of California Press, 2018).

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